23 successful marketing & merchandising ideas that paid off for inventive garden center retailers.
As a garden center manager you’re constantly in “go” mode, regularly scouring the landscape, as it were, for new ideas/programs/“sure fire” profit makers that will distinguish your store from the competition. Recognizing that, we created an online feature more than a year ago that not only focuses on ideas, programs and anything falling in the “sure fire” category, but that lends some “fun” and “easy” to the mix as well.
Indeed, Cha-ching!, which has appeared on our website, www.gardencentermagazine.com, since January of 2011, has been a veritable grab-bag of inspiration and insight for anyone within pointing and clicking distance. As of this month, there are nearly 300 items for your perusal on the site. Here are some of the best ones …
A grand opening, indeed …
When spring arrives, the managers at Pike Nurseries figure it’s time to play in the dirt again!
The company’s 16 Georgia locations and its Charlotte, N.C., site annually host Happy Flower Hour from 5 to 8 p.m. to open the selling season. While you’re trying to figure out how this hour lasts 180 minutes, consider that the garden centers will probably need at least that much time to fit in all the activities.
Guests are invited to enjoy complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres at all Pike Nurseries locations. They’ll enjoy wine samplings by Lapostolle, a Chilean wine, as well as gourmet Cacique cheese and fruit and crackers from The Fresh Market.
All the while, Pike Nurseries experts will be on hand to offer advice and know-how on spring gardening to ensure that even homeowners without a green thumb can create a successful seasonal garden. Additionally, guests can take advantage of storewide specials during the event to stock up on spring plants. The event is free to attend, but you can bet that the next time these event-goers return, they’ll be spending plenty.
Yep ... Cha-ching!
We appreciate you … Plumline Nursery in Murrysville, Pa., was founded by the late Bill Tribou. To honor his father – and to say thanks to the garden centers’ customers who became part of Bill’s legacy, Bill’s son and new company owner Micah crafted Customer Appreciation Days.
And, boy, do they do some honoring and appreciating. “It was a wildly successful event,” Micah said of the 2011 event. “There was the smell of hamburgers grilling all day, free drinks, free sno-cones, a live band playing, fun games with great plant prizes, exciting seminars featuring local Emmy- winner Doug Oster and a duck pond (with different discounts on the bottom of each duck). We also had free landscape ‘designs from photos’ by our design staff. People had to stand in line and take numbers for this one.”
The garden center staff passed out free tote bags, seed packets and purple wristbands, to boot. “The seeds were forget-me-not packets imprinted with ‘In memory of Bill Tribou,’” Micah said. “The purple wristbands were like the yellow Livestrong ones and said ‘Bill Tribou: The Legend, Plumline Nursery.’”
This was a great cause and a great set of days that strengthened an important bond established long before. And it was a great way to ensure that bond will only grow. Cha-ching!
Expo-nentially grand … So, how many annual Spring Expos have you hosted? At Wedel’s Nursery, Florist & Garden Center in Kalamazoo, Mich., the 2012 extravaganza marked the 17th time the company has sprung spring on customers in that fashion.
Andy Wedel, garden center manager, said the store’s staff loves to take advantage of the notion that people are itching to get outside, garden and plant. And, boy does it take advantage. The event, called the Kalamazoo Flower and Garden Show, draws 4,000 to 5,000 people each year and features 30 free seminars on everything from birds to roses, annuals to perennials and herbs to wildlife.
Wedel said people have been known to come from four states to the show. It’s not unusual for the parking lot to be full because the expo offers such a hands-on variety of gardening and landscaping information.
What was this year’s “hot” trend? “Miniature gardening has caught on like you wouldn’t believe,” Wedel said.
While he’s taking note of all the “Cha-ching!” from the event, you probably should just take note.
History and history in the making … Bachman’s, with six locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., area, hosts a special event in the spring -- with the emphasis on “special.”
