Designing a Model
for Green Marketing
 
‘g’ Green Design Center aims to replicate its design-oriented
green retailing formula in franchises across North America.
 
Love ’em or hate ’em, you know what to expect when you see those golden arches, because the friendly folks at McDonald’s make sure each franchise owner knows exactly how to design their store, arrange their menu, manage their inventory, train their staff, and plan their promotions. That – minus the cholesterol – is exactly what Nicole Goldman is prepared to offer ‘g’ Green Design Center franchisees. Before committing to that step, however, potential affiliates will want to check out Goldman’s flagship store in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.
 
The target customers on the Cape tend to be upscale and definitely looking for style, and if that happens to include green, so much the better. For many residents this is second-home territory and those customers are seeking an escape from their staid Beacon Hill personae. “This is not a very avant-garde area; it’s very beachy,” says Goldman. “So depending on who I’m speaking with, I may not always emphasize the word green, because that can end up pigeonholing us.” However, Goldman is considering a new campaign that reminds would-be clients that, ‘green design is smart design.’
 
Before opening ‘g’ Goldman had an established reputation in the region as a designer. But as she began encountering greater interest in healthy and green materials, Nicole discovered how challenging it could be to find the products she wanted. That became her motivation in establishing ‘g’ as a full service design materials outlet.
 
Her new store, she determined, would be able to help customers with everything from education to supply to installation. “There’s nothing more frustrating than finally learning about something like PaperStone and then not knowing where to get it or how to have it installed,” she lamented. “That’s why we really aim for complete follow-through. If you want to come here and have your floor re-done, that’s fine. If you want to see us about having your entire house made net-zero, then we can help you with that as well. We are very comprehensive.”
 
Educating the customer quite literally starts with their first step into ‘g’. Customers walk across a diverse array of flooring that includes bamboo, reclaimed wood, and Marmoleum. There’s a sample kitchen with some of the store’s cabinet and countertop selections, a conference table topped with yet another surface material, and even the walls are conspicuously coated with green paint. Open the kitchen cabinets and you’ll see more product samples of countertops, cabinet materials, tiles, and flooring.
 
When it comes to cabinets, it’s what people don’t see that matters today. “I won’t sell anything with added formaldehyde,” says Goldman. “For us that’s critical. Consumers know that word, they know it’s bad, they know they don’t want off-gassing, they know they want to get formaldehyde away from their food,” she points out.
 
Indoor air quality – IAQ – is a serious part of ‘g’ Green’s appeal. “Some people come in here not because they’re interested in environmental or earth friendly materials, but because they want to create a healthy environment in their home,” Goldman describes. “Why would anyone put VOC paints on your wall when you have the option of using something else? We carry Safecoat paint, and we can sell it for much less than a Benjamin Moore product. And we can supply it in all of those Benjamin Moore colors.”
 
In general, price is not a barrier at ‘g’ Green Design. “Builders have absolutely created the impression that it’s more expensive to go green, and that is simply not the case,” Goldman insists. “We have so many things that are cost competitive. I tell people that we can give them a green alternative to any product they’d consider putting into their home and it will probably be price competitive.”
 
That extends into many product categories. ‘g’ supplies a low-end laminate countertop made from recycled paper, as well as wood countertops or tile countertops for people looking to save money. Goldman admits to stocking some higher end items that are more expensive, “but the only class of product that we don’t sell is what I refer to as ‘cheap crap’,” she said. “We simply do not have that. It’s not inherently low-maintenance or durable so it does not comply with green principles.”
 
Some higher-end products number among ‘g’ Green’s staples. “IceStone is our most popular countertop,” said Goldman. “They’ve done the best marketing, and people have seen it on HGTV, they can visit them on the web and find their local dealer – that’s us – so they come here and buy it.”
 
