Neville Stein considers mass customisation

21 July 2022
  • Whastsapp

Guest blogger and well-known industry consultant Neville Stein considers mass customisation …… 

If you are someone who likes to visit a variety of different garden centres, you will probably be aware that they all stock pretty much the same products! Yes, they might be displayed in different ways, and the overall ambience, look, and feel of the centre might differ from neighbouring centres, but it’s pretty safe to say that what they offer generally looks the same, even down to the shop fittings used to display the products.  For years customer loyalty and the convenience of the nearest garden centre generally meant customers shopped at one preferred site, but most customers now do shop around and will compare and contrast before they buy.  They will notice what looks distinct and different and what looks the same as in other shops – even subconsciously - and of course, they will tend to buy the products that stand out.  

How then, in this age of homogenised retail can the products you sell stand out from the crowd - particularly when they are coming from the same wholesalers? One approach is mass customisation, (also known as made-to-order, and ‘built-to-order’), which simply is a marketing and manufacturing technique combining the flexibility and personalisation of custom-made products with the low unit costs associated with mass production. There are four approaches to mass customisation - a subject for another blog – but the one I think most simple and suitable for our trade is that of ‘cosmetic customisation’. If you are a cosmetic customiser (generally a wholesaler) essentially you will be presenting a standard product differently, to different customers.  

 I think there’s a real opportunity now for garden centres to work more with growers to help them become cosmetic customisers – some are doing it already, but many more could do so. A standard offering can be packaged specifically for each customer with their bespoke design, differentiating their offer from their competitors, and reinforcing their own brand.  The Garden Centre will also then have a further reason for loyalty to the wholesaler who has provided the cosmetic customisation. Yes, there may be an extra cost involved, but the advantages are manyfold.  Cosmetic customisation makes products stand out from those in other stores, and that alone can make the sale when it’s on the shelf by separating it from the homogenised products in other stores that all look the same.  The fact the product looks different (even if essentially the same) also makes it more difficult for a customer to compare retail prices, meaning you can charge slightly more for your customised product. And, as we have seen in almost every sector, consumers do seem to be happy to pay a little more for something they feel has added value, even if that added value is just a more colourful pot.  

The customisation of course doesn’t have to be something that reinforces a brand – a business may want the customisation to chop and change according to seasons and promotions rather than follow a consistent ‘look’.  However cosmetic customisation is a cracking opportunity to create a more consistent, district and recognisable look. To achieve it, the customising nursery and the Garden Centre business will need to work closely together to match what can be offered to the brand look they are seeking to reinforce.  The latter needs to be clear about what it wants and what will be compatible – and to make sure no other competitor has a similar customised look!  They may need assurance from the wholesaler that they will not supply a local rival with the same customisation. Standing out and being different (for the right reasons!) is what you want to achieve.  

The degree of cosmetic customisation can obviously vary according to what the Garden Centre wants and are prepared to pay a little more for. Different coloured pots is the most simple cosmetic customisation, but nurseries could also offer a bespoke plant label or point of sale for customers that advertise the product benefits in different ways.  Many garden centre buyers are now also able to get their own name printed on the plant label, and when that name has a good reputation for quality the customer is more inclined to buy that plant.   

The selling and displaying of cosmetically customised products is also perhaps good for our whole industry, as it introduces more colour, variety, choice and character to our stores, which in turn attracts more customers due to the ambience and the visual ‘display theatre’ attractive plant products can create.  A word of warning, however – the product itself always has to be good, it’s not just about the packaging!  A good friend of mine used to entertain us with a game called ‘brand or no brand’. This involved us all sampling bits of confectionery bars both from the original manufacturers and from the supermarkets selling very similar products in almost identical copied packaging. We had to guess which was the original, and no surprise we always did.