“A Relaxing Renewal” is the theme for the retailer’s annual Spring Ideas House. Each season, the store’s designers transform the historic house, located at at 5936 Lyndale Ave. S, Minn., into a magical destination for design education. They completely repaint, refurnish and redecorate the house with creative ideas in home décor and entertaining, using their signature mix of vintage and new pieces.
By purchasing a ticket to the event, consumers also receive a coupon good for $5 off a $25 purchase at any of the six Bachman’s Floral, Gift and Garden Centers. Tickets are good for a 30-minute self-guided tour, which offers hundreds of creative home décor and entertaining ideas that burst with spring energy and renewal.
And this year, 20 percent of each $5 ticket sold went to benefit Art in Bloom, an annual event celebrating art through flowers that supports Friends of the Institute. Friends of the Institute is a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting, enhancing and sustaining the collections, programs and influence of the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. Each year, Bachman’s floral designers participate in Art in Bloom events and contests.
‘Nuff said ... well, except for the obvious residual benefit of such a great program: “Cha-ching!”
And a fun time was had (and will be had) by all … As huge proponents of the fun shopping experience, we take delight in the way Suburban Lawn & Garden livens up events with appearances by characters such as Cowgirl Kate and Witch Hazel.
This year, the former, who has been entertaining audiences young and old in the Midwest region for more than a decade, began her month-long “tour” of the Kansas City, Mo., garden center’s three locations. She entertained and created clever balloon art for the kids to take with them as part of her performances.
Next, during a special event in October, Witch Hazel will pay a visit to one of the stores to help usher in Halloween. Again, there will be plenty of other fun activities on tap that day, all designed to show customers that shopping at Suburban Lawn & Garden is much more than just shopping at Suburban Lawn & Garden.
And you know what “more than” equals, don’t you? That’s right: More than a little “Cha-ching!”
Profit, by the yard … Here’s a good idea from the great folks at Town and Country Gardens: host a yard sale.
Each year, at the close of summer, the two-store garden retailer in Idaho Falls, Idaho, invites customers to its yard to help them find great items – and great bargains on great items – for their yards.
The three-day event features discounts from 40 to 70 percent on a vast array of products, including overstocks, one-of-a kinds, discontinued merchandise, out-of-season items, and some things, as the stores’ ad notes, “we’re just plain tired of having around.”
Said things include assorted seeds, trees, shrubs, perennials, pond pumps, pond plants, statuary, fountains, pottery, garden decor, and more. As with any rummage sale, the early birds get the worms; the selection tends to dwindle as the hours/days pass.
While this idea isn’t the stuff of a direct bonanza – everything’s discounted, so the margins aren’t the best – the intangible effects of hosting something that is marked by both anticipation and participation are generally good for the long-term branding of the store. And long-term branding almost always means long-term “Cha-ching!,” which is some of the best kind.
Falling for their customers … Garden centers looking for a blueprint for that “Big Splash” autumn event should take notes from Russell’s Garden Center in Wayland, Mass. Last October, the company hosted its 37th Fall Festival & Annual Clearance Sale when owner Lew Russell rang the bell at 9 a.m.
From that moment until the end of the day, the yard was filled with bargains from Russell’s and food vendors from the Wayland Summer Farmers’ Market, plus other local merchants, including: Barleycorn’s Craft Brew, Beyond Beans, Charlton Orchards, Newtonville Wine & Spirits, Quarterdeck Seafoods and Whole Foods Markets of Wayland.
Customers has a chance to save up to 50 percent or more on perennials, select shrubs, gardening supplies, gifts, toys, silk flowers, candles and the ever-popular “more.” To enhance the shopping experience, Russell’s offered kids fare such as tractor rides, face painting and pumpkin painting. For the adults, the schedule included wine and beer tasting, and the event also featured live music by Whose Muddy Shoes.
There’s no admission charge for this event. But make no mistake – there’s plenty of “Cha-ching!”
