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Planters, Attractive Landscaping Help Draw Shoppers

Capturing shopper interest and confidence doesn't have to start in-store. Simple steps such as planting flowers and placing planters in parking lots and in front of stores could draw more consumers, make a better shopping experience, and show off gardening supplies, experts say.

While research points to the economic, social, and psychological benefits of plantings, a lot of people still don't do it, according to Marvin Miller, president of the board of the nonprofit America in Bloom, which encourages communities to promote the use of flowers, plants, and trees.


To give an example of the economic benefits of plantings, Miller, who is also market research manager at the West Chicago-based supplier Ball Horticultural, pointed to a member of a recent focus group who worked as a house turner. The house turner, who buys houses in order to quickly renovate and resell the properties for profit, said that when potential buyers see the effort put into good landscaping, the house is sold before they even get to the door.

“And I think that same impact can happen in a supermarket,” Miller told SN.

If a consumer falls in love with a store because of an interesting paint job, unique architecture, or plants and flowers before they even walk through the door, “they're a lot less worried about what they're spending.”

While independent retailers often plant in parking lots, and add planters to the front of the store to draw customers, Miller thinks there's opportunity for large chains to get involved, too, to gain shoppers and show community involvement.

“We see it working in a lot of other retail and there's no reason to think that that parking lot can't share space with cars and grocery carts and flowers.”

Chicago's huge tourist shopping district Michigan Avenue is a prime example of local businesses and government working together to enhance shopping environments with landscaping. In the warmer weather, the city and parks district maintain colorful plantings, and the local retailers work with those groups to make sure their own plantings in front of their stores match the color palette of the rest of the avenue.

While Michigan Avenue stores might not receive as much of an individual gain from being part of a larger landscaping scheme, Miller said that the beautiful environment attracts shoppers to the area to begin with.

A lot of cities say we can't afford it. And actually in a number of these studies that I was referencing, they pay for themselves and then some.”

In addition to boosting sales and making happier customers, flowers and plants can be good for the whole community. Miller said a study found that students who are exposed to green during recess “tend to perform better, get higher grades, have greater memory retention.”

Some cities have even begun using edible plants in public spaces as a community food source. A community garden Montpelier, Vt.'s Statehouse grew 286 pounds of veggies for the soup kitchens in its first year and planned to grow 400 pounds this year, American City & County magazine reported earlier this summer.

Ethnic Flavors

RETAILERS OFTEN CHANGE their ethnic food aisle items to take into account local demographics — for example, by adding a larger selection of Hispanic food in neighborhoods with Hispanic communities. But they don't necessarily do this in the garden area, notes Marvin Miller, market research manager at Ball Horticultural Company. This may be a missed opportunity.

“I think a lot of retailers know to whom they sell product, but I don't know that a lot of retailers know who comes in the door and walks out without anything,” said Miller.

With different ethnic groups, “there are different preferences for flower color, for example. There are different preferences for some of the vegetable items, certainly with the Hispanic market you might have a bigger call for hot peppers than in another in where you have no Hispanics,” explained Miller, adding that different communities each have their own garden preferences.

To discover these preferences, Miller suggested retailers offer regular ethnic food cooking demonstrations to bring the communities into the store. Retailers can then solicit feedback from customers on their preferences and also talk to the guest chef about what spices, vegetables and fruits go with the kind of cooking they're doing.
— J.T.