December 19, 2012

Covering Some Ground with Terrain

  • Unique Merchandise
  • Very cool space.
  • Engaging employees.
  • Differentiated services for exemplary experiences.


In #RetailLove, we’ve covered a lot of ground. In this one, we’ll actually talk about ground cover. Well, kind of.

Come on; let’s take a walk.

The air is crackling with freshly burning hickory wood in multiple firepits all around. People are sitting on stumps, benches or in Adirondack chairs. Yet, the air is redolent with balsam pine, Frasier fir and the spicy scents of elegant candles. (Including a peppermint, white chocolate and vanilla one that is worth every last penny of the ridiculous price)  There are greens of all shapes, sizes and textures. You’d expect the traditional reds, and whites and greens.  However, you’ll find blues, whites, golds and dusty greys.  Everything feels authentic, and very little feels overwhelmingly commercial – even though your brain knows it must be.  It’s retail at its best.  You can connect with the merchandise and the space quite intuitively.  Very little signage but lots of space for interaction.  You’ve arrived at what feels like Anthropologie mashed up with a high-brow, upscale garden center.
Yes, I said garden center.  Well, technically.  This “perennial” favorite was once a garden center, winning acclaim for its work at the nation’s oldest flower show:  The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Philadelphia Flower Show.  A few years ago, Anthropologie’s owner – also a Philadelphia native decided to make this well-loved plantsman’s paradise into an iconic retail experience.  Sure, it still sells plants, but now it’s so much more.  Hence, Styers became Terrain by Styers.

What they’ve created is one of the most talked about marriages of merchandising and visual design.  With living merchandise.  Anthropologie has always done a beautiful job in finding exemplary spaces and making them uniquely evergreen.

They’ve gone above and beyond at Terrain.  They aren’t just trying to sell you poinsettias, pine boughs or flat eucalyptus branches.  Instead, imagine what your life would be if you had someone running around staging it with fresh plants, beautiful candles, glassware, and interested discovered items…all the time.  Welcome to a world where they deliver the unexpected – combinations of flawlessly executed, delightful surprises.

The price point is decidedly upscale, the merchandise is inventive, eclectic and interesting.  The staff is crazy, sexy, cool – and they LOVE plants.  And food.  But first things first.  Let’s stick with the plants.  For years, the Styers family and their designers took home a lot of PA Horticultural awards in a region known for gardens – it’s 10 miles from Longwood Gardens – the DuPont family’s 1,000 acre land and fountain gift to the Brandywine Valley.

When you have “fresh” merchandise, many assume that it merchandises itself.  Or that’s the theory you find in many garden centers.  They simply put out pallet upon pallet of plants.  But that was never the Styers way and it is certainly not the Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie way.   Textures, colors and visual priming encourage you to buy.  Shops within shops – and sometimes buildings within buildings provide featurettes that move you through the store’s myriad buildings inside and out.  In many cases, the featurette shows a composed example of something you may wish to buy assembled or put together yourself – bringing the same principles that put Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware on the map – to plants and their accoutrements.

They have a prop closet rivaling some Hollywood film houses.  If you look at the pictures, you see very little traditional fixturing.  Most items are reclaimed or simply reused.  This approach continually keeps the displays as fresh as the plants that they show to their finest advantage.  While they have the traditional plants, they have more of them; 30 unique varieties of poinsettias, they also have intriguing ideas (this year – Bonsai for Christmas – from $98).   They are also known for most excellent terrariums in all shapes and sizes.  They run at least 1 terrarium class a month for those who want to build their own.  (It’s a very profitable little niche for them.)

These classes round out an extremely robust event calendar year round.  There is always something going on at Terrain.  And as I said earlier, it often revolves around food.  This summer, this lovely little hut delivered up homemade ice cream and floats, now it features hot chocolate and cider.

But that’s not all there is.  The Garden Café is understated in name but quickly created yet another hook in anchoring Terrain as destination retail.  It’s beautiful, largely organic, frequently locally sourced.  While it began with limited hours, it continues to need to find ways to expand within the confines of its space, and has created a whole new events business for the team.

One of the more interesting aspects of Terrain – especially their flower show heritage has always been the use of buildings in the displays.  Thus, the property has become home to lots of small “outbuildings” that sort of sit everywhere (including some that sit inside buildings – in-buildings, I guess).  This creates a continuous shifting of places.  That allows Terrain to create new displays and visually arresting areas that are separate and can meet a designer’s whimsy.  Or even support an overflow of restaurant events.

No matter how you arrive at Terrain, it ends up becoming a repeat visit.  While they were my plantsmen when I bought my house, they are now my destination for candles, books, condiments, and tens of thousands of landscape architecture.  Who would have thought?

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