Gift Shop Plus Fall 2022
Influenced by Nature By Debbie Eisele

Virginia garden center takes customers on a journey with its purposefully designed-to-inspire displays

Merrifield Garden Center, a family-owned and -operated business in northern Virginia, knows all about creative, unique displays that captivate shoppers and provide an experience for both its gift shop and garden center’s customers. Customers are greeted with enticing displays that truly allow individuals to meander through a variety of vignettes, which encourages them to explore and see even more.

Founded in 1971 by Bob Warhurst and Buddy Williams, Merrifield Garden Center began its humble beginnings as a roadside store with about an acre of plants and has grown its business into three large well-known locations in northern Virginia. Today, Merrifield Garden Center is one of the largest nursery and landscaping companies in the region.

Whitney Sproul and Karen Velehoski, designers for Merrifield Garden Center, shared how the gift shop combines the love of the outdoors with the desire to bring nature into gifts, home decor, tabletop and other product categories. Merchandising incorporates natural products into gift and home décor displays that help to make them really visually appealing.

SOURCE FOR ITEMS THAT CELEBRATE THE OUTDOORS

“At Merrifield Garden Center, product quality and selection drive everything we do when it comes to merchandising. Our buyers travel the country to find the highest quality plants, gardening supplies and home décor items,” Sproul and Velehoski shared.

The design team at Merrifield Garden Center brings nature into gifts, home décor, tabletop and other product categories to create beautiful displays.
The design team at
Merrifield Garden Center
brings nature into gifts,
home décor, tabletop and
other product categories
to create beautiful
displays. Photo by Debbie Eisele

The curated mix of home décor products are selected to complement the plant materials offered at the garden center. Sproul and Velehoski noted that merchandise could include scented candles, hand soaps, lotions, printed pillows and even artwork that celebrates “the flowers and leaf textures” offered in Merrifield’s greenhouse and garden center. “Our home décor and gift items celebrate the beauty of the outdoors and offer you an opportunity to bring it indoors.”

At Merrifield Garden Center, the gift shop carries a wide range of products, including: candles, diffusers, pillows, throws, containers, baskets, decorative accents, statuary, lighting and accent furniture, bath and body products, jewelry and much more.

The Merrifield team purchases from a variety of vendors and local artisans. “The result is a carefully curated collection of items. We also have many different age levels and personality types on our buying team, ensuring that the end collection is representative of our full customer base and not just one segment,” they said.

FIND INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE

Photo by Debbie Eisele
Photo by Debbie Eisele

When asked where the team finds inspiration for displays, the duo said “all around us!” Both emphasized that local boutiques and antique stores are also a good source of inspiration for creative displays, as are items such as fabric, clothing, someone’s front porch or even estate sales. Sproul shared that the internal team of carpenters, painters and welders help build any sets used in the gift shop, and sometimes will build furniture to “complete the look.”

“As creatives, our team is always open to inspiration and is often found jotting down an idea on a piece of scratch paper or the back of a receipt. We also go to market four times a year to buy product for the store. It’s often inspiring to see how the vendors design their showrooms to showcase the product,” Sproul emphasized.

REFRESH DAILY

Sproul said each display morphs as it is shopped. “Our team brings in new product daily to fill voids until we’re ready to do a full overhaul,” she said. This means that displays are turned over every few weeks and twice a year the gift shop will conduct a complete store overhaul.

“Each fall we transform into a Christmas shop, starting in September. Then, after the holiday season, we refresh the store for the next spring,” Velehoski noted.

CONSIDER FOOTPRINT

Each of its three locations has a different footprint that is a set space. The footprint of each location dictates the formula the staff uses to cross-merchandise garden, outdoor, home décor and gift items.

“We always begin by designing a floor plan, then we do the build out, such as cabinetry and lighting, and then bring in the large pieces. Next, we layer in the merchandise starting with the biggest items and working down to the smallest accessories. Our process is very organic and each display takes its own path, sometimes a departure from the plan depending on how the product looks upon arrival,” the duo explained.

Merrifield Garden Center borrows from other departments to bring in organic elements. The organic, natural textures provide depth and draw the customer’s eye in.
Merrifield Garden Center borrows from other
departments to bring in organic elements. The organic, natural textures provide depth and draw the customer’s eye in. Photo by Debbie Eisele

Velehoski and Sproul shared ideas on how other shops can create outstanding displays: “Borrow from other departments to bring in organic elements with your merchandise.

Layer in plants, gardening tools and apparel, pots and even soil or mulch. The organic, natural textures will give you depth and draw the customer’s eye in to look even closer,” they said.

The key point the duo emphasized was to “think of your displays as spaces and design them to be meandered throughout, like a garden path. Take your customers on a journey, purposefully designed to inspire them.”

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the former managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.




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