Smart move … When Gary and Mary Blondell opened Gary’s Garden Mart in Severna Park, Md., in 2001, the garden center was, to put it conservatively, under-financed. In fact, in year one, the store turned a profit of negative of .93 percent – and year two’s books saw the numbers dip to negative 7 percent.
So how, more than a decade later, was Gary’s Garden Mart named one of Garden Center magazine’s Innovator Award winners? The answer is couched in one word: education.
In 2002, the couple enrolled in Garden Center University, a multi-year program conducted by noted industry consultant Ian Baldwin. Some retailers would balk at committing time and money to education at such a critical point. But it proved to be a key element in Gary’s Gardens success.
“I really believe you’ve got to have the education; you’ve got to have the wherewithal to do these kinds of things and make these decisions,” Gary said. “And you’d better invest up front for [education] before you do anything else. Because any dollars after that, I really think, would be wasted.”
Their GCU education set Gary and Mary on the road to profitability. The lessons they learned there – and networking with other retailers – provided the tools they needed to thrive.
“We’re paying more and more attention to buying better and labor costs,” Mary said. “We watch more closely our cash flow and our margins and margin dollars. You’re always asking, ‘what’s the bottom line, and what are we netting?’”
These days, the answer to that question is “a tidy sum.” Cha-ching!
The internal customer is king … Conventional thinking says that a happy employee is a productive employee. At Plants for All Seasons in Houston, Texas, employees have many reasons to be both.
On busy spring weekends, company owner Victory Flaherty foots the bill for lunch for his staff. He also tries to give all staffers two days off in a row, even during the busy times. He pays 100 percent of uniform expenses. The clincher, though, is his generosity when the garden center flourishes. Flaherty shares 33 percent of the company’s positive cash flow with full-time employees.
During these times when job security is a nationwide issue, employees that feel wanted are likely to go above and beyond for a boss that makes them feel wanted. And above and beyond is a great recipe for “Cha-ching!”
The hiring squad … Here’s a profitable way to secure help during the busy season: tap the resources of the local folks who are already “regulars” in your social media world.
“We find seasonal employees from our blog,” said Ned Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Garden Center in Newark, Ohio. “They know plants. They know the area. They know the landscape of Wilson’s – enough so that they check in on the blog on a regular basis to find what’s new. People with that kind of passion about the store easily take ownership in any paid position they assume here.”
To make the process even more productive, Wilson’s Garden Center features a “Top Asked Questions” section on the blog that anticipates and answers most of the challenges involved with the interviewing/hiring process.
In today’s business parlance, that’s referred to as proactive thinking. And proactive thinking almost always produces a measure of “Cha-ching!”
Im-media-te results … We recently received a press release from Watters Garden Center in Prescott, Ariz. The fact that we’re repeating what was said in said press release shows the power of establishing a relationship with the media, even (or, actually, especially) the local kind.
The note said Watters Garden Center will sell the Bloomerang Lilac that blooms repeatedly through the year. “It’s all new, so I guarantee even the most avid gardener has never seen this plant in Arizona before,” said Watters Garden Center owner Ken Lain, who went on to explain why this is news.
“The old fashioned lilac your grandmother grew bloomed once in spring and then [went] out of fashion. This revolutionary new lilac blooms in spring and then flowers and flowers again repeatedly for season-long color. The impact from this compact new variety fits easily in any mountain landscape where the sun is shining and needs more fragrance. Even perennial beds look better with this Bloomerang variety that looks great in glazed containers with a foundation of mixed winter pansies. Enjoy classic lilac fragrance for months instead of weeks and it is so new you will have the only one in the neighborhood.”
Touting what’s special about your place or your inventory to and through the press is a great way to ensure your message is heard. Kudos to Lain and to Watters Garden Center, which undoubtedly will realize some “Cha-ching!” for its marketing prowess.
The write stuff … Tim Lamprey, owner of Harbor Garden Center in Salisbury, Mass., is an affable person. He’s one of those “go to guys” editors in our industry love, because he always has a good grasp on how the market works – and he isn’t shy about sharing his thoughts or ideas.
