Every business engages in a competition, the level of which is determined by many factors like the industry, value chains, technological development, economic situation, and others. The strategy demonstrates the way of how a company competes on the market (Abraham, 2012). Nowadays, the gardening business becomes rather popular, with stores of any size opening across the country. Small local companies in this industry have an advantage of building strong relationships with the community, so the best strategy is to enhance the customer experience and opt for the market development on a city level. This paper analyses the current situation of the Mother Earth Gardens stores and offers a plan for growth and improvement.
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Mother Earth Gardens (MEG) is an excellent example of a small local business. It has been on the market for more than a decade, operating in Minneapolis, MN (Mother Earth Gardens, n. d.). The store was so successful, that the management opened a second location in 2014, now operating in Northeast and Longfellow districts. MEG is a privately-owned gardening center, which offers a wide range of products, including seeds, house and outdoor plants, agricultural tools, gifts, and seasonal items like pumpkins and Christmas trees. The primary competitive advantage of the business is the eco-friendly vector. MEG’s philosophy is to ensure sustainable growth, production, and transportation of plants and seeds. Principles of organic agriculture are at the core of their suppliers’ operations. Another important group of products offered by the store includes local plants that can be found across the Minnesota state.
Moreover, there is a range of services that MEG offers as a part of its regular operations. Firstly, the staff frequently conducts various events for the local community like lectures, master classes, and customer appreciation days. All information is usually available in store, on the company’s social media pages, or via newsletters. Secondly, MEG has launched garden coaching and maintenance service, which should help inexperienced customers to take care of their outdoor plants. The similar service is available for products grown inside a house. Both options are popular among customers and should be scheduled in advance.
Gardening and growing houseplants appear to be a common activity in the Minneapolis area, as there are numerous stores offering similar products around the city. Some of the other popular places include Bachman’s, EggPlant Urban Farm Supply, and Minnehaha Falls Nursery, while their prices and services range. Home Depot is also among MEG’s competitors as a nationwide store, which is well-known to many citizens. Local farmer co-operation sites like Wedge and Linden Hills also feature house and garden plants, although to a limited degree.
Current Market Situation
Mother Earth Gardens is currently one of the most popular choices among Minneapolis citizens for buying plants. Both locations have many visitors, especially during holidays. MEG is especially successful in the community of people who look for eco-friendly gardening supplies. Its website is featured on the first page of Google’s organic search results when the corresponding query is entered. This is one of the elements which speaks for the effective digital marketing campaign. Apart from the official website, MEG has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The former platform has more than 5.5 thousand followers, while others are also visited and frequently updated. The company uses them to share news, updates, and details about upcoming events.
Nevertheless, the website contains limited information regarding products offered at MEG. Since the business is oriented on the local community, it is assumed that people will come to a brick-and-mortar store instead of shopping online. As a result, it is difficult to determine the price range for the products. At the same time, MEG is a small business that focuses on providing customer service and professional advice in person. It has long been on the market and relies rather on its reputation in the neighborhood than on a digital marketing campaign. Finally, plants represent the kind of products that are essential to be physically presented before customers decide to purchase them since each item is unique.
Any effective strategic plan would incorporate a detailed SWOT analysis of a company. In the case with a small local business, it is easier to determine its internal elements, especially when it receives feedback from customers. At the same time, the external analysis is a combination of the local market situation and large-scale factors in economics, politics, and society. The SWOT analysis is performed to find opportunities for change, which is essential to strategic thinking (Abraham, 2012). The following section reviews strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for MEG. Financial performance is not considered since there is no information available on the Internet. For the purpose of this analysis, it is regarded as sufficient since MEG is one of the most successful local stores in its sector.
