April 2023
Should your garden center have a text club? By Teresa McPherson

Text marketing can be an efficient way to reach your customers — here’s what you need to know when considering it.

Kate Terrell, president and general manager at Wallace’s Garden Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, can tell when a text offer has gone out to Wallace’s text club, at least anecdotally speaking, because she says cars immediately start rolling in the parking lot and the phone starts ringing.

“It’s the only advertising I’ve ever done where you can literally watch it work in real time,” she says. “People actually change their plans. I hear things like, ‘I wasn’t going to leave the house today, but then I got your text and had to come check out XYZ.’”

She says they began text marketing as part of their larger print and television marketing campaigns.

“When we started our own text club, the goal was to build a text database large enough to speak with our customers and cut back or drop interruption media all together — now text is the centerpiece. With a list of over 17,200 subscribers, we have focused all our marketing dollars on text and our own ‘media’ like our e-newsletter and blog. In addition, we are re-building our website from scratch.”

Terrell says texting is the best way for Wallace’s to communicate with people in their area right now. She says television is too segmented and print is “really on the decline.” Text offers convenience for both marketer and consumer.

Focused Marketing

Sara Castillo started the text message marketing company TapOnIt with her sister Katie Castillo-Wilson in 2015. Castillo says Wilson “was working in the newspaper industry and was dealing with a lot of this fragmented marketing, and she had this idea of, what if people could sign up to receive ads, content, promotions, information, updates — whatever it may be — via text messages from the businesses that they like?”

The two founders raised some money locally and built out TapOnIt, a platform for text message marketing. They offer both short message service (SMS) — which is a block of words like a normal text message — and multimedia message service (MMS), which can include photos and video.

“What separates TapOnIt’s platform from other SMS platforms is that we really do focus on MMS,” Castillo says. “Now, you can absolutely do SMS text blasts through our platform — if you just want to get in and type up some words and text them out, you can do that — but what our platform does very differently from any other platforms is we actually can send up to nine different images in a single MMS text message. Businesses don’t have to send nine; you can do one, you can do an animated GIF or do three images — it’s completely up to you. It costs the same as just one MMS message, and it comes through as one message, so everything’s in one message but with several pictures in it.”

Terrell uses TapOnIt for Wallace’s text club. “TapOnIt has a unique space in texting because they offer MMS and not the SMS that is prevalent in the marketplace right now.  Garden center product is very visual, so being able to text multiple images to a customer is the easiest way to grab their attention.”

Choosing a Marketing Channel

While there are a lot of ways businesses can advertise — TV, radio, direct mail, social media, email — for a lot of them, it’s hard to track your reach. “You’re not even 100% sure if [your message is] getting in front of people,” Castillo says. “So when you run a television ad, you don’t actually know how many people are watching that TV.

”Direct mail is super expensive. The open rates for email marketing, unfortunately, are continuing to decrease every single year. Social media is great, but the organic reach on social media is terrible; we have spent so many years trying to build up our Facebook followers for our businesses, but at the end of the day, we don’t own those people — it is an audience that we rent, and what if [Mark] Zuckerberg all of a sudden decides he doesn’t want Facebook to be a thing anymore?

“Texting is literally the fastest, most efficient, most effective and guaranteed way to make sure that your content is getting in front of people,” she says. “Text messages have a 99% open rate, 90% are open within the first three minutes of being received, and so it’s guaranteed exposure.”

Connecting to Younger Gardeners

It’s been estimated that upwards of 18 million people caught the gardening bug since COVID-19, thanks to shutdowns, extra free time and concerns about food insecurity.

Meadows Farms, a full-service garden center and landscaping business with 17 locations in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, was one of many garden centers to pick up a lot of new customers over the past three years. Vice president Bobby Lewis says a high percentage of these newer customers are also younger customers.

Meadows Farms offers a special discount for text club members.
Meadows Farms offers a special discount for text club members.

“Younger customers seem more in tune with text than email. While I do not expect texting to replace email anytime soon, I do feel like it is a better way to capture and keep the younger customers. People who want to get texts from you really like you — and tend to be some of your best customers,” he says.

Castillo agrees. “People do hold their cell phone numbers closer — they protect them a little bit more. They only tend to sign up for the businesses that they truly want to hear from, and so these businesses, these brands, these retailers … the lists that they’re building have not only 100% opted-in, permission-based first party data, but it tends to include their biggest fans, the most engaged people, the ones who are like, ‘Yes, here’s my one cell phone number — I like your business enough.’ They want to hear from you and they’re going to stay up to date with everything that you have going on. They’re your biggest fans, which then also tend to be the people who spend the most money with you.”

Lewis says that starting a text club for Meadows has allowed them another way to communicate to their customers — especially to the new, younger customers.

Content Creation

Text marketing doesn’t have to mean creating new content, Castillo says.

