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Garden Centre Management

By: Crafer, K
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Garden Centre management has professionalised in recent years as garden centres have become more highly developed retail operations. Many students of horticulture are expected to go into retail management and so the topic has increasingly appeared on the further education curriculum. This book is equally targeted at students, garden centre managers and professional courses in garden centre management. It provides a practical approach backed up by management theory. The text covers consumer behaviour, staff management, stock management, marketing and productivity.

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10 Chapters

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1: Position

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1 

Position

1.1  The Evolution of the Garden Centre

Plants have been an essential component of life throughout human history,

­initially as a food source, but increasingly for their ornamental and aesthetic values. The development of home ownership and single household occupancy dwellings helped create the ornamental horticulture market that is seen today.

While plant nurseries are a long established concept, the use of the term

‘garden centre’ is far more recent and ill defined. Stewarts garden centres in

Dorset are amongst a number of businesses who claim to be the first in the UK, having seen the concept of growing hardy plants in containers for sale in Toronto,

Canada, in the mid-1950s (Stewarts Garden Centres, 2014). An embryonic industry using similar techniques was developing in the USA at this time. Regardless of the precise date, the sector has developed rapidly and has changed in all recognition from the earliest examples.

What have been these drivers for change?

1.1.1  Development of technologies for container plant production

 

2: Consumer Behaviour

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Consumer Behaviour

It’s a simple question: ‘What does the person need?’ However, answering it is far more complex. The decisions and priorities that an individual places upon the purchase of specific products has been studied at length and help to form a framework within which a retailer may work, but there is a significant number of situations where human behaviour is not rational, too.

2.1 The Buying Process

Probably most fundamental to retailers is the understanding of the stages that surround the selection and purchasing of a product. These stages are often presented in the format shown in Fig. 2.1, all of which may be influenced by the retailer. Success is required in all these stages in order not only for a successful purchase to be made but also for repeat business to follow. It is easy for the retailer to over-complicate the decisions the consumer has to make.

Many garden retailers will pride themselves on the range of garden-care chemicals they stock (as a specialist retailer). However, if the choice of weedkillers

 

3: Customer Care

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Customer Care

The purpose of a retail organization is to offer goods and services for the customer to use in a manner that is profitable to both parties. Fundamental to this is the understanding of what a customer actually wants. This is often dependent upon knowledge of likely consumer behaviour (Chapter 2) and then presenting the product offer in a way that will be attractive to them. This is commonly known as marketing (Chapter 4).

Between these two stages the manager has to evaluate and identify the method and level at which their organization will provide products and services.

These decisions will affect the way a potential customer will view that garden centre’s ‘offer’ and help shape their view as to its position within the marketplace.

3.1  Customer Motivation

According to consumer behaviourists, a successful transaction will only take place if the garden retailer is able to match a suitable product to the wants or needs of the customer.

Understanding the motivation of the customer is the key to making an effective match. However, this may become muddled in many retailers’ minds as there may be a mixing of needs and solutions. The perception, for example, that

 

4: Marketing

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Marketing

4.1  Introduction

Whilst everyone uses the word, trying to define what marketing actually is proves to be more complex. Some will cite ‘advertising’, others ‘promotion’ or ‘display’. In many ways it is all these things and far more. The Chartered Institute of Marketing offers this definition:

Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

In other words, by studying and evaluating the market forces and factors affecting a business, the business is able to put itself into a position whereby it may optimize the benefit of its position.

Without good marketing, it is extremely difficult for a business to understand and meet the needs of its customers; with a potential gap between their needs and what the business has to offer, there is the opportunity for another competing business to meet their needs more closely.

While the focus is often on advertising or selling, marketing is a key process that in effect starts with the development and procurement of goods and services to meet the needs or wants of the customer. Interpretation of this may be very important, as the customer is not always aware of these themselves, and often the development of a product meets a need that thus far has not been recognized.

 

5: Managing the Team

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Managing the Team

The success of many start-up businesses in the early years is due to the entrepreneurial ability of the individual. Growth in the next phase of development is sometimes stunted because even though the founder is good at exploiting new ideas, they are less able to manage a team and help others reach their full potential. Often the skills that enabled the business to become a success in the early phase can be a barrier to future growth.

A study at the University of Cambridge (Hughes, 1998) looked at a real-time comparison of small- and medium-sized enterprises as they developed in international markets over 10 years. It was discovered that those businesses that stalled or faltered in their growth, when compared to those in the study with steady growth, were characterized by:

ill-defined strategic direction with regard to product and market development; poorly specified (or frequently changed) managerial responsibilities; inadequate devolution of managerial tasks and hence over-burdening of directors who may or may not hold the positions they do by design; and inadequately supported or poorly implemented management training programmes and management information systems.

