Pond Shops, Pond Products and Pond Creep

In the last two weeks alone, I’ve visited over 20 water garden shops from literally New Jersey to California. I always enjoy what I learn, seeing how different retailers do things. There’s one thing however that I’m always particularly interested in. That is whether or not the retailer I’m visiting has experienced what I call “Product Creep.” That is, does their retail store have a good, better, best product selection or are they like Basking Robins with 31 choices for every category?!

Let’s start with defining Product Creep, which isn’t a bad situation in every case (but indeed most.) Simply put, Product Creep is what happens when a well-intentioned retailer tries to take care of their customers’ requests. It usually goes like this:

Retailer: Can I help you?

Customer: I was looking for XYZ product, do you have it?

Retailer: Well we don’t have that brand, but we do have this one.

Customer: I’ve never used that one before, I’ve always used brand XYZ and I know it works.

Retailer: Let me get that in for you.

Now on the surface there is nothing wrong with this exchange. It would have been great if the retailer could have rattled off all the features, and benefits, of the alternative product that was already in stock on the shelf, and its competitive selling points, but alas he’s a seasonal guy who’s only been on the job a few months, and already is overworked wearing 50 hats for his employer. So to earn the customers’ business, on a product they are already sold on, the retailer brings in product XYZ. That’s supply and demand at its finest. The problem is that there are a lot of XYZ products in the universe, and only so much shelf space in your store. So what started out with a basic good, better, best, product offering becomes Product Creep and turns your otherwise little pond shop into a grocery store for Pondaholics!

There is a sea of options with products but choosing wisely is the name of the game.

And then it happens, somewhere between years two and ten. Your pond champion leaves your pond for greener waters and the guy who knows everything about his favorite pond-geek brands on the shelf is no longer there with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things ponds and your seasonal staff is left to fend for themselves. Slow moving inventory is followed by deep discount sales, and that once high-margin pond department is relegated to the dusty, back corners, filled with mismatched products, and components that even a pond PhD couldn’t assemble a working system from. Sound familiar?!Discounting is the last result of Product Creep

Without an iron-clad strategy regarding Product Creep, retailers are playing Russian roulette with their pond departments. In next Wednesday’s Facebook Note I’d like to give you some strategies on how to avoid Product Creep for your water garden department or store. Between now and then, look at your product categories, and ask yourself how much it’s costing you in inventory dollars, shelf space, training time, and hassle factors to have multiple lines, doing basically the same thing for relatively the same cost. Then tune-in next week for some solutions for cleaning up the muddy waters of your pond shelves.

You can succeed with Product Creep. Just be ready to devote a lot of space to do it right!