March 2012
Four Season Sales By Mark & Laurie McWilliams

No longer just a spring thing, the owners of CopperTree Outdoor Lifestyles, Springfield, Ill., have transformed their custom containers into the talk of the town for all four seasons.

In the last two to three years, we’ve witnessed our custom containers positively affect different parts of our business here at CopperTree Outdoor Lifestyles — from our landscape division to sales in soil mixes and tropicals to even the relationships we have with other area business.

Thanks to our ability to recognize their versatility and year-round appeal, both commercially and residentially, CopperTree containers have become a profit center for us.

Well-Branded Curb Appeal

In our first year getting into business, we were so underfunded that we tried to figure out ways we could advertise without really spending a lot of money. Some of what we’ve done over the last few years don’t necessarily rack up big advertising bucks even though it looks like that’s what we’ve spent.

As you know, relationships are everything in this industry and building great relationships with the local businesses around us is something we put a lot of effort into and it continues to pay off.

Our containers have become a status symbol around town. So we’ve gone to area businesses that we have business relationships with and provide many of them our beautiful containers to help attract attention to their businesses.

Here are a few ways we’ve been able to benefit from the commercial connections we’ve made:

Neighbors: We have a big business across the street from us that does a lot of its own advertising, which brings in a lot of traffic. We have four containers in front of their business with our signs in them. You can’t believe the amount of traffic that drives our way.

Building contractors: We work closely with a very high-end builder who gives us the opportunity to place our containers in front of his spec homes. Contractors are always looking for ways to put finishing touches on model homes.

Municipality: We’re active board members of Springfield Green, which is Springfield’s beautification initiative. Thanks to our involvement, we donate time and materials for the containers at two major intersections for the city. The signs in the containers are easy enough to read, so when people are stopped at these intersections, they can easily read and see that we’re responsible for the beauty. We’ve also gotten a lot of free press for it and additional offers to work with the city.

The signs we’ve placed in these containers are 5×7 inches, black with our bold CopperTree logo and white lettering and phone number. They show up great, have a classy look and aren’t affected by glare on the city streets.

Hospitals: With a school of medicine and three major hospitals, there’s a lot of competition in the medical community to brand their facilities, which has been an opportunity for us as well.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is using one particular color container from us and we have them specially made and built for them.

It’s important to note, the businesses we work with will, in fact, pay for the material at cost, and we do not charge for labor. They also are responsible for watering and normal upkeep until it’s time for a seasonal changeout.

Containers Kept Full

Retail is tough and as the economy continues to struggle, sales decline and foot traffic slows, we decided to take a hard look into finding ways to replace some of the lost sales we’ve experienced.

We noticed customers didn’t have the time to garden. They asked us to plant up their containers on site, so we began to offer that service.

So, we (Laurie) started planting on site. The neighborhood saw this and wanted in. Customers signed up for our garden club enewsletter, which notifies them of our planting schedule and deadlines to sign up. In just three short years, this has just blown wide open. The amount of money we’ve been able to make on this is pretty amazing.

One big reason for that is our four season changeout service for containers. By offering a seasonal changeout service, it’s allowed our customers to buy time. At Christmas, we offered three levels of our changeout service: basic, deluxe or premium. Ninety percent of our clients chose premium.

The basic level would start off with greens and twigs. The deluxe adds a berry. The premium changeout might add magnolia tips, lotus pods, eucalyptus tips, and colored pine cones. In an apples to apples comparison, the basic might cost $50, the deluxe $75 and the premium $100.

For a support staff, Laurie has trained a couple employees to ensure each container created has that CopperTree look we’ve gained a reputation for.

We’ve also developed new opportunities for when our customers are not planting, which includes fine spring and summer pruning and garden coaching. Once you step onto people’s property and you connect with them and they like what you do, we’re able
to build a trusting relationship, which translates into bigger sales, repeat customers and a more fulfilling gardening experience for the customer.

Selling Fire & Water

We’re always interested in finding additional opportunities to get the most out of our pots. After talking with our vendors, we started experimenting with our containers and turned some of them into fountains and firepots.

People still want to be different from their neighbors. They’re looking for unique, moveable options. Turning a container into a fountain or firepot provides us another retail option. And we’ve made sure they’re well displayed and running, because the only way a customer can really understand and wrap their head around a new concept is by seeing it in full working order.

In The Loop

The landscape division at CopperTree Outdoor Lifestyles is a large part of the business and a major key to the company’s success.

Co-owner Mark McWilliams uses flat-screen televisions inside CopperTree’s retail store to show off some of the company’s best landscape work.

“We loop our projects on the screen so customers can see the great work we’re capable of,” McWilliams said at a recent educational seminar for the Mid-Am
Trade Show.

Whether photos are taken on the potting bench or in front of a customer’s home, this same concept can be carried over to a retailer’s custom container service.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little in-house advertising,” he said.

Mark & Laurie McWilliams

Mark and Laurie McWilliams are the owners of CopperTree Outdoor Lifestyles in Springfield, Illinois. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.


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