An ‘Oasis’ is growing in the new urban “High Street”

By Gabrielle Stannus

Simon Ainsworth tells us about his new venture, Gro Urban Oasis, which has set up shop in what may just be the ‘High Street’ of the future.

Simon is the founder, owner and Managing Director of Eden Gardens, along with his wife Anna, Community Development Manager and Director of the Eden Foundation. Simon and Anna developed the Eden Garden Centres in the early 2000’s, opening Macquarie Park in 2004, then Carseldine and Mount Eliza in 2008. Mount Eliza was closed in 2018 for residential development. However, Simon and Anna still operate Eden Gardens at the Macquarie Park (2.5ha) and Carseldine (1.6ha) sites.

Simon and Anna have recently opened two new Gro Urban Oasis stores at Westfield’s Miranda (May 2018) and Warringah Mall (November 2018) complexes. These smaller premises, 150m2 and 210m2 respectively, are operated very differently to traditional retail garden centres.

Simon elaborates: “Gro was developed in 2008 and first appeared as a store at Macquarie Park in 2009. We determined that the store was well before its time and suspended the concept to 2016 where we started to re-research and develop the shop for opening in 2017-2018. Leases in Westfield are not waiting for you. We had to create relationships and prove ourselves and find the first right shop. Westfield has been very helpful in this regard. Miranda is a brand supportive store with a brand supportive community and a perfect place to start”.

Simon highlights the security that such a commercial arrangement provides to a business like his: “Eden has large costs in maintaining everything including weather, whereas Westfield, for a fair rent, provides you protection, security and guaranteed customer flow. Garden centres are destination centres for a few hundred thousand people, Westfield Miranda, for example is a destination for 15,600,000 visitors and has a spend of just under $1 billion. Warringah Mall is a newly renovated regional centre with 12 million customer visits and $723 million sales and increasing visitation. At garden centres you have to manage everything, be a jack of all trades, and work with customers to find plant and garden solutions. At Westfield you concentrate on selling to a market that is there to purchase something”.

Simon is quick to point out the Gro Urban Oasis stores are not garden centres. “I would not set up a nursery or garden centre in a regional or sub-regional centre. Gro Urban Oasis is a fashionable brand, not a garden centre. Gro is developing weekly as we start the chain of stores and it is a matter of what is the same, not what is changing. Retail is change, retail is invention every week and working into the retail shop calendar”, says Simon.

Whilst the Eden Garden Centres continue to focus on gardening retail, including a broad range of indoor and outdoor plants and allied products, the Gro Urban Oasis stores are targeted towards the indoor and lifestyle balcony and terrace market. “Few of our customers are traditional garden centre customers. Sales of plants and pot and novel items excite our customers. Gro caters for a younger market not satisfied by garden centres. We see 15-35-year olds in Gro, (whereas) thirty years up is more comfortable at Eden”, claims Simon.

“Gro Urban Oasis shops have been used to create a high street feel in women’s fashion precincts within the Westfield centres. This was a planned strategy. We have not sited with homewares or food or near a florist”, says Simon. Gro Urban Oasis neighbours at Warringah Mall include outlets selling women’s fashion, clothing, accessories, jewellery, handbags, lingerie, cosmetics, giftware and home electronics. The Miranda store’s neighbours include sleepwear and luxury fashion accessories brands.

In order to attract customers to Gro Urban Oasis, Simon uses social media and e-commerce applications. “Gro Urban Oasis is not being fed by traditional marketing. Social media has better cut through (with the target audience). Retail / shopping centre customers are more likely to associate with brand, and the messaging associated with that brand. Plants presented in a certain way have currency and saliency. The innovation is in presentation and the story, and then traditional sales and service keeps customers”, says Simon.

Gro Urban Oasis is not your typical retail garden centre. Marketed as a lifestyle concept, this is a fresh, new approach to selling plants. Will it be the way of the future for the retail members of the nursery and garden industry?