Profitable Times Newsletter


(This is an article written for the February/March issue of Nursery Retailer.

This is the first in a series of articles about garden center layout and design principles. In general, we will explore this topic by starting with the exterior of the space and moving into and toward the back of the store. This first article will focus on exterior and interior signage.

Signs are an important marketing tool. This pretty much defines the underlying principle to be used when planning or evaluating your signage. As a potent form of advertising and image building the goal is to use signage to build sales.

There is probably not a more economical way to communicate with your customers and transfer information to them. Signage should be approached as an investment not just an expense. Signs can't guarantee success but inadequate signage will temper it.

In this article le the focus is on the goals of signage. These goals are applicable to a broad range of 'signs' including: awnings, billboards, wall graphics, bags, promotional literature, roof signs, reader boards, banners, window signs, etc.

First a few general guiding principles.

Who's the customer? There are no good decisions made in retailing without a clear understanding of the customer. In terms of signage there are two important groups. Customers who are under thirty-five years old are more visceral and react well to graphics. Those over thirty-five are more intellectual and likely to take the time to read text. Do your customers predominantly fall into one group or the other? Does your signage relate to the majority of your customers?

There are four goals for signage, each leading to the next goal.

  1. Attract Attention
    The appeal of a sign comes first then the message. It's important to remember that signs communicate more than what is written on them. The eye is quick to see, evaluate and then continue with or ignore what comes next. A sign may have great information, but if it's poorly written, shabbily produced, dirty or ineffectively placed, it will be ignored.

  2. Engage the Customer
    A professional looking sign that is clear, brief and consistent with other graphics simply has a much better chance of being read.

  3. Inform
    Now that the customer has decided to give your sign some time, you have the responsibility to reward them with information. The clarity of the signage applies equally to hours of operation, return policy, planting and care instructions, and price tags. Be wary, the use of too many typefaces, poor printing or hand-written signs may include good information, but they may not engage the customer and can also cast suspicion on quality.

  4. Motivate
    The most direct link to the marketing value of signage is this goal. In retail environments signs are primarily created for the purpose of increasing revenue. To do that, the signs need a call to action. This motivating factor may be explicit, "Plant me today for flowers all summer long." It can also be subtle by describing a plant or product making it irresistible — but some motivation must be there.

Just a couple thoughts about execution. Consistency is important. Use your company's logo, colors and fonts in a consistent manner. That doesn't mean that the plant related signs can't look different than the signage used in the gift shop, but they should share many similarities and the signs within each area should have identical themes.

Street Signage
Street signage is your chance to make a first impression and has to be especially clear because customers don't have the opportunity to stop and study the information. The name of your store should say it all. Andrew's doesn't tell the customer what type of store it is. Sure, your beautifully landscaped street presence sends a message, but that may not be sufficient. Andrew's Nursery and Garden Center does a much better job. Even this can be improved by adding a couple key features such as Gift Shop or Koi Pond Supplies under the name. And don't forget about clear directions to parking!

Where local zoning laws or retail center rules allow, make sure at least one of your street signs is perpendicular to the flow of foot and vehicular traffic. Signs that are in this position relative to the customer have a much better chance of being seen.

Interior Signage
Almost without exception, nurseries and garden centers benefit from interior and outdoor department/category signs. These signs act like silent salespersons who are always accurate and never absent. And the bigger the retail presence, the more necessary signage becomes.

Don't assume the customer 'gets it' — tell them. For example, in addition to plant identification and planting and care instructions, identify indoor and outdoor plant groups; tool and soil amendment departments; the gift shop; garden ornament, furniture, pots and pond supply areas; books (by category); apparel (by size), etc.

In addition, the sales of special products like new and rare plants, the most expensive items in the gift shop or unusual tools are boosted by signage that focuses the customer's attention. These signs might look like this.

Product Name
The description should be no more than 30-35 words long, using a 14-point serif font (a font with little feet at the end of the lines). Special emphasis should be placed on highlighting the benefits of the product.

Special services should also be highlighted. "We Ship and Deliver" signs should posted near heavy, fragile and bulky merchandise, and at the checkout counter to answer a possible objection to buying these products. Similarly, special order, gift-wrap and the availability of other services should be promoted.

Did you know that the sale of gift certificates is often the most profitable 'department' in a store? Because many certificates are never redeemed, they often bring in customers who have never been in your store before and most lead to sales above the value of the certificate, you should promote them with signage on the shelves and at the cash-wrap.

Finally, there should be no negative signage. Study after study after study has shown that negative signage focused on one type of customer behavior impacts the comfort and interest of customers in many other unrelated areas. Instead of signs directing customers not to splash in the display pond, first try merchandising in such a way that a natural and attractive barrier discourages this activity.

See the complete list of Profitable Times™ Newsletters.


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