Magnet Works Retailer Spotlight: Gertens

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I’m excited to announce our newest blog feature – the Magnet Works Retailer Spotlight! On our blog from time to time, we’ll acknowledge a Magnet Works retailer who excels in key categories such as merchandising, promotions, marketing, visual display, etc. Our goal is to give our retailers a source of ideas and inspiration as they work to improve their own stores.

GertensFor our first spotlight, we are excited to showcase Gertens of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Gertens is one of the largest privately owned independent garden centers in the country and was recently selected as the Independent Garden Center Retailer of the Year. Not only does Gertens have a highly successful garden center and gift shop, but they do an exceptional job merchandising their store and creating visual displays.

Mike and I spoke with Dennis Orfei, the Gift Shop Buyer/Manager at Gertens, to learn more about their success. Dennis has worked in the garden and gift industries for almost 20 years. He started his career with a focus in horticulture – doing landscape design and sales right out of college. He managed a variety of garden centers, large and small, for over 10 years before he started at Gertens, where he currently serves as the Gift Shop Manager and Co-buyer. He has now been at Gertens for 8 years.

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Q: Where do you get ideas for the visual displays in your store? Where do you go for inspiration or for new ideas?

Gertens Gift Shop - HalloweenA: We get most of our ideas and inspiration by attending gift markets, particularly in Atlanta. We do have a local gift mart here in Minneapolis, but most of our inspiration comes from products and trends we see in Atlanta. If we’re seeing the same thing repeated in different showrooms in different ways, we’ll consider emulating that in our store.

We also look at magazines – both gift magazines and publications with a less specific focus – to find the broader trends in our culture today. Once we get an idea in mind for a theme, it’s much easier to pick merchandise that goes along with it. We coordinate our displays by theme and color. So if there’s a strong color out there, we’ll put together a merchandise plan representing that specific color trend.

Q: As the buyer for Gertens, do you set up the visual displays or delegate that task?

A: No it’s basically me and Teresa Pitera, my co-buyer. At Gertens, we buy the gift product and do the merchandising. I think that works well because we know what we’ve purchased, what’s coming in, and what kind of look we’re putting together. That way nothing gets lost in translation.

Q: How do you find the props, supplies, and staging materials that fill out your visual displays to give them such great character, color, and atmosphere?

A: If we see a prop in a showroom at market that would work well in our store, we’ll purchase that prop along with the product, but sometimes we find great deals on props at antique dealers or at a vendor’s prop “garage sale”.

Gertens Garden CenterTo add warmth and extra light, we’ll throw in a lot of lamps. Sometimes, we’ll incorporate books (which are for sale) that correspond with the theme of the display. Also, we find a lot of props around our store. As a garden center, it’s easy to find containers, garden tools, and plants that can cross-merchandise well as part of a gift display.

Q: What advice would you give to other independent retailers out there?

A: I would stress the importance of having a good teacher – someone you can go to who has experience because there’s nothing better than personal experience. Teresa, my co-buyer, who is one of the owners at Gertens, has taught me a lot about how to buy. I remember that first year when we went to Atlanta, I had just started as the gift buyer at Gertens, and I was so overwhelmed. My head was spinning. It was incredibly helpful to have Teresa there to show me the ropes.

Q: Where do you think other independent retailers could find a mentor if they don’t have someone with industry experience on staff? Gertens Gift Shop

A: I would say get out in the marketplace and look at what other successful retailers are doing. We have many great and successful stores of all types in the twin cities. I’ll occasionally go into these other stores to see what they’re doing. It’s a great way to get inspiration for your displays and to teach yourself about merchandising and visual display. I’d suggest you go out and see what other successful retailers are doing in your area and keep an eye on industry magazines.

Q: What’s your Magnet Works story? How did you come to carry Magnet Works?

A: It definitely helps to work with a great rep, and Jeannie Bielicki is that person. We always carried the MailWraps Mailbox covers, but at first, we were carrying a competitor’s flag line. When Jeannie came into the picture, we switched to Magnet Works BreezeArt flags because of her experience and confidence with the product.  Our customers loved the fact that they could coordinate their entire outdoor decor together.  And since we keep the mat, mailbox cover, and flag merchandise in the same spot, we love the fact that it has a more uniform look.

MatMates at GertensWe’ve always carried mats, primarily coir mats. But when we brought in the MatMates, they were highly successful and really outsold the coir mats. Now we carry mostly MatMates. Customers love the designs and the vibrant colors.  It’s a great feeling when you know you have a quality product that keeps customers coming back for more.

QWhat are some of your other top categories of product that you feel are critical to a stores success?

 A:  Additional must have categories would include books on gardening, cooking, inspirational and humorous, bath and body products, wind chimes and trend products like garden gnomes, fairy gardening accessories, and solar powered items.  We try to have a variety of price points in our product mix but look for items that will retail in the  $20-30 range.

Q.  Any final thoughts or suggestions for independent store buyers as they head in to the fourth quarter of the year.

I would say be cautiously optimistic with uncertain economic times.  Choose quality products that will be perceived as a good value to the customer.  Offer the customer multiple price points with “good, better and best” options.

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Our thanks to Dennis for being so generous with his time and input.  We wish Dennis and the entire Gertens team continued success!

Where do you find inspiration and props for visual displays in your store? Please tell us in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

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