Field Trip: Terrain at Styer’s

Entry Sign

I don’t participate in the latest fads.  I keep current with what  the newest trends, destinations, colors or even plants are, but unless the opportunity to experience them is temporary I don’t feel the need to go in the first week, month or even year.  I  like to let things mellow a bit before jumping into the fray.  That’s why I decided it was finally time to see if all the hype about  Terrain at Styer’s was true.

Fountains and Planters at the main Shop Entrance
Fountains and Planters at the main Shop Entrance

Located outside of Philadelphia, it’s been over a year since Styer’s, which was already an excellent garden center, was transformed into what should be a new garden center paradigm.  Much has been written about Terrain. Its parent company is Urban Outfitters,  the hip retailer that also owns Anthropoligie.   They are merchants who understand their retail concepts generating 1.5 billion dollars in sales in 2007.

Stick Fence and Grasses in the parking lot
Stick Fence and Grasses in the parking lot

I allowed about 45 minutes for the stop and could have used twice that.  What makes this garden center different?  Unlike most others it has a distinct  retail viewpoint beyond the seasonal selling of plants.    The Terrain concept is realized at every turn, from the way the store environment is laid out to the design of the store fixtures to the merchandise, it all supports the Terrain retail philosophy.   Plants are huge part of the  merchandise mix and are displayed  in traditional (read practical) garden center set ups on tables and nursery rows as well as in containers, as props and as interior structural elements.  Terrain’s unique point of view begins to reveal itself in the parking lot and continues throughout the entire retail experience.

Wide aisles in on of the plant merchandise areas
Wide aisles in one of the plant merchandise areas

Reclaimed siding, stick fencing, willow wattles, salvaged architectural elements  are teamed with quirky new merchandise creatively displayed throughout Terrain–the same way they do in the Anthropologie stores.  Natural is juxtaposed with artificial, new with old.  Every opportunity to create customer discovery experiences and garden vignettes is maximized.  Merchandise is richly layered and ideas abound.  I found some wonderful rosy sandstone spheres  under a plant table that not only displayed plants but containers and other garden ornaments.  This was intentional and not a space saving trick.  The merchandisers at Terrain also understand the power of negative space–and there’s plenty of it to allow eyes to rest and the imagination to re-group.

Furniture and accessories
Furniture and accessories

Within the larger environment, there are several garden shops, a cafe and a full landscape design studio at Terrain along with enough plants to satisfy any gardener.  Shops are housed in cleverly designed shed-like structures and each has its own focus.  The main shop displays garden ornaments, plants, small pots, furniture, books and an area for spa products wiht a green wall of  staghorn ferns and other epiphytic perennials..  A hot house for tropicals and house plants has a wonderful planted arch, terrariums, containers and more accessories.   The potting shed houses garden practicalities like hand tools and amendments.  The design studio is a separate building adjacent the nursery area.  There’s also a shade house and the day I was there, a sale tent.  The sales staff–all in Terrain shirts or aprons–were knowledgeable and willing to answer any and all of my questions.

Green wall
Spa Green Wall
Merchandise Mix
Chic merchandise mix
A Fountain with clear glass 'bubbles'
A Fountain with clear glass 'bubbles'
Hollow Log Planter
Hollow Log Planter

Most garden centers need to take some cues from Terrain.  Garden shoppers are sophisticated and want great design and inspiration along with their 2 gallon perennials and bags of bone meal.  I say Bravo!

16 thoughts on “Field Trip: Terrain at Styer’s

  1. Thanks for the pics – Styers has indeed changed significantly in the last few years. I used to visit several times a year selling them perennials but haven’t been since I left the company. Nice to recognize the individual corners but fun to see the difference a themed design makes. Good update

  2. Hi Susan – Thanks for posting the picturr at Terrain. I am fortunate to have such a wonderful store closeby. As always I am astounded by your work.

  3. Thanks Doug, Sarah & Victoria! Like Doug I knew the place before because they forced trees and shrubs for flower shows for me. I also knew Styer’s from their award winning and phenomenal Philadelphia Flower Show gardens. It was always a great garden center, now it’s a great garden retailer in all aspects.

  4. What an inspiring center for garden owners and designers alike! It will be interesting to see whether Urban Outfitters sows Terrain seeds as widely as they have Anthropologie, and what regional/local adaptations they’ll make. Especially after the demise of Smith & Hawken, we could all use a shot of such creativity.

  5. Inspiring space!

    Will be interesting to see how the Anthropologie aesthetic and marketing strategy evolve through plant and outdoor living, and whether it’s replicable and scalable. There is clearly still a hunger for garden lifestyle brands. Good for them.

    My only tiny quibble is that I am repelled by anything branded “_________at (whatever it used to be)”. I know they are paying homage to the original garden center, and I guess there is value in retaining the old name, but it just reminds me of all of those bad shopping center/housing developments in the Sacramento corridor. “Kingsbridge at Valley Crossing”, you know what I mean…

  6. What a fun and inspiring place this would be to work, and such an interesting idea to have an attached design studio! Thanks for taking us along on your field trip (so cool to hear about it when you’re actually there, then to read about it later!)

  7. Maureen–Interesting that you should bring that up–the ‘whatever it used to be’ because I wondered about it. The parent company has (had) plans to replicate it here at the biggest, most expensive garden center in the area, but the deal fell through. I wonder if it is part of their strategy to break into a new market–utilizing the old well known garden center as a segue to new things.

  8. This sounds a lot like Roger’s Gardens in San Marino, CA
    It is a huge garden retailer but it is also like a garden with many outdoor rooms, indoor rooms, sunken areas, winding staircases, etc
    There are always many customers and visitors. They also have classes and speakers.

  9. Thanks for the link Pat. I think the major difference is that Terrain is backed by a major retail player who has the chops to replicate it internationally should they choose to. There’s some really great garden retailers out there and I hope other readers share the ones they know about too.

  10. Leave it to you Susan to write and explore the new garden center, nice review reminds me of a first trip to Henri Bendel’s. Sounds like a road trip!

  11. Cindy–Nice to hear from you. When Terrain was just Styer’s they forced my NJ flower show trees and shrubs. They don’t do that anymore.

  12. Thats pretty impressive. It’s more of a garden mall than a garden centre really isn’t it?

    I can’t help but wonder if it has lost the personal touch that so many small garden centres have?

    A great post!


  13. It’s still personal and feels like an individual experience. The knowledgeable and friendly staff actually smiles at you when you approach them!

  14. Went to your blog Katie–thanks for sharing the holiday photos. I was wondering when walking through what it would look like all decked out in wreaths and spruce.

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