February 2010
Get Out There! By Paige Worthy

Just before Christmas, I got an e-mail from a curious, dedicated reader whose garden center is located on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pa. They’ve written me before, asking about how they can get more involved in contests and competitions throughout the industry; this garden center is clearly invested in endeavors that will make their store better and draw more customers. I love their initiative and wish I heard from more readers about their goals, successes and challenges. (Guys, it couldn’t be easier. There’s a button right on our website, www.lgrmag.com: “Talk to Paige!”)

Their most recent e-mail said: “This year, we are expanding, and we want to do something that will not only WOW our current customers but of course draw more customers to our store. What do you feel is the one thing you have seen garden centers do that has created the most hype? Even if you can point me in the direction of fresh ideas, that would be GREAT! We want a new idea that will help us GROW!”

Boy. Wouldn’t I love to be able to shoot off a quick answer to that? I understand they’re probably looking for my opinion on what the strongest garden centers have done to get the best results… but I read that and think, “Where’s the silver bullet?”

Sure, there are great garden centers doing amazing things. We write about them in every issue. There’s an entire department in this magazine about the ingenious uses of social media applications like Facebook and Twitter — garden centers that really dedicate themselves can get some serious results from that. (Read up on page 12.)

High Hand Nursery in Loomis, Calif., is running a full-service restaurant in a greenhouse that’s getting attention all over the state. Smith’s Acres in Niantic, Conn., held a silent auction/wine and beer tasting around the holidays and donated a portion of the proceeds to a local food pantry. Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, Ill. — right in my backyard — is planning a European garden tour for the early summer with a group of their customers.

The Bottom Line?

A lot of garden centers are giving their customers the royal treatment with a variety of events, sales and customer service strategies. The only thing they have in common is creativity and dedicated staff. I’ve been noodling on how to answer this Pittsburgh garden center’s e-mail, and I can come up with only one thing: Get out there!

I hope this doesn’t come across as harsh, but these garden centers didn’t get their brilliant ideas by sitting back and hoping inspiration would drift by at the right time. They kept their ears to the ground and sought out innovation and new ideas: They talked to their peers; they attended events, even though it required an investment of time and money that may have seemed out of reach during an economic downturn; they looked outside the industry for strategies that worked for others.

Subscribe to other garden centers’ e-newsletters. Visit other garden centers in your area and see them as peers, not competition. Go to ANLA’s Management Clinic and regional trade shows with educational opportunities. Attend showroom open houses at the gift markets and start conversations with other shoppers over a beer and some hors-d’oeuvres. Sign up for GCA’s garden center tours; take notes until your hands cramp and as many photos as your shutter finger can handle.

There isn’t a silver bullet in this industry. Every garden center is different; each has a different space to work with, different financial resources at hand and different demographics that shop there. But you’ll find what works, even if it takes some trial and error. Spring is coming — in the meantime, get out there!


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