“You can repurpose a lot of the content you’re making for other places, so if you have someone writing blogs and taking photos and putting together email newsletters and making social media posts, you can use a lot of that same content in your text messages. Marketers are always re-purposing and sending content out via text message — and guaranteeing that it’s going to be seen,” she says.

“Taking the fact that you’re already spending resources and time and money putting together these email newsletters and all the content that goes in it, sending it out via text message makes sense as well because at least you’re guaranteeing that the biggest fans of yours are seeing the content.”

Lewis suggests what he calls the R&D approach when creating text messages. “You need to do a lot of R&D (Rip Off & Duplicate), so you need to sign up for every nursery possible text group. See what they are doing and duplicate the ones you think match what you are doing.”

Terrell says using TapOnIt is a time saver for her. “[Marketing] offers are quick to build and schedule, and edits are easy with the TapOnIt team. Also, it’s trackable — every day, I get a report on the numbers of our database and every week I get reports on redemptions on each offer.”

The platform allows campaigns to both be scheduled ahead of time and planned out accordingly, or “super last minute,” Castillo says. “If you want to set up a campaign and have it deploy two minutes from then, you can do that as well.”

Building Your List

Promotion is important when it comes to building a text club subscriber list — and consistency is key.

“It’s easy to grow as long as you put it in front of people,” Castillo says. “Some of the things that I recommend businesses do is put a flyer at every single cash register. We give all of our clients an opt-in QR code, and it’s cool because when you scan it, it’ll auto-fill the phone number and the keyword, so that they just have to hit ‘Send’ — it’s a really easy way to get people opted in.”

She also suggests having flyers throughout the store. “The back of bathroom doors is a really good place to put a flyer because, come on, we all know we take our phones in the bathroom with us.

Wallace’s includes a call for action on their website to promote its text club.

“Put a pop-up on your website. We provide our clients a pop-up widget, so they can put it on their website, collect phone numbers from website traffic and also collect email addresses on that same screen — so they can build your email database at the same time as your text database.”

Contests and special offers are another effective way to build a list.

“We have a client that does contests usually four times a year around holidays — they partnered with a local jewelry store to do a Valentine’s giveaway with jewelry and flowers, and then they’ll do a Mother’s Day package, a fall porch package, and a Christmas package giveaway,” she says.

Contests are not only a really good way to get new opt-ins but also to get people who are currently opted-in engaged, entering the contest and sharing it with their friends.

“We offer $5 off a purchase just for joining, so it’s pretty easy to convince people to sign up,” Terrell says. She also says it’s important to have in-store Wi-Fi so customers can easily connect to the internet when they’re in your store and redeem the offers they receive.

Terrell says even if you have a marketing platform that’s working for you, use that “to introduce your loyal customers to the newest and best way to hear from you.”

More Isn’t Always More

While it’s great to be able to repurpose content for a text club, sometimes more isn’t more.

“I believe you have to be disciplined with it and not send too many texts,” Lewis says, “But the platform allows you to stress several things that you want to highlight when you send one out. TapOnIt makes it where we can use pictures in our texts, which is a big plus for our business in particular. We plan on growing [our list] as fast as possible and use it in addition to email for constant communications with our customers.”

Castillo likens it to an email newsletter — it can contain multiple pieces of info, and incorporating those multiple pieces of content in a single text message has a better chance of piquing someone’s interest.

TapOnIt allows for multiple images to be sent in a single text message.
TapOnIt allows for multiple images to be sent in a single text message.

“Maybe I’m interested in the sale, but you’re interested in the fact that they’re hiring for the summer, and so now we both are going to take the next step in conversion of that text message, but for different reasons. A business can get more info across without having to send multiple text messages about it.

“One of the reasons that I absolutely love working with garden centers is because what they sell is so beautiful — it’s visual, so it makes so much more sense to send out pictures of the products, as opposed to just words. You can either say, ‘Roses are in bloom’ or you can send a picture of the blooming roses; it’s game changing for this industry. We work with all sorts of different industries, but we’ve got a lot of clients in [the green] industry, and when I’m able to show them our platform, they’re on the same page as me — ‘Pictures for our industry is vital.’”

“I went with TapOnIt mainly because they were working with other nurseries, and I felt like they were in tune with what we needed as a nursery,” Lewis says. “The owner’s daughter worked at a nursery and they seem very aware of the nursery business.”

“TapOnIt was our first foray into text marketing,” Terrell says. “They brought the idea to us and it seemed to solve all the issues I had with more traditional print/television media (expensive, hard to track ROI and reach).

“As someone who has listened to countless pitch meetings with television reps and print media reps touting frequency and reach, etc., I would recommend actually listening to a demo on text message marketing,” she says. “It is very different and makes a lot more sense. One of the keys is to get your staff on board with signing people up and understanding the redemption process. It’s supposed to be easy for the customer, so all staff should be able to help people sign up, view their offers and redeem them easily.”

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Teresa McPherson

Teresa McPherson is the managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer. Contact her at [email protected].