The most important strength of MEG is its unique competitive advantage, which is offering products manufactured and delivered in a sustainable manner. An eco-friendly approach covers all kinds of operations, from naturally growing plants without chemical boosters, to using recycled or biodegradable packaging. Secondly, the variety of products in stores is one of the best in the area. While most competitors offer seasonal plants and tools, MEG has most of them all year round. It is not an issue for customers, for instance, to find seeds in late summer, when the planting season is over. Some of the unique products include soil, which is custom made at the facilities of MEG’s suppliers. Finally, professional staff is one of the strongest assets of this business. Many people walk in MEG’s store without much information on how to choose plants and take care of them. Staff provides expert advice on these matters in a friendly manner, increasing sales. Some of the other strengths include MEG’s high-quality, healthy plants, reasonable prices, occasional sales, and extra services. All of them create a strong company reputation existing in the community.
There are some issues that MEG stores have associated with customer experience. Firstly, there is no parking space belonging to both locations in the Northeast and Longfellow. Customers leave their vehicles on the streets, and there may be a shortage of space during busy hours. Secondly, there are issues on the logistics side, as there were cases of the stores not receiving deliveries due to bad weather. Moreover, the same factor may also cause the sites themselves to be closed on a regular day. Finally, there is an occasional staff shortage in season, and customers spend their time waiting in line to be served at a cashier’s desk.
There are three major opportunities for MEG, all of which are associated with the current trend on sustainability. Firstly, eco-friendly business is nowadays highly valued in society, especially among the Millennials population (Muralidharan, Rejon-Guardia, & Xue, 2016). It has become such an important feature that companies sometimes attempt to label their products as green, even if it is not precisely true (De Chiara, 2016). The global financial instability of the recent years has not decreased the demand for sustainable options. This trend, in turn, creates the second opportunity, which is the growing popularity of houseplants among Millennials. While gardening is not an option for many of them, taking care of flowers and succulents is one of the common choices young people make nowadays (Boyle, 2019). Finally, as the government works towards improving the environmental situation in the country, it passes laws that eliminate some of the harmful methods of agriculture. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency has developed laws restricting the use of pesticides which cause a decrease in the honey bee population (Vanegas, 2017). This is the third opportunity for MEG, as it promotes and sells plants that were grown without neonicotinoids, which are known to contribute to the issue.
There are no major threats identified that may significantly affect MEG’s business. Most external issues that the company faces comes from the occasional bad weather conditions, which mainly affects logistics and operations. The adverse economic situation may also influence sales due to low purchasing power. Nevertheless, the target audience for MEG’s products is not significantly price-sensitive, especially those customers who spend much money on houseplants for décor.
According to the elements of the SWOT analysis given above, there are three evident areas that offer opportunities for change. Firstly, some of the existing operations and infrastructure require improvement to prevent potential customer loss. Secondly, there is a large audience of young people who are interested in a similar kind of products. This group should be reached by using an approach different from what MEG currently practices. Thirdly, there is an issue of bad weather in winter in Minnesota and the neighbor states, which occasionally makes the delivery difficult or impossible. The logistics mechanism should be re-designed to solve this problem.
Infrastructure and in-store operations directly influence customer experience, which, in turn, is an essential factor contributing to the company’s reputation. MEG is highly recognized in the local community, which may be considered a success indicator (Abraham, 2012). It is known for selling healthy plants and offering expert advice, which is why people choose these stores. Negative customer experience like having no place to leave a car or standing in a long line may break the existing situation, pushing buyers towards competitors. The same applies to stores staying closed or being out of stock due to bad weather. I have experience of visiting a small bookstore in the past. It was important for me to check the print quality before I made a purchase, so I needed to see the items in person. However, the store began to experience out-of-stock situations when it became more popular in the neighborhood. The case eventually led me to switch to its competitor, which was a federal online retail bookstore, as it was more reliable.
