The Parsley Project

2014 will mark the 20th anniversary for Sunrise Marketing. In contemplating the future I am reminded of all the relationships built going back to the earliest days. I owe a great debt to our green industry. It has afforded me the opportunity to do what I love to do while working with some of the nicest people in business. There have been ups and there have been downs, but it has never been boring. 20 years is a milestone I am proud of. I want to thank you all for that.

So what about the next 20 years? Moving forward the challenge is to see the business in ever evolving terms of what we do and how it makes a difference to the clients we serve. Whether you call it a mission, vision or purpose statement, the objective is to truly understand and deliver on the value you offer to your customers. It is the story of your business.

If someone asked you to tell them about your business, what would you say? Are you in the garden center business or something more? Do you simply sell plants, or is it something else? What is it about your business that motivates you to get out of bed every morning and go to work each day?

How would you answer the question?

Looking for answers I recently attended a seminar presented by Timothy Henry at the 2013 Garden Center Group Fall Event. The presentation included a workshop on defining your purpose. It is important to distinguish between how you define your business and how you define your purpose. The workshop included a process on defining key moments that have shaped who we are today. There were tough moments and magic moments as well as identifying strengths, peak experiences and purpose.

In the end the exercise led us to find a clear definition of purpose. In summary we were asked us to describe our purpose in terms an eight year old child could understand. Easier said than done.

Personally I have always had a tough time describing to people exactly just what I did for a living. Most people will understand it when I would say I have a printing company, or that we made signs, created websites or made gift cards. If you want to get fancy you could say that I ran a boutique agency that focused on the garden center industry. Sounds good.

But I have always looked at it in much simpler terms. I am in the idea business. I just take the ideas and design, print and ship them. So it wasn’t too surprising that my purpose statement was “turning ideas into tools.”

Many of those ideas were a result of customers asking me, “… can you do this?” Starting with Robert Hendrickson asking if we could do postcards back in the 90’s. Whether it was Bonus Bucks, Plant for the Cure, Wooden Nickels, or the Living in the Garden Series (remember the white picket fence displays?), things evolved over time where we looked to find innovative ways to create better tools.

But at it’s core it is the interaction with customers that drives innovation. That is the fun stuff. Which brings us to parsley.

Like many retailers in attendance Cindy has sometimes found that dealing with customers could be at times be challenging. However when going through the purpose workshop it became obvious that Cindy really loves plants, loves working with people, it is just that sometimes those people can drive you a little crazy.

Like the customer with the parsley plant. I will paraphrase – a customer brought back a pot of parsley complaining of caterpillars. Like many of us, caterpillars love parsley. Cindy’s original response was “Don’t they understand?”

Which led Rick (the third member in our breakout group) to explain, almost on cue, “that caterpillars turn into to butterflies.”  At that point Cindy explained that her frustration ultimately led her to create a display, a small eco-system of sorts, where over time customers could see that the process of the caterpillars feeding on the parsley, lay eggs, spin a chrysalid, take a nap of sorts and emerge as butterflies.

Turns out that her customers were so excited about making that simple connection that parsley sales grew by 60%. Now Cindy will explain that it was admittedly a small category, but still the rest of staff was wondering what was up with all that parsley.

Cindy then conducted a weekend seminar on the whole process – caterpillars, host plants and butterflies. And like the emerging butterfly Cindy’s whole demeanor shifted from a story of frustration to the joy of teaching. She practically lit up while Rick explained how he had suddenly found his magic moment. His passion was planting the trees, pretty flowers, nature, the excitement of sharing his experience, and yes, the butterflies. Turns out that despite all the daily challenges, Rick and Cindy really did love the business, even if sometimes that other stuff got in the way.

So how do you repeat the excitement of that magic moment? You have to remind yourself daily of what it was that made you get into the business in the first place. How do you capture the spark found in a workshop that you will leave miles behind you when you pull into the parking lot months from now? You might need a gentle reminder.

All this got my brain spinning on the message for Cindy’s parsley story.

“While you might see a caterpillar eating your parsley, we see butterflies. Plant a little extra for every living thing.”

I told Cindy I would make her a sign… and a button with parsley on it. The button will serve as a reminder of that small success. It will also cause customers to ask ‘what’s up with the parsley’, which will create a chance to share a great story.

In the end marketing is telling a story. A story of the small moments that blossom into something that becomes more than a business, more than a job; it becomes a joy you just have to share.

So what is your parsley story? You might have to dig deep to find a few of those magic moments where you connected with your customers on a level that was more than just selling dirt, pots and plants.

I know I will remember that Tuesday morning in Asheville where the juices started flowing again. I will probably make two of those parsley buttons. One for Cindy and one for the bulletin board I look at every morning when I get to work. I will make it a big one so I can still see it 20 years from now.