John Stanley recently visited Russia and discovered some surprising developments in the garden centre business. Here is a snapshot of the retail garden centre around Moscow.
As well as being home to the largest garden centre in Europe, and possibly the world, Moscow is also home to round-the-clock nurseries. Many operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! These were two discoveries I made as I explored the Russian capital.
I was invited to Russia to present a keynote address and workshop to the floriculture and horticulture industry. My topic was my view on the direction of garden retailing over the next five years and how Russian garden centres can maximise their opportunities in response.
This was my first visit to this part of the world and I had no idea what to expect. To start with, there isn’t a garden centre association in Russia and therefore it was difficult to carry out research prior to my visit.
My observations on the industry are based on the garden centres around Moscow, which I am told number around 300. This includes Imperial Gardens, the largest garden centre in Europe, a plethora of well-designed European-style retail centres, as well as many small, family-owned businesses that often consist of a shed and a few plants.
February (still very much winter) is a busy month as gardeners start propagating plants ready for spring. The spring season starts in earnest on March 8, which is ‘Ladies Day’. This is a day when men are encouraged to buy flowers and plants for the women in their lives.
Although late autumn and into December is a busy time in most European garden centres, it is not the case in Russia, where garden centres aren’t seen as places to buy Christmas decorations.
My first observation is based on the demographics of the market. My impression of the market is that it’s divided into two groups: the ultra rich, who have large mansions around the edge of the city and employ landscapers and gardeners; and apartment dwellers. There seems to be an almost nonexistent or at best, very small, middle class. These segments clearly define the retail marketing opportunities.
In general, 65 per cent of sales are seasonal and 20 per cent of sales are made to the super rich. One surprise was the amount of retailers who told me that despite not having much growing space, most Russians are keen gardeners.
Selling to the super rich
If you have a large market of multi-millionaires, your marketing strategies change and this is obvious around Moscow.
At the Orangery, part of Crocus (a large UK-based online garden centre and grower), I encountered the largest selection of indoor plants in one location that I have seen anywhere. The centre is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I asked how they justify being open at 2am, I was told that after midnight they break even but this is the time when the super rich like to go shopping with their landscapers so that they have privacy and are not worried about being recognised.
Imperial Gardens has the largest selection of plants in one retail location I have ever seen. The majority were large landscape specimens and many were burlapped (bare-rooted and wrapped in burlap). It was difficult to understand this retail model until I was taken to look at a few customers’ gardens. The customer base are the estate owners that surround the centre. These are gated estates containing mansions where gardeners and landscapers are employed. The price of the plant is the least consideration for their customers.
Service and signage
Another surprise was while many displays showed some flair and ideas for consumers, customer service is an art that has not developed in Moscow. This is not a criticism of garden retailers, the same situation occurs in the main retail hub in the city. Consumers in Russia are not approached by salespeople as their focus appears to be on tidying stock rather than making a sale.
When it comes to product mix, floristry is very popular in Russia and the floral trade is very healthy. Garden retailers in general focus on woody plants, as a result the colour patio market is under developed. Seasonal sales of plants could be one area the industry could focus on to grow sales.
Plant quality in the stores visited was high, but signage to grow sales was underdeveloped.
I have been invited back to present more workshops in other regions of Russia and look forward to working with an industry that is progressing rapidly and has huge opportunities.
John Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org