The importance of social media cannot be overlooked in those industries that orient on Millennials. Of course, the gardening business targets an audience of all age groups, and senior citizens may be one of the most active buyers. At the same time, the power of trending activities is significant, and the latest reviews show that young people link their hobbies with social media (Boyle, 2019). I can recall some of my friends posting numerous pictures of houseplants on Instagram as a part of their home décor showcasing. This trend is so significant that spending on gardening products almost doubled over four years (Boyle, 2019). The main issue within the industry is that it usually incorporates an old-style customer relationship model, while young people are more used to making decisions online. Product information and availability on the Internet is a sphere that should be considered by MEG.
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The three areas discussed above serve as a basis for drafting strategic objectives. They are defined as measurable characteristics that need to be achieved over a certain period (Abraham, 2012). In the case with MEG, there are several objectives on different levels. Firstly, there should be an improvement in customer service targeted at the current issues. Lines at the cashier desks during season times should be eliminated. The problem of the on-street parking should be solved before next Christmas. The second set of objectives is associated with improving interactions with the young audience. The number of customers from the Millennial target group is aimed to be doubled within a year. Besides, the new system of receiving feedback should be incorporated from the start of the strategy implementation. Finally, the issue with logistics, out-of-stock situations, and closed stores during bad weather must be solved before the upcoming winter.
The best way to achieve the mentioned objectives and to match them with the current business model is to choose a path of market expansion. MEG is a small local business, but it has become so popular that the two existing stores cannot serve well all customers during a high season. The solution is to open a third location in Minneapolis and follow some of the general program components essential to the market expansion strategy. It includes hiring and training sales staff, developing an advertising campaign, and securing distribution channels (Abraham, 2012). It is crucial for new employees to share MEG’s values, as it is the core of their reputation and performance. The new store should eliminate the issue of lines and the out-of-stock situations, as there will be an additional storage space. Besides, each of the stores should construct a parking lot for visitors or rent an area from the city officials.
The next step is to form new strategic alliances to solve the issues with logistics and operations. Currently, MEG works with several small suppliers in Minnesota and the neighbor states. Delivering products may sometimes be challenging due to bad weather in winter. Instead of relying on frequent deliveries, MEG should construct a warehouse suitable for taking care of plants inside the Minneapolis area. The step will require additional staff with expert knowledge in this sphere. The company will spend money on construction, maintenance, and salaries, but it should benefit from less frequent shipment and logistics operations.
Finally, the new interaction pattern with young customers will include the corporate website redesign with more functions added to it. Thus, there should be a list of available products, featuring price and some information for each item. There should also be a specification about which store exactly holds the plants, equipment, or other materials. The marketing campaign will be led through social media like Facebook and Instagram. The latter is perhaps the most important as it serves as an excellent tool for showcasing beautiful plants, which is important for visual culture. However, promotion should not be limited to the Internet, as studies suggest that interpersonal sources remain the most significant informational channels (Muralidharan et al., 2016). Strategic alliances with local eco-themed events should help to increase MEG’s recognition among active citizens of Minneapolis.
The primary method of measuring whether the new strategy is successful is to match the outcomes with the determined objectives. The evaluation must take place several times, as there are different periods determined for each result. For example, the issue of long lines and product shortage will be solved by opening a new store. The goal is to have the issue managed by Christmas so that customers do not have a negative experience during the holiday season. Thus, in-store processes at the end of the year will serve as an indicator of the strategy’s success. Attracting new audience, on the other hand, is a lengthier project. Since the objective is to double the size of it within a year, the number of customers next spring will demonstrate whether the chosen strategy is effective.
The best strategy for MEG stores as a small local business is to improve the existing customer experience and to reach the new audience by choosing market development on the city level. Its competitive advantage is in the high-quality, sustainable products and methods of agriculture, which is beneficial during the current eco-friendly course in society. However, there are issues with infrastructure, logistics, and operations that require improvement. Strategic objectives include eliminating the problems existing in these areas, as well as growing the audience of young people among customers within a year.
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Vanegas, M. (2017). The silent beehive: How the decline of honey bee populations shifted the environmental protection agency’s pesticide policy towards pollinators. Ecology Law Quarterly, 44(2), 311-341. Web.