Spring 2017
A Distinctive Story By Abby Kleckler

Creating a new theme for each season leads to a visual experience

Distinctive Gardens in Dixon, Illinois looks different than in years in past, largely because of what owners Bud and Lisa LeFevre are calling its new “Shop Story” concept. Each seasonal shop story focuses on one theme. They switch like art shows, unfold like good books, pop with project parties (more than a dozen events go with the show) and happen with community events.

The first shop story, “Transform,” ran April 7 to July 9 and focused on related plants, art and community activities. The theme spans from one room to the next, including an entryway with a center display that changes weekly. The second room features the tillandsia wall, which has tripled air plant sales since 2015.

Outside, greenhouse displays pick up on the theme, while a “Transform” community wall on the back of the greenhouse lets customers pick up a piece of chalk and leave their marks.

Continuously asking yourself and your team where you want to take the business in the future can do a world of good. This exact question is what led owners Bud and Lisa LeFevre to make some major changes to Distinctive Gardens in Dixon, Illinois, after 17 seasons of business.

Their answer to this question had many parts: Take it down to the basics. Give people what they want. Attract younger gardeners. Make gardening fun. Be relevant.

Executing these ideas led to the garden center’s Shop Story concept, which creates a completely new theme for each season throughout the garden center.

The use of the blackboard paint combined with the rustic decor creates a great natural feel. This is not an expensive approach, just an expense of creativity, explains Lisa LeFevre, owner of Distinctive Gardens in Dixon, Illinois.

Gift Shop sat down with Lisa LeFevre to get an inside look at how the garden center is creating experiences and building connections – concepts that can apply to a wide variety of specialty retailers.

GS: Crafting a Shop Story that completely transforms every few months is very different from what you were doing in the past. Why did you decide you wanted to make such a drastic change, and how did you come up with the Shop Story concept?

LeFevre: The whole gang got together to brainstorm [in January], and we were looking at the numbers and cooking up some ideas.

I had some overall goals. Simplifying was a major goal because it seems like for a lot of people, in terms of shopping, the overstimulation type of experience is not working as well as it could.

We wanted to move away from that and we wanted to place emphasis on plants, and we wanted to strip down the experience of the shop and really shine a light on the community aspects of the business.

That’s where this whole idea of Shop Story kind of started.

GS: What did people experience when they walked into the store during your first Shop Story, “Transform,” from April to July?

LeFevre: In terms of the aesthetic and the redesign, it was pared down to a very simple visual experience, and then we wanted to emphasize plants, community and fold in an educational component.

It seemed like “Transform” was an obvious choice for the first story because we really wanted to place emphasis that we’re retooling, there’s a brand new experience and we’ve changed the place.

“Transform” also fit really well into the horticultural component, which was the emphasis we were placing on monarchs and monarch plants. We had that whole monarch wall which told the story about the transformation process of the monarch. That was pretty cool to see people interacting with that. All sorts of conversation were coming from interacting with the different displays that we had in the shop.

Products were getting presented as if they were special. The air plant wall was one that I had done a little analysis on, and I can’t believe last January you probably couldn’t even see our tillandsia display because it was just piled in with all sorts of other stuff.

I just love how there’s this really simplified and very personal approach. Our point of sale helps support that and make it possible for us to do that because we can be right there with the people, at the displays.

We have iPads and phones for point of sale. We’re completely mobile. We don’t have to have a cash register line, and we’re really trying to eliminate the dreaded checkout experience. We can scan barcodes that are right there where we’re standing.

I can’t emphasize strong enough how valuable this mobile point of sale is. And it’s readily available to any little IGC that wants to explore that. There’s really no need for old-school cash registers anymore.

GS: How does the Shop Story extend beyond just the in-store shopping experience for customers?

LeFevre: We’re seeing customers starting to reach out to us through multiple channels, so when we’re building these things we’re trying to think in terms of products, community experience and education, and then we anchor them with one big event per story and then a lot of project parties to emphasize that social component.

That’s a thing that’s just blown up for us. The whole idea of classes, or what we call project parties, and that social component is incredibly important right now. People are really coming to places like ours to experience a sense of community or that social aspect or to learn something.

There’s something beyond shopping that I think is a growing important component of running a small business. You really have to be integrated into the community.

Social Connections

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