Although weathered, these two units have sold many new ones for The Kids’ Backyard Store in Portland, Oregon. As kids play on them, parents see their delight and turn into buyers, not just lookers. The base is wood chips that appear to be recently refreshed.
I must have heard “go outside and play” thousands of times in my younger days. At that time, we had a swing set and if I pumped my legs quickly, I could swing high enough to see the Manhattan skyline from my backyard on Long Island.
Times have changed and today, many children are encouraged to go outside only if their yards are enclosed and safe. At the same time, adults are slowly losing their minds after being cooped up by COVID and are looking at their patios or yards as a way to stay sane while staying home. Nature heals — and for children and adults, being outside gives us energy and helps us stay connected to the earth.
If you have outside space at your store, you have the perfect opportunity to expand your merchandise selection with the addition of patio furniture, grills, gazebos and backyard play structures. Unless you’re a big-box retailer with tons of space, hone your selection of outdoor merchandise to two or three of the best of each category you want to carry. Educate your staff about why these products were chosen so they can explain how each is the best solution for the customer.
Safe from the elements
Outdoor products are designed to be weather tolerant. In an ideal world, put them out in April hopefully after the last snow or ice storm.
If you are selling furniture with cushions, consider stacking them inside when rain is expected, even if they are able to get wet. Your salesperson can easily show a customer the cushions if they want to shop outside in the rain.
Grills will do fine outdoors, but once the rain stops, have someone wipe them off so they look fresh and clean. The same goes for the furniture. Water drops collect dust, and when they bake onto the surface, it’s not pretty. No one wants to be reminded of their own dirty outdoor furniture or grills. They want new!
Play structures are also designed to be weather resistant. If you have the same wood structure on display for many years, it will age because of the elements. You can use that as a selling tool: “This is what a six-year-old play unit looks like.” Or you can sell units that are getting old as floor samples. Wiping them off after precipitation will keep them looking fresh.
Gazebos need cleaning as well. If you show them with cushions on the seats, either remove them or lift them so only one edge gets wet. Once again, have someone hand dry the unit before it gets stained with dust mixing with the water.
Drying outdoor merchandise is annoying, but it makes a huge difference in the life of the products as well as how they present to your customers.
While not always attractive, a fence is the best way to protect your outdoor merchandise. It can be metal, wood or plastic — but make it high enough that people can’t easily climb it and boost products back over.
Consider signs on the outside of the fence that are visible from the parking lot. They can be temporary vinyl banners, or more permanent outdoor signage such as vinyl or painted letters on a plastic board or wood. Let people know what’s behind the fence. Your signage can be fun or informative. Ideally, it will be both. Don’t limit yourself to one type of merchandise. Something generic — Enjoy outdoor living and playing! — can work well.
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A good lock on the door to the corralled area is a must. Grills and small amounts of furniture can go into your showroom at night, but that’s a task no one will want to take on.
Another option is chaining pieces together with a strong lock and welded chain. As for the huge play sets, have an outdoor camera pointed at that area along with a view of where a getaway truck would have to park so you can see a license plate.
Make the area customer friendly
Add potted plants to soften the area and absorb some parking lot noise. Natural elements add warmth to a concrete corral.
Your customers may ask if their kids can play on your outdoor play sets. For you, it’s an investment you don’t want them to mess with. For them, it’s a way to keep the kids busy while they shop as well as see if the kids like the playset. If they do, you may have a sale. Experiential merchandising for outdoor products is a must. You wouldn’t ask a customer to refrain from sitting on an outdoor chair. Check your insurance policy to make sure it covers people using the swings or other playground structures.
Soften the children’s play area with flooring that will cushion them if they fall. Check out BuildWithABang.com for different types of outdoor flooring. They recommend rubber playground tiles that have been certified by the ASTM for falls up to 6 feet. If you want to go natural, wood mulch is an affordable playground surface. It works well and is organic, but it can cause splinters, attract rodents and bugs, and needs to be added to on a regular basis as it degrades.
Rubber mulch may also work. According to BuildWithABang.com, “Rubber mulch doesn’t attract animals, and typically remains cool to the touch even after long hours of sun exposure.”
Whatever cushioned flooring you choose, install it over a level surface. Rubber tiles directly on dirt could have drainage problems. Pay a pro to check out your area before doing it yourself. Get the expertise and then, if you want to save money doing the install, at least you’ll do it correctly.
Lights are an affordable and amazing tool to create instant appeal. Add outdoor LED string lights to your play area so it looks festive as the light wanes. These same lights will romance your gazebos. If you have potted bushes or trees, add smaller LED string lights for added ambience.
If you’ve ever gone to Home Depot in the warmer months and smelled something cooking on an outdoor grill, you know the power of experiential retailing. Your taste buds dance, your stomach growls and you wonder just how much a burger will cost. They are usually free as Trager or another brand is selling their grills by feeding hungry people. You can do this as well.
Offer lemonade on a hot day for kids (or adults) who enter your outdoor play area. On a cooler day, apple cider is a winner. Either way, free beverages make people feel welcome. Have someone offer samples from your most expensive grill. You can always sell it at cost as it’s used, but it could easily be the incentive to sell many at full price.
Now is the time to create an outdoor showroom space, and make money while the sun shines.