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This is the seventh in a 12-part series of articles focusing on visual merchandising and store design; it is brought to you by Treasure Garden and Sunbrella fabrics in celebration of Treasure Garden's 25th Anniversary.


Bring the Outdoors In!

Bamboo Palm

Furniture and accessories for the Outdoor High Point, the company specializes in Room deserve display in a retail environfloral and botanical reproductions. ment that suggests outdoor living. That's Plants telegraph messages to shopa tall order for retailers encumbered with pers on several levels. First, they beaucommercial drywall, low (or cavernous) tify the space and put high-end furnishceilings, and too few windows. There's ings in a more homey, lifestyle context. not much outdoorsy to work with. Second, plants by their mere presence The solution is to bring the outdoors inform the customer that you, as a in, with plants and foliage. retailer, are serious about your busiIf you're thinking you already do that ness. You've invested the time, energy because you have a hardy tabletop cactus and expense to present luxury items in on the sales counter and a silk flower a luxurious context. arrangement on a dining table, think Karen Galindo of Greenhouse Mall again. in Austin, Texas, uses products from Those are mere details, small touches NDI. "We buy them to dress the showthat help warm the space, but they don't room, but they also sell," she says. "It's make emphatic, visual statements. They great to have a $700 tree to add on" to don't grab the imagination and create the a furniture ticket. Natural Decorations' Boxwood Tree. overall mood. Galindo estimates that dressing a We're talking about trees head-high typical casual store with NDI trees and or taller. Topiary. Hedges. Planters with plants would require an investment of leafy greenery and seasonal flowers. Leading casual manu$10,000 to $20,000. "They're expensive plants," she says, facturers know this, and it's reflected in their showrooms at "but we're a high-end store, and they don't look like somethe Merchandise Mart. thing you'd find at Hobby Lobby." Plants, says Tropitone showroom manager Monica Plants must be presented in force to make a statement. One Robertson, make a casual furniture sales floor "more upmarto two trees, Galindo says, simple disappear in a forest of furket and engaging. They help to pull in customers and evoke a niture. certain ambiance." Plants and trees add texture, drama and division. The varPeople relax more and feel at ease, says Robertson. "It's ied textures, colors, shapes and sizes help "avoid the monotinteresting how you can initiate a sale because the trees are so ony typically found in a retail environment," says Amy comfortable," she says. A florist in her previous career, Johnson, showroom designer/manager for Laneventure. Robertson prefers natural plants. Chosen wisely, natural Artificial plants are fine with Johnson, who ordered plants may require little care and actually make their space enough boxwood to create a maze when Laneventure intromore healthy by creating oxygen. duced its Leeds Castle collection in 2007. Artificial plants (now called "permanent botanicals") are The boxwoods were actually 12-inch-square tiles of manan alternate solution. made material with a boxwood-like look and texture. Whether real or artificial, "You want to have a presence. Laneventure staff made frames of thin plywood and stapled That way, it's not just a decoration," says Kelly Billingsley. the tiles to them. "You can cover a wall or create your own She's marketing director for Natural Decorations, also known large hedge," Johnson says. as NDI. With showrooms in Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Sometimes she goes for the natural look. In Laneventure's