Luckily for his customers, he shares many of both in a weekly column on the company website. In a missive written when the temperatures were plummeting, for instance, he wrote about tried-and-true ways to keep plants safe during the harsh winter months (and, in Massachusetts, he knows a thing or two dozen about those). The tips he shares each week edify his reader customers, for sure. More importantly, they help create a relationship with them because Tim’s column is evidence of a business owner who wants to take care of those who shop at his garden center. That’s what “Cha-ching!” is all about.
You are here … If your customers have trouble getting “here” from “there” – wherever your “here” might be – you might consider doing what Teri and Dan Wolff did to make Ricky & Lucy’s Country Greenhouse a destination shopping hub.
The Wolff’s garden center is located north of Sidney, Neb., on a remote country road off the Gold Rush Scenic Byway, Highway 385. Teri and Dan worked with the Nebraska Department of Roads for more than a year to get approval to install tourist attraction signage for their business. It has proven to be a night-and-day difference.
“We’re so excited,” said Teri, “It’s not only bringing people off the road, but local visitors who couldn’t find us before are now locating us.”
Once they arrive, customers in both camps find more than 20 demonstration gardens spread across 10 acres, all located in western Nebraska’s high plains. There are seven greenhouses and a store featuring organically grown herbs and vegetables, annuals and perennials, pottery and gift items. The Wolffs also work with a landscape designer who can help clients plan their own gardens.
It’s quite a destination, indeed. And, now, the journey there isn’t nearly as arduous as it was in the past, thanks to enterprising owners who were determined to find a way to link with customers. Cha-ching!
Preaching what they practice … In business, there’s usually no shortage of good ideas. What’s typically lacking is the wherewithal to put these concepts into practice. Stauffers of Kissel Hill (SKH), a family-owned chain of garden centers and supermarkets in Pennsylvania, uses a team approach to plot a course that keeps the business moving ahead.
A big part of that approach is the Recession Action Plan company officials instituted in 2009 to guide the business, and its aggressive marketing strategy, one that has paid off during a time when many contemporaries have struggled to survive, much less thrive.
Jere Stauffer and Steve Gallion, chief operating officers of the company’s garden center division, kept thinking of something Gallion and Debi Drescher, SKH marketing manager, had heard at ANLA Management Clinic: The consumer is in a state of “aggressive indecision.”
“Consumers don’t know whether to spend money or what,” Gallion said. “You have to do something to move them to a buying decision. What we chose to do was a pretty aggressive coupon campaign and tried to move people into making that decision.”
SKH sent direct-mail postcards to more than 300,000 homes, which included a coupon for $10 off merchandise with a minimum $25 purchase. Amazingly, the company saw an almost 10 percent redemption rate on the coupon.
“We basically said to the customer, here’s $10 just for coming in,” Stauffer said. “Our average sale [with coupon] was just shy of $60.”
SKH was almost hyper-aggressive in its marketing efforts. But Stauffer justifies the strategy by recalling something he learned from his father. “I remember him saying years ago that you have to approach marketing like the locomotive on a long freight train,” he said. “You can get that train up and rolling, then whip the locomotive off the front. And that train is going to roll for a while, but sooner or later it’s going to roll to a stop. And you’re going to have to put all your energy into getting that train back up to speed. So why not keep the locomotive in the lead and keep that momentum going? That’s marketing.”
And, as the good folks at SKH also discovered ... That’s “Cha-ching!”
Mini yields many … McDonald Garden Center has made a habit of winning awards, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the Hampton, Va., retail operation has come up with a nearly fool-proof way to hook up with customers.
|Gale’s Westlake Garden Center in Westlake, Ohio has been reaping the benefits of adding a ladies’ clothing and accessories line.
