Staffing an information center can be a costly service. Not only do you have to pay the employee’s hourly wage plus benefits, but you also have to train them on things like pest identification and general culture and nutrition for hundreds of plants; plus, you have to keep that training up-to-date. Sound expensive? It doesn’t have to be.
Dundee Nursery, Plymouth, Minn., has found a way to access all this information without paying a dime: master gardeners. Through the University of Minnesota Extension Service, Dundee has set up a program whereby master gardeners maintain regular hours at the garden center answering customer questions.
In case you aren’t familiar with the master gardener program, these are dedicated garden specialists who have attended a rigorous training program in all areas of gardening and plant care. They receive actual certification as master gardeners and must provide a certain number of hours educating or working with the local gardening public to maintain this certification, which means that a program like Dundee’s actually benefits the master gardener as much as the garden center.
You can get a lot of recognition for having a trained master gardener at your garden center, so you’ll want to maximize exposure of this service. Post signs around your garden center announcing the days the master gardener will be there; have a designated place for them to meet with customers, and leave it up even when the master gardener is not there (of course with signs extolling the program and announcing the regular hours); publicize the service in your advertisements and newsletters. This is definitely something you could use to your benefit, from a customer service perspective as well as a financial one.