19April2024

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Garden Centre Japan Style - By John Stanley

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Do they have garden centres in Japan? That was comment from a meeting with a garden centre owner to me when I mentioned I had been invited to Japan to work with the industry.

With a population of 127 million people and 70% of the wealth concentrated around Tokyo and Osaka whose residents spend, on average, 18,000yen per head a year on plant products, the nursery industry is large and substantial with 25,000 garden and florist outlets supplied by 2,400 wholesale nurseries.

Yes, the industry has declined by 25% over the last five years, but that has mainly been due to the lack or f restructuring of the industry rather than the faltering flat economy.

Many in the industry have relied on an ancient system of distribution, the auction. There are over 700 plant auctions in Japan and they hold auctions three times a week. With an industry where the stock turn varies between one and six stock turns a year, this seems to be an expensive distribution system that is hampered even more by many buyers who do not know there product and therefore buy on pot size and go for the cheapest price.

This is sad when you consider Japanese growers are some of the most passionate I have met and the consumer also has a real passion for plants.

A typical well run garden centre generates 84,000Yen per square metre per year from its plant area based on an average sale of 2,000Yen per customer per visit.

Companies such as Joyful Honda with 16 stores have some of the largest garden centres you will see anywhere in the world, whilst companies such as Protoleaf is one of the best boutique garden centres I have ever seen anywhere.

What Makes Japanese Garden Centres Different?

Japanese retailing is about plants. Plants that are looking their best at point of purchase. One reason for this is that this is an urban society with some of the most expensive accommodation in the world. This means that outdoor gardens often do not exist and therefore container gardening is huge. It also means that any plant can become a container plant; cyclamen can be placed next to camellias and tropical foliage to create the right effect in a container.

Plant areas are full of colour. I was visiting plant centres in February that were full of colour. When your market is a container market the winter has less affect on stock turn and cash flow. The container and the plant are critical, get that right and sales are guaranteed.

What can we learn from Japan

Apart from working with the garden centres and nurseries in Japan to improve their marketing, it was also an opportunity to look at new ideas that could be introduced into the industry in other countries.

1. Small Plant Containers are beautiful and profitable.

Small containers and plants as gifts and ornaments should make up a large proportion of the product mix. Consumers are looking for small living gifts. In packaging the gift the container is equal to the plant. The detail required in selecting the right container is important.

2 Colour theme indoor living

Many retailers tell me that indoor living is such a small part of their retail mix at present. When you look at their merchandising strategy in this area you can often understand why. The leaders in Japan are aware that the category is made up of:

  • Living furniture
  • Seasonal Gifts
  • Orchids
  • Passion Red
  • Celebrations
  • Pure White
  • Pastel Pink
  • Sunny Yellow
  • Miniature gardens

They display the categories accordingly. The colour categories changing in space allocation depending on the seasons.

3 Miniature Gardens are a Growth Category

I am seeing growth in this category in the USA with Fairy Gardening and the same is occurring in Europe. The Japanese are ahead of the rest of the world in developing this category. One reason for this is the growth started in China and is spreading around Asia before hitting other regions of the world.

4 The Biggest Lesson

Do not be a horticultural purist. Indoor plants can be mixed with outdoor plants to get the right effect for the consumer. Outdoor plants in flower can be used as indoor plants. Merge the indoor and outdoor departments and become a lot more creative.

5 A Cautionary Note

The Japanese market still relies on the auction system. They have over 700 auctions around the country and many of them hold auctions three times a week, this has stifled the marketing of plants. Although the growers are passionate, many auction buyers do not know there plants and as a result buy based on pot size. The result is that plants are becoming a commodity products and as a result and are often offered to the consumer too cheaply. The result is they are losing their gift appeal and a down turn in sales as occurred. The cheapest is not always the best.

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Source: Garden Centre Japan Style - By John Stanley