Article 4-6 What The Customer Wants

By Tim Walker

What do customers want? That question always comes to mind when evaluating new products. Will this new piece of equipment be in demand, or replace an existing unit? Will the price be in line with products that already are on the market?

In my twenty plus years in horticulture, I have seen many fads and trendy products come and go. What are still around are the products that make retailers profitable!

There are really only three classes of products: consumables, equipment and add on or p.o.p products. The first group is the products that customers in any store come back for. This could be milk, coffee or yes even plant food. Customers run out and out of necessity they order more. The second category is equipment where the choice is made more carefully since it is often a one time purchase. Will it be used just once like a special drill bit or be placed in a location for permanent use like an inline fan. These are the questions the customer asks when determining how much they will be willing to spend on this purchase.

The third category are point of purchase products generally placed near the check out till and priced to be a minor cost to the purchaser. We have all seen lighters, glue or small plant fertilizer packages near the cash till priced at usually under $10.00.

When deciding on product mix you need to determine what will keep your clients coming back to your store. Will it be the mix of product selection designed to prevent customers from travelling to your competitors store or will it be the sound advice and product knowledge that you provide to them? Possibly it will be the latest and most innovative products to help improve their garden or save them time. In either case the retail owner needs to do a balancing act between offering commodity products and specialty products.

Commodity products while not giving the bigger margins usually sell by themselves without much effort and give minimum profit dollars. The specialty products may not provide the fast sale but once promoted and the customer understands the usage, will provide steady sales at better profit margins. Always keeping this mix in mind and selecting “target” areas in your store will bring about increases in sales and profit margin dollars.

Watch out for trends vs. fads. In the past a fad might be something like a “Tickle Me Elmo doll” or colored jeans. Do you see them on the shelf today? No, but you do see cellular phones and home P.C.’s. Look for new technology that will potentially be here for some time to come and look for companies who can consistently deliver these products to you the retailer.

How do we treat our customers in the store? Maybe more important is how do our employees treat our customers even if we the owners are not their? Nothing makes me hotter than walking in a store and wanting to ask the clerk something but I have to wait until he is off of the phone with his buddy discussing last nights conquest at the bar. Then what I really love is when I ask the question and I get the reply “I dunno” followed by silence. Yes I really am impressed. Now just to make sure I don’t come back I hand the cashier my money and without ever making any eye contact or looking at me even once, I get my change. No simple “thank you” or “thanks for shopping here” or “hope to see you again”. Don’t worry you WON’T.

As a consumer look for products that will bring you success or satisfaction with the least amount of trouble and at a fair price. Finally be loyal to the store that is good to you. If a store has given you consistently good service, fair prices, helpful suggestions along with the latest information and handles any warranty without a hassle.

Then in all fairness you really should support that store! Our industry is only as strong as the support we give our stores and wholesalers. We hope everyone has a great 2002 season!