My advice for any business would be to focus on three things: Get younger, get mobile and get relevant.
1) Get Younger
Today’s retailer needs new ideas, new energy and a staff that is tech savvy. Garden Centers have been trying to crack the ‘Millennial’ code for years now. A good place to start is to hire bright young people. While garden centers typically will hire season young people for cashier and labor positions, consider creating an internship position for your marketing department.
You may not think you have or need a marketing department, but the notion of marketing has changed. While you might not be comfortable with tech tools or social media, anyone under the age of 30 has known nothing but a world with social media and smart phones. So let your staff help you navigate the world of Instagram, Vine, Facebook. Twitter, YouTube and more. A retailer can also train their staff with tools they are already familiar with: smart phones and apps.
Case Study: Whitney Farms, Cheshire, MA
Marketing Challenge: Training new employees. Typically a new hire for a seasonal cashier or labor position will lack specific plant knowledge. In may cases these positions have the greatest customer contact so how to get them up to speed quickly with accurate information.
Insight: Most consumers, including your new younger staff, rely on search sites like Google to access product or manufacturer information. They can look up pricing, features and product/store reviews in a snap. According to comScore, 75% of shoppers use their mobile phones while shopping in a store.
Solution: At a recent training session at the garden center we introduced their new mobile app for smart phones. We had incorporated a couple of cool new tools into their app, one was a content library from plant tag manufacturer MasterTag. Customers (and staff) now could search from a database of over 3200 plants. Now even the youngest, untrained staff can call up plant names (both latin and common), care and culture information and photos. We also added a soil/mulch calculator feature from Coast of Maine organic mulch and soil products. This has been a very popular feature that helps customers (and staff) figure out how much product they need.
Results: Early results are positive. Within the first week of their launch they were closing in on 100 users (including staff).
Empowering Your Customer Base – Word of mouth advertising has always been the best marketing tool you have. Social media has been a great tool for creating community around your biggest fans. We’ve noticed that results with Facebook are spotty. If a garden center owner or their staff is on Facebook then they tend to use it regularly and get good results. For those that resist or fail to participate in this movement the results are predictable. If you don’t know the difference between a hashtag and the pound sign let’s explore some ideas you can use to get started.
Case Study: 16 Acres Garden Center, Springfield, MA
Marketing Challenge: How to mobilize your customer base using social media tools.
Insight: Most of your regular customers are more than happy to promote your business, all you have to do is ask them. While you might be a bit reluctant to ask customers for testimonials our experience has show that they are down right enthusiastic in their desire to share.
Solution: Recently we participated with 16 Acres Garden Center (Springfield, MA) on their annual Spring Fling Open House. At the event we set up a make shift ‘photo booth’ where we took photos of customers. Playing off of a technique used by the Smart Business Saturday American Express event we created 12” x 18” placards (printed on postcard stock) with the caption “Why I Love 16 Acres” We then incorporated the photos into a short video clip of the event.
Results: The interesting thing was how enthusiastic they were! They were overwhelmingly positive and only the camera shy refused to get their photo taken. I am sure you can think of many loyal customers who love your business. Find ways to let them share their stories. Our plan at 16 Acres is to use the leftover placards in a promotion where customers would take a placard home and have a photo taken with them in front of their gardens. Photos can then be shared on Facebook. Twitter or even uploaded to the garden center website.
2) Get Mobile
A mobile website is a must, but apps are how all major businesses gain access to the consumers primary lifeline – their smart phones. In a recent Mary Meeker presentation at the Re/code conference her 197 slide included a jaw-dropper – 24% of people’s time is spent on mobile – think about that a second; If you don’t have a mobile marketing strategy you better get busy.
Stores will swap out walky-talky for smart phones for their staff. Savvy retailers will have a direct connection with their customers. When you consider most people use their phone more for text than talk you’ve got to be able to respond quickly. Also, being able to share photos, videos, even
using Facetime will be very valuable tools to differentiate yourself from the boxes.
Buy a Mac – iPhones, iPads, laptops are versatile tools where photo sharing, video production, website updates, social media connections can happen quickly and can be shared across devices. Simply put – pick a platform. Our studies have show that over 75% of garden center customers are on iPhones or iPads.
Stuck in the outback (destination garden center)? Signal strength for cell phones an issue? The solution is to install free wi-fi with power boosters and bluetooth technology. For security reasons you don’t want to give customers total access, so think about creating a new network just for consumers.
3) Leverage Technology
– We are reimagining the marketing of plant material. The goal for our industry should be to deliver an engaging experience both inside the garden center and beyond. Introducing mobile marketing technology can expand the sales force with interactive displays, instant incentives and compelling content that can inform and inspire.
Case Study: Scheiderer Farms Greenhouse, Marysville, Ohio
Marketing Challenge: How to take your marketing message beyond your garden center to your local community.
Insight: At Sunrise Marketing we just completed a pilot program for Scheiderer Farms in the Marysville downtown area. Like many garden centers they provide those over-the-top hanging baskets and planters for their downtown area. Many towns recognize the value of using hanging baskets and planters to beautify Main Street. However residents and visitors might not know what these plants are or where they came from.
Solution: We were able to promote the planters with a ‘Planted by Scheiderer Farms’ tag. We added discreet signs to the planters. In addition to that we installed a ‘beacon’ to the containers that synched with their mobile app. The tags contained a simple message, “Open the app to learn more about the plants in this container’. Visitors are encouraged to download their app to experience the display. Scheiderer Farms featured Proven Winners® plant material to leverage the www.provenwinners.com website content to help consumers identify the plants.
People buy what they see; helping consumers identify the plants AND the garden center is a great way to leverage the technology to impact sales.
While some of these ideas represent cutting edge technology, these tools are available now. Your customers have smart phones and are living mobile. As an industry we need to learn, master and lead with technology. It might take time to educate your staff and customers, so start the process right away. You might consider technology challenging, so bring on staff and work with companies or consultants that are familiar with social media, smart devices and tech tools and can walk you through the process.