High Point showroom for the fall 2008 International Home Furnishings Market, Johnson brought in an 18-foot maple tree, already bare of leaves. For an autumn effect, she glued dried natural leaves and fall-colored silk leaves on the tree's branches. More leaves were scattered about on tabletops and the floor. "People were not expecting to walk into a showroom and find a tree there," Johnson says. "It got so much attention." Customers remember shops that make a visual impact with plants. "Consumers are hungry for creativity and the inspiration you can give them," Johnson says. "People come back to see what you've done lately. Bringing the outdoors indoors makes a statement." Like Robertson, Johnson cautions against shopping for decorative plants at consumer outlets. "Look beyond Michael's and Garden Ridge," she says. Her preferred sources include Flowers Royale of Miami and Tree Masters in Newton, North Carolina. AHA! Design Studio specified trees in planters for Ebel's new Merchandise Mart showroom. The trees define a dining group vignette and provide a visual screen without totally dividing the showroom into choppy sections. At Greenhouse Mall, Galindo mounted large, individual limbs from an oak tree on an interior wall. The branches reach out and over the showroom floor, creating a natural canopy. Depending on the season, the branches are decorated with bougainvillea, cherry blossoms or twinkling lights. "It really makes for a nice ambiance," she says. Another Galindo favorite: sunflowers. The artificial sunflowers stand tall, creating vertical division and a splash of color. With the never-ending prevalence of earthtone frames for casual furniture, sunflowers are simply brilliant. Patio Source in San Diego loads its 18,000 sq. ft. casual showroom with permanent botanicals made by The Natural Touch. Both companies are owned by Jan and Steve Shaw. Artificial plants and flowers, once commonly known as silks, today are made of polyester, latex and PVC, Jan Shaw says. Today's permanent botanicals replicate virtually anything found in nature, from herbs to trees. Versions made for use outdoors or in direct sun are made of UV-resistant materials to resist fading, she says. Dressing a casual shop with plants is especially appealing to female shoppers, Shaw says. "They often come in first and scout

the furniture before bringing their husbands," she notes. Plants enhance the setting, increasing the likelihood of a return visit. Whether you choose real or artificial plants, remember that one species does not fit all. Palm trees may be great for furniture with island flair, but a more traditional design may call for more formal greenery. For the 2008 introduction of Tropitone's Loggia Collection, Robertson needed plants to complement the group's "East Coast vibe." She chose planters with strong, architectural shapes, and protea, an African plant with a sharply defined profile. Some ivy and orchids, for color, completed the look. Natural plants convey an additional subtle message, Johnson says; they say the merchant is sincere about bringing the outdoors in. Chosen wisely, natural plants can be long-lived investments and require little upkeep. (All plants, real or artificial, must be dusted and checked periodically for household critters). According to Evan Santi, a regional manager with Urban Plantscapes in Hoboken, New Jersey, low-maintenance plants to consider include: · bamboo palms, which can grow to 7.5 feet in height and are popular with interior designers for use as screens. · space-efficient yucca, which grows vertically with a bit of foliage on top. · marginata, a plant with lots of character that is popular for interiors because it grows up, not out. · Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, also know as the ZZ plant, a slowgrowing succulent that can go two months between waterings. Santi calls it "the new snake plant." It may be the perfect plant for casual retailers because, according to, it "handles neglect well."

Greenhouse Mall/products from Natural Decorations.

Sources for Permanent Botanicals

Flowers Royale

7455 Northwest 8th Street · Miami, Florida 33126 Phone: (305) 262-1577


All of the above natural botanicals can thrive in artificial light. For color, Santi likes bromeliads. "They'll last inside for two or three months," he says, and are available in "every color you can imagine." Retailers with good color sense can get extra benefit from their plants by choosing blooms that best fit the season and that complement fabrics and frames. Even if you have no experience with plants or gardening, don't miss out on the retail benefits of botanicals, natural or permanent. "There are no wrongs," says Tropitone's Robertson. "The rules are meant to be broken. It just takes creativity, stepping out, and working with what feels good for you. The customer picks up on that. They'll say, `Wow! Where did you find that?'"

Tree Masters

101 E 11th St. Suite 1 · Newton, North Carolina 28658-2253 Phone: (828) 464-9443

The Natural Touch

9050 Kenamar Drive · San Diego, California 92121 Phone: (858) 271-7550

Commercial Silk International

6300 Bury Drive · Minneapolis, MN 55346 Phone: 1-800-241-2718

Natural Decorations (NDI)

777 Industrial Park Drive · Brewton, Alabama 36427 Phone: 1-800-522-2627

Autograph Foliages

3631 Perkins Avenue · Cleveland, Ohio 44114 Phone: (216) 426-6151

ZZ Plant

Laneventure's showroom display.

Sources for Natural Botanicals

Sources for natural plants suitable for retail environments can be found in virtually every region of North America. To locate providers near you, search the Internet for "interior landscaping" or "interior plant service."



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