I always had to chuckle at the look on people’s faces when I went to a conference and was asked, “How big is your marketing area?” and I casually answered, “Oh, about one to two hundred miles – in each direction.” When you live in a rural area or have a limited marketing budget, placement in multiple small town papers or on numerous radio stations isn’t always practical because of the cost or distances you are trying to cover.
My husband and I owned Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery in rural Dolores, CO for 24 years and although we often considered other marketing channels, we always came back to direct mail as a major part of our marketing plan because of its strong performance for us. Although the national average rate of return for direct mail is around 1-5%, we always had rates of return far above that, at 6-12%, and occasionally more, depending on the offer that was on that particular card.
When we bought the garden center in 1998, we started out using stock photos with black type on the back on matte paper, and by the time we sold our company, we had progressed to full color, personalized mail pieces on slick, glossy paper. If you use a POS system, the easiest and least expensive way to build your list is by asking every customer for their name and address when they check out, and we generated our lists from that data. We used to slap mailing labels on each card by hand, but switched to having Sunrise handle the addressing and sorting last year and it was one of the best things we ever did. It not only saved us time, but also money at the post office because of the discounts we received since it was pre-sorted for us to meet the USPS criteria. We sent postcards in April, two in May, June, July, September, and November for the holiday season since consistency and year round customer awareness was important to us. In addition to those, we also sent three EDDM mailings each year. The in-house list was targeted at reaching existing customers, and the EDDM’s were used to cast a broad net over a wider geographic area to capture new ones.
The emotional connection with gardening and customer’s loyalty to the companies they patronize has been proven time and again, and one of our biggest successes was when we switched up the format of the cards and started putting our staff’s photos on them. Some months we featured a single person, other times we highlighted the entire crew. Personalizing the photos on the cards created a huge jump in return for us as we discovered that customers enjoyed seeing the people they interacted with in the store, or that were their friends and neighbors in our small community. Don’t be afraid to be innovative with your photos. Sometimes ours were serious, sometimes they were silly, but they all kept with the message that gardening was fun and a family affair in our agriculturally based area. For example, one year for Mother’s Day I had a staff member with her grandchildren on the card. One year I had the teenagers that worked for us on the front and I used their messages to their moms as my copy on the back. It was real, genuine, and had that down home feel that my customers loved. We’ve even had folks refuse to surrender the coupons on the back because their friend’s photo was on the front and they wanted to keep it. Covid proved to everyone that human connections are important and the power of emotional marketing is huge. Think about how you felt the last time you received a genuine, hand addressed piece of mail. Pretty good, right? Even better if it contained a photo of a friend or loved one inside! With more mail cluttering up our inboxes than our mailboxes, I remain a huge believer in, and champion of direct mail marketing and Sunrise makes it easy. After all, customers can’t hit the “delete” button on a postcard!
Although our passion has always been growing and retailing, our “second act” is helping other garden centers develop and refine their businesses. We’d welcome the opportunity to chat with you about how our successes can help you with your company. Please feel free to contact Vic or myself at Seasoned Gardeners Consulting, 970-749-6217 or 970-749-0453.