Many of the best innovations come from collaborations. Here’s how CountryMax partners with master gardeners to draw a crowd.

April 2024
Events that grow foot traffic — and your brand By Brian Rapp

Here’s how CountryMax partners with master gardeners to draw a crowd for its events.

At CountryMax, we take pride in our knowledgeable employees. But to bring our customers even greater gardening expertise, we team up with master gardeners from the Cornell Cooperative Extension. These growers have decades of experience and many “soil secrets” to share. Their live presentations take place in our stores and cover such topics as:

  • Starting plants from seed
  • Garden design
  • Vegetable gardening 101
  • Combating climate change
  • Native plants
  • Composting

Most of CountryMax’s 18 stores have event rooms that can host up to 30 people for a live presentation. In locations without a dedicated event room, we rearrange the aisles to create a space that works. Don’t let the lack of room hold you back — all you really need are some folding chairs and a projector.

How to Connect With the Experts

Most states have some form of land-grant college with a mission to research and support regional agriculture through the federal cooperative Extension system. That’s where our master gardeners come from. The organization charges a nominal fee, which we cover so our customers can benefit from their expertise.

Of course, the master gardeners do not endorse CountryMax or promote any of our specific products. But the fact that we carry seeds, plants, soils, fertilizers and all the tools necessary to plant and maintain a garden creates a convenient connection.

One secret to our success is our dedicated events coordinator, Kelly McMorrow. With 18 stores and a variety of events for kids and adults, Kelly stays very busy. Even so, a single-location garden center can make these live, gardening-specific presentations happen simply by reaching out to recognized experts in the area.

Promoting Your Collaborative Events

Rather than pay to advertise on TV or radio for our master gardener presentations, we send email announcements to our customers and post each session on our social media channels. We also put up posters and place graphics on our in-store digital signs.

These low-cost tactics usually result in sold-out sessions. The sessions are free, so there can be quite a few no-shows on the day of the presentation. For that reason, we overbook by approximately 30%.

What We’ve Learned

After hosting more than 50 of these live presentations over the past 24 months, we’ve refined the program in several ways.

  • One hour is the right length of time — 45 minutes of content plus about 15 minutes for Q&A.
  • Customers have a lot to contribute. The Q&A session often includes valuable information sharing among the garden-loving audience.
  • FREE is a magical word. We experimented with charging $2 and $5 for these sessions, thinking it would result in fewer no-shows. That was true, but it also resulted in far fewer sign-ups, so we’re back to offering them for free.
  • Have a table of relevant products nearby. While the master gardeners are not selling your products, people come with gardening on their minds.
  • Have fun with it! Whether it’s trivia, giveaways, hands-on activities or a few jokes, there’s no reason gardening topics can’t be fun.
  • Consider videotaping your event. Some presenters prefer not to be recorded, but if your experts are willing, the opportunity to post these replays on your website or YouTube channel is a super way to extend your reach.

Other Ways to Add Value

In addition to the popular master gardener series of live presentations, we have also built out a robust microsite ( with monthly tips for gardeners, including watering, crop rotation, soil selection and pest control. Each month, we send emails and use social posts to remind people of the fresh content, further positioning our store as a valuable source of information.

As the busy season begins, we look forward to even more collaborations that lead to innovations with customers and our community in upstate New York.

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition.

Brian Rapp

Brian Rapp is creative director at CountryMax Stores, a 2023 recipient of the Lawn & Garden Retailer Innovator Awards. Learn more at