‘g’ Green’s cabinet selection illustrates Goldman’s inventory philosophy. “Different clients want different things and need different price points, and different finishes,” she said. “We’re actually coming out with a private label ‘g’ line of cabinetry from a local cabinet maker, so we can do custom, we can semi-custom, we can do standard. I like being able to offer 10 different wood choices and 10 different styles of tile and 6 different types of flooring,” she continued. “You’ve got to have variety; that’s what sets us apart.” And ‘g’ is not shy about utilizing that mix. Goldman cites a recent kitchen design that featured a PaperStone-topped island with IceStone on the countertops and around the walls. “It was a great looking combination,” she declared.
 
‘g’ features the AFM Safecoat line as their primary paint brand and also offers AFM’s polyurethanes, stains and clears. For clients who favor a traditional look, there’s Bioshield’s Clay Paint. “It makes a lovely texture and I love their colors,” said Goldman. “We also have their floor soap, floor milk, and wood finishes.”
 
But ‘g’ is not just about the decorative elements. They don’t carry framing or structural materials, but they do offer insulation products such as Knauf EcoBatts, BioBased Spray Foam, and UltraTouch denim batts. Other energy efficient offerings include ceiling fans, Venmar air exchangers, and a variety of solar attic fans.
 
In flooring, Marmoleum is hot now, as is FSC-certified wood flooring and strand bamboo. In bamboo alone ‘g’ can supply EcoTimber, GreenChoice, and PlyBoo. And while they also sell flooring from Globus Cork and Capri Cork, they’ve found that some contractors get nervous about installing unfamiliar materials.
 
That’s why Goldman puts so much effort into expanding the community’s green know-how. “The green retailing business is really all about education,” she advises. ‘g’ schedules lunch-and-learns for builders and also schedules sessions for architects, designers, and for consumers. While ‘g’ has its own design service, they’ve also encouraged local designers and builders to utilize the Cape Cod showroom as if it’s their own.
 
And that’s just the beginning. Nicole has served as speaker at area building conferences, and is active in the Cape & Islands Green Business Council. “We do NPR, we do some of the local design magazines, and we’re certainly as visible as possible on the web,” said Goldman. “We always work with our manufacturers to be listed as a local dealer on their website; that’s been tremendously helpful.”
 
There’s also a frequently updated blog and a twice-monthly e-newsletter. “We don’t want to constantly be in people’s face; we try to say things that are topical and interesting, and always give coupons and incentives for people to come in,” said Nicole. “It’s all about driving people to the showroom.”
 
Since customers don’t often take on big projects, ‘g’ specializes in small-ticket consumable products that give casual customers a reason to keep coming in. There are unique items such as cleaning products from Ecover and the Imus Ranch, biodegradable BioBag disposable plastic bags, and an attractive line of compostable plates and flatware that are as popular with catering firms as they are for area picnickers.
 
For big ticket sales, ‘g’ Green calls out the big guns. “I make most of the outside presentations, although I do have another key individual I would trust any presentation to,” Goldman told us. “If it’s an architect or design firm I am the most likely person to go, because they do like to see the owner or president.
 
“I don’t have a huge ego about it, because it’s not about me, it’s about ‘g’.”


OWNING YOUR OWN 'g"
So far, there are two ‘g’ Green Design franchisees: a store just south of Boston in Norwell, MA, plus a new outlet scheduled to open soon in Ontario, Canada. According to ‘g’ Green CEO Nicole Goldman, buying a franchise gets you “a business in a box” with management guidelines detailing the basic green retail methodology, showroom design, an opening (and ongoing) inventory list that includes pricing suggestions, and an extensive level of training and ongoing support.
 
“If you’ve decided, ‘I want to go into a green business,’ but you’re not really sure how to manage all the different aspects, then we can supply you with a system that you can see at work,” says Goldman. “The price is pretty cheap because we’ve worked out all the kinks. The franchise comes with a huge operating manual, they can take advantage of our buying connections, they get ongoing support and a lifelong business consultant. “ ‘g’ Green will also supply their franchises with their uniform graphic identity, advertising design, and web support.
 
A key cost-saving is the ‘g’ Green Design inventory system which includes a relatively small investment in products that are actually kept in stock. Instead, the franchise holders work with customers using sophisticated point of purchase materials and promotional materials. New dealers can get started in as few as 60 days.

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