Every year from mid-March through mid-July, McDonald Garden Center opens garden markets throughout the area, complete with great plants AND accessories. These mini garden centers, in essence, change the paradigm from having the customers come to the store to having the stores go to the customers.
Does this idea work? Hey, we said McDonald Garden Center has made a habit of winning awards. It also has made a habit of ringing up the “Cha-ching!” in the process. So, yes, we’ll say this idea works.
And then we’ll add this: !
Picture perfect … Here’s a simple – and potentially very profitable – way to help your customers create new garden scenes: Create them for them with “snapshot garden” opportunities at the store.
Rice’s Nursery in North Canton, Ohio, offers such a program for DIY landscape customers, who seem to like the idea of coming to the store with a “look” they want created in the landscape and then loading up the vehicle with the plants and peripheral hard goods necessary to translate the scene at home. It certainly helps the cause that Rice’s Nursery offers some of the “looks” in vignettes at the store.
“We have definitely noticed an increase in the DIY landscaping,” said garden center manager Steve Maddox. “Even with a down economy, people are still investing in their home. Our ‘Snapshot Gardening Program’ has been very successful because of this. I’m noticing that people are coming in during the week to have a ‘Snapshot Garden’ created with the intent of installing it over the weekend. We love working with these people because they are looking to get it done now, and I have the program and plants to help them achieve that goal.”
At the end of the day, he has something else, as well: plenty of “Cha-ching!”
The great indoors … The management team at Moana Nursery, which has worn many different hats as a garden center, nursery and outdoor landscaper, has decided to stay indoors this spring. OK, not totally.
Actually, the Reno, Nevada-based company is now offering services to complement the greenhouse at Moana. The launch of the company’s new Interior Plant Services business, featuring design, clean-air plants, maintenance and a host of other helpful activities, will be led by one of the area’s most experienced indoor plant specialists, Vicky Ross.
Ross has 23 years of indoor plant and interior design experience, starting with six years as a live plant technician allowing the plants to teach her about their secret lives. Gaining an appreciation for the needs of indoor plants and their environments, Ross has gained another 17 years of design and maintenance experience managing and mentoring both the plants and the people who love them. In her words, “Plants face many challenges each day, and I quickly learned that they always tell the truth.”
Ross’ love of plants combined with her education and work in commercial art, including owning her own business, provides Moana Nursery’s customers with a real indoor “plant whisperer” to work with our outdoor “plant doctors.” With a passion for design, color and plants, she is well-positioned to lead the current artistic transition of live plants into living art.
A greenhouse full of choices can now be integrated into a customer’s home or office, providing that improved environment, with the right plants, for her benefit.
As for how Moana benefits, you spell that “Cha-ching!”
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here … A lot of garden centers provide plants for weddings. The Valley Garden Center in Phoenix, Ariz., provides venues for weddings. In keeping with the company’s stated purpose of enriching the lives of its customers, The Valley has a variety of scenic respites on the grounds that are perfect for nuptials – and more.
|Briggs Garden and Home is attracting Gen X shoppers with a collection of attractions like their blog, cafe with free Wi-Fi and a playground.
What kind of “more”? Pretty much any special event you can imagine, if your imagination would bear fruit in the Courtyard Gardens, near the Koi Pond or at the Japanese Tea House. Hey, we said the respites were scenic.
They’re also part of the fare that The Valley offers, in addition to great plants and beautiful accent items – and regularly scheduled events on the grounds to help customers enjoy both more. This is a “sum of the parts” garden center of the highest order, and that almost always leads to the magic hyphenated word: “Cha-ching!”
A tisket, a tasket … Gallery Flowers is, technically, more parts florist than garden center. But it provides a service that could prove very valuable for enterprising garden center operators.
The Houston-based retailer offers a wide range of gift baskets that contain a virtual gamut – plants, fruit, candy, chips ... you name it. These gift items are very easy to assemble, and they represent the ultimate “lots of bang for your buck” impulse item, one that has appeal in a display and in the home.
