July 2024
Leveraging artificial intelligence in your garden center By Lawson Thalmann

Artificial intelligence can personalize your customer interactions, optimize sales processes and craft targeted marketing campaigns.

Preparing for the Future

While these examples provide a glimpse into the world of AI in the garden center industry, they barely scratch the surface of the potential of AI. The future holds exciting possibilities, from predictive analytics for inventory management to AI-powered drones for plant health monitoring.
Lawson Thalmann is vice president and chief technology officer at Chalet, a garden center, landscaper and home store in the North Shore of Chicago.
Join Lawson Thalmann to delve deeper into these topics and explore how you can harness the power of AI in your garden center during The Garden Center Show, Aug. 6-7 in Rosemont, Illinois. During his sessions, taking place on Wednesday, Aug. 7, on Education Stage 2, you’ll learn about how AI can fit into your specific business context.

Learn more about The Garden Center Show and register for free at gardencentershow.com.

As chief technology officer of Chalet, my family’s Chicago-based garden center and landscape business, I’ve migrated our software to “the cloud” over the last seven years. This “cloud” is where artificial intelligence (AI) lives — because of this, we have the ability to seamlessly integrate AI directly into our processes.

For example, we’re launching a new and improved Website Chat Bot through Zendesk infused with Generative AI by OpenAI (ChatGPT). I welcome you to visit chaletnursery.com to try it out and let me know what you think.

Another example is Shopify, which creates product descriptions with the click of a button and edits the background of photos based on verbal prompts. No surprise — it’s powered by OpenAI. In the cloud, all these applications play nicely together and it’s all very fun to do business in!

Short-Term Wins

While I recommend migrating your applications to the cloud, it does take time and money. In addition to ChatGPT, there are a number of apps that are reasonably priced and can have you using AI tomorrow.

One example that we’re now testing out is Leonardo AI for landscape design. This AI-powered image-generation tool streamlines the design process, allowing inspirational images to be conjured through the natural English language. Designers previously spent weeks drafting and redrafting design sketches — time that can now be brought down to minutes and hours. Imagine this being done with sales people in the garden center as well.

Using AI for Operational Automation

Operational automation is crucial to increase efficiency and reduce costs these days. Chalet has over 100 active automations across our operations. Most are not related to AI, but AI-powered automations are proving to be the most powerful. So if you haven’t gotten on the automation train in general, I encourage you to do so. While it’s critical to start learning AI, it is wise to bring it into your business in a measured way. Documenting processes will be a useful skill for this, allowing you to map out which pieces are candidates for automation. This will help your staff understand how to work alongside these automations. For the most part, a step done by your staff kicks off a step done by automation; not realizing this can cause unwanted outcomes.

Using AI for Customer Service, Sales and Marketing

AI can also play a pivotal role in enhancing customer service and other customer-facing functions. With Zendesk AI, the AI-powered bots provide immediate responses to FAQs while enhancing customer satisfaction and freeing up our staff to handle more complex queries in which they also have an AI assistant.

Some theory is warranted here as well. I like the “human in the loop” concept and believe you will, too. That is, anything the AI does is either pre-designed by a human with guard rails as to what it should and shouldn’t say. In more complex scenarios, it’s actually the human that approves each message. There is a risk to the AI giving misguided responses, but it’s a very small one if you’re smart about designing your processes.

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Lawson Thalmann

Lawson Thalmann is vice president and chief technology officer at Chalet, a garden center, landscaper and home store in the North Shore of Chicago.