Products, services, companies, even people can be branded, but is your garden centre a recognised brand? Asks Andy Campbell

This is not branding in terms of creating a major national or global consumer brand like Coca-Cola; simply establishing your garden centre as a destination of first choice in the minds of the population within its catchment area. The true test being, where they would drive past a competitor to visit your centre or to walk away from the eCommerce site on their device to come to you. Never has this been more important than in a post-Covid-19 era.

What we really mean by a brand is something that everyone can latch on to, buy in to, believe in, and develop some form of emotional attachment to. The ideal starting point is to establish something that is unique about your business as far as the consumer is concerned. Something that cannot easily be replicated by anyone else; an element of your total offer that no one else has. At the most basic level, this involves the absolute positioning you adopt on the major elements of the marketing mix namely choice, quality, service, price and promotion. However, it becomes harder and harder over time to find a position that is uniquely different. Therefore, what you need to seek to genuinely differentiate yourself from everyone else are the less tangible elements such as the style, design and innovation credentials of your offer which constitute the “look” and the experience you offer which contributes to the “feel” of the business.


Successful branding is not really about designing a logo and then spending vast amounts of money placing it in front of the consumer repeatedly. It is about the essence of what you stand for that is believable and then ensuring that wherever existing and potential customers come into contact with it, the message is consistent. These customers build their perception of your garden centre based on an amalgamation of all their contact with it and experience of it, including word of mouth referral.

It is not limited simply to the products and prices on offer but includes external advertising and promotion, building design and frontage, initial impressions on arrival, the ambience and shopping environment, internal signage and point of sale material, the approach to merchandising and display, staff uniforms, the customer service experience, interaction at the information desk and final impressions at checkouts; as well as the performance of the products and services themselves.

The key message is that this long list of elements has to be right for the brand to be truly successful. The right products on the right display equipment in the wrong environment won’t work. A great offer in a fantastic shopping environment but with non-existent or unhelpful customer service equally will not strengthen the brand; it all has to be there and pointing in the same direction. The only way this can be achieved is if everyone working within the organisation believes in the brand and what it stands for. This will then manifest itself throughout the business from how messages are communicated in written form such as promotional leaflets, how the telephone is answered, right through to a positive exchange at the checkout. The principle also applies behind the scenes in the organisation and covers everything from how the employees are treated and the style and approach to working with suppliers.

When it comes to product selection, what is clear is there are products and brands that will enhance the overall brand of the centre and there are those that will very likely harm it. You are what you stock to a large extent. The selection role is therefore a critical one in all retail businesses.

Own Brand

Large retailers tend to progress down the own brand route for a number of reasons:

  • To simplify what is a complex offer, particularly where it has been drawn together from several
  • To make profitability improvements over the proprietary brand, particularly for commodity products.
  • To improve the packaging and presentation of the offer over and above what is available from the
  • To provide additional authority as a retailer of perishable, seasonal and weather dependent ranges.
  • To enhance their quality and design reputation, particularly for added value, leisure oriented ranges.

To the consumer they are seeking to offer something better, cheaper or different, ideally all three and, wherever possible, exclusive. Very few single independent garden centres though are likely to find the development of their own label ranges a viable option due to scale, particularly when all the costs of development are taken into the equation. Therefore, ensuring the most compatible proprietary brands are stocked is essential.

So, having worked to ensure that the product and service offer is right; the infrastructure of the centre is right; the ways of doing business are right and all the people within the business are totally aligned; the challenge is how to market your garden centre as a brand. Here again, the key message is consistency. You need to ensure that all forms of communication repeatedly reinforce the message of what the brand stands for – the brand values. In addition, there needs to be a consistency in the detail such as logo, colours and fonts so that the customer continuously receives the same visual impression and over time subliminally links this to the brand values. A strong brand is one that communicates quickly and unequivocally what it is about.

The primary benefit of adopting this approach is the opportunity to steadily build your business over time. By developing a clear and consistent brand identity that is pitched correctly at the customer base within your catchment area, you are much more likely to attract more of them to your garden centre and capture a higher proportion of their garden, home and leisure spend.

Secondly, the opportunity to trade more towards the premium end of the spectrum where profit margins tend to be higher is clearly there if you choose to take it, moving away from the need to compete purely on price. Whilst this might not be uppermost in many people’s minds right now, when the marketplace becomes much more competitive, which it inevitably will, this issue will be even more vital to sustained profitability.

Finally, by establishing a relationship with the consumer through the brand, you are appealing to their emotional side as well as the rational side of their nature, on which greater loyalty can be built. This is what will put you in good stead during times of adversity when customers are more likely to give the business the benefit of the doubt, continue to support you and keep telling others of the positive experience they receive.

ANDY CAMPBELL is an independent business development consultant specialising in the garden entre industry with approaching 40 years retail experience.

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