 

6: Developing Staff

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Developing Staff

People are still the driving force behind any organization. Even if a department does not have direct contact with the purchasing customer, they still have a wide range of ‘internal’ customers within the organization with whom they interact.

The efficiency of all these interactions has a dramatic effect upon the success or failure of the business.

The challenge with any form of staff development within a business is calculating the financial benefits. It is easy to define the costs of staff development, through the collation of invoices and measurement of time spent off the job, whereas the improvements to production are less easy to measure. For organizations where there is a pressure on cash flow, the budget for personal development is an easy target as there are fewer directly measurable gains – the Return on

Investment (ROI; Kaufman and Hotchkiss, 2006).

However, lack of skills can bring a number of inefficiencies into an organization; while these are not easily measured, all combine together to prevent the organization from working at its full effectiveness.

 

7: Managing Safety and Security

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Managing Safety and Security

7.1  Introduction

Reading most garden centre-related articles in trade magazines, visiting trade shows or interactions with supplier representatives, the focus is primarily on the development of profit. For any business this is indeed a primary consideration as without this the business will fail.

The business owner does have other social and ethical responsibilities which are implicit within the running of the business. These are not divorced from the focus upon profit but are intertwined with it. Indeed the success of the retailer will have a significant effect on the local community in terms of employment as well as the beneficial effect on manufacturing and service and service sectors that support it and help it to develop. From this standpoint, the owner or manager has a mandate to ensure the business is as successful as possible, albeit balanced with appropriate care and consideration for other partners and colleagues.

Each business will work within the context of the legal constraints of the country within which they are based, but in addition will be pressured by acceptable cultural norms; examples being the hours of opening, observance of cultural events such as a minute’s silence on Armistice Day (11 November), or the way it advertises products. In this latter case there may be a community backlash if the attempt to be clever and noticeable is deemed to be insensitive or vulgar.

 

8: Stock Management

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Stock Management

Stock or inventory management is a vital part of the success of a business; without close control, a business may suffer significant cash-flow problems even though immensely popular and attaining a high gross margin. Despite being so important to the success of a business, it is not a topic that typically gets the average garden centre manager particularly excited, until of course there is an inability to purchase the stock that is needed for a seasonal opportunity because the business has locked up its financial resources in other items.

In addition to the financial implications of effective stock management, there are many other hidden benefits. While it has been estimated that poor stock control systems may mean a loss on sales of 2–3% due to lines being out of stock, there are also effects on staff morale if they are commonly having to address customer frustrations when in-demand products are out of stock.

However, probably the more far-reaching effect is the impact upon the customer.

 

9: Productivity

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Productivity

Productivity management, in essence the optimal use of resources in meeting the needs of the customer, is a preoccupation of all managers. The outcomes of this optimization should result in a surplus or profit for the business. In whatever sphere, although a loss may be sustainable in the short term, a continuing reduction in capital will put the whole business or initiative in jeopardy.

However, the obvious challenge for many garden centres is to understand how well they are doing. Clearly turnover can be measured against projections, but as these were defined by the business itself, this becomes an exercise in identifying how well the retailer is performing against their own estimates.

Other sources monitoring the retailer’s performance, such as the bank, are again only measuring against the business’s own projections, potentially against a business case that was presented in order to secure the loan or overdraft.

What would be more useful, therefore, would be to evaluate performance against others in the sector, thus giving a better understanding of where the business has the potential to improve significantly – changing the focus of management time and effort.

 

10: Future Responsibilities

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Future Responsibilities

10.1  Introduction

The future influences the present just as much as the past.

Fredrich Neitzsche

Attempting to look ahead within any business is fraught with difficulty as it is truly a trip into the unknown. That said, the manager needs to be trying to interpret trends and fashions in order to stay ahead of competitors and to meet the future demands of their customers. As identified in the very first chapter, McNair’s Wheel of Retailing theory identifies that retailing does not remain constant. Only those businesses that innovate, adapting to changes within the marketplace, will survive. Sometime this means radical overhauls of practices and product offers.

This is not a new phenomenon, even in horticulture. Many of those businesses with a long horticultural pedigree have only been garden centre retailers for a matter of a few decades – their earlier fame founded on the supply of seeds, bulbs or as growers of nursery stock. As highlighted in Chapter 1, the size, style and ambience of garden centres has also changed rapidly, and there is no reason to perceive that in its current format it is indeed the finished article.

 

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