To further add to the allure, the staff at Gallery Flowers offers most basket packages in three sizes, so practically every customer can find what she wants – even if she didn’t come into the store wanting a gift basket.
These quick, easy, profitable products virtually sell themselves online and literally sell themselves in the store. There’s a word for that kind of selling power: Cha-ching!
We speak your language … Garden centers looking for ways to attract Gen X shoppers might want to borrow a page from the Briggs Garden & Home book. Actually, they might want to borrow several.
For starters, the center located in North Attleboro, Mass., does a blog, which is part of the standard reading regimen of many 30-somethings these days. The fare there includes everything from plant talk to recipes that are used in the Briggs Cafe.
Speaking of which, the cafe is a free Wi-Fi hotspot, meaning customers can turn a trip to the garden center into a chance to buy plants and “way cool” garden accessories, to grab a healthy gourmet meal (we hear the Chicken Cordon Bleu is to die for), and to catch up on some Internet browsing while they relax with the kids in the comfortable dining room. Then they can take the kids outside to the shaded playground for some fun recreation.
The collection of attractions – the blog, the restaurant, the Wi-Fi, the playground – is a Gen X magnet, not to mention one great way to add some “Cha-ching!”
One more X-treme strategy … Whereas the Baby Boomer customer, a staple at your store for practically ever, loves the journey, Gen X, her successor, just wants to get to the destination. Xers might love a garden; Boomer customers generally love to garden. Adjusting to a new breed of customers requires a good deal of research and/or experience trying things that appeal to someone who thinks entirely differently than her predecessor.
One retailer that is hitting the Gen X target is Gabalot Gardens in Strasberg, Va. Owner Janet Heishman decided a great way to get new moms interested in the store is to make sure their children find the place “kid-riffic.”
“We have three different kid areas,” Heishman said. “Two involve rocks/pebbles. We are now the place to come when kids are bored.”
And, given that kids can become bored quite easily, that makes Gabalot Gardens something kids gab a lot about. Cha-ching!
Clothesing time … Garden center operators are constantly looking for the “Next Big Thing” that will entice customers to come into the store – and to leave after having deposited a lot of money at the checkout stand.
For Gale’s Westlake Garden Center in Westlake, Ohio, that NBT is women’s apparel. “Adding our ladies’ clothing and accessories category to our gift shop was the best recent move we’ve made, hands down,” said Pam Donzelli, company vice president. “The revenue potential here is amazing and will thrive in an appropriate setting.”
Note Donzelli’s use of the term “revenue potential here is amazing.” There’s another term that expresses the same result. Yep, you guessed it: Cha-ching!
Small is huge … Billed as the world’s smallest retail nursery, Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center in Seattle, Wash., turned 10 years old last year, and management there decided to carry on its brand by taking the lead as THE regional source for miniature garden hobby items.
“Miniature gardening is the perfect blend of the two most popular hobbies in the world: gardening and miniatures. There is nothing else like it,” said Janit Calvo, founder of Two Green Thumbs.
The Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center was formed in 2001 after discovering that the art of gardening small was just too rich of an idea to let go. The miniature garden hobby is not new, but the staff’s approach to it is. With the power and reach of the Internet, Two Green Thumbs has supplied quality products and services to new hobbyists, crafters and gardeners throughout the world, and the trend shows no signs of stopping.
These miniature, magical gardens are made of slow-growing plants that are “dwarf” and “miniature,” terms that describe the growth rate of the plant. The plants are combined with miniature accessories and in-scale patios to make real, living mini garden scenes - that can last for years in a container with minimal care. When planted correctly, the plants and trees stay in scale with each other to create a sustainable, true garden in miniature.
The company’s Mini Garden Guru blog and the Mini Garden Gazette newsletter are deeply saturated with all things miniature garden, and are sent all over the world, inspiring thousands to garden small.
And, in this case, small leads to some very big “Cha-Ching!”
Yale Youngblood is the former editor of Garden Center magazine.