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Five Ways to Get Your Garden Center Noticed

Judy Sharpton

Is your garden center “invisible?” Smart marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot. Be focused and use your resources wisely. 

By Judy Sharpton, Garden Center Consultant

Over the past 15 years of speaking to audiences of garden center staff and owners, one of the anecdotes that always results in knowing smiles and perhaps a pointed elbow to an owner’s ribs goes something like this. “If you’ve ever had a customer visit your store and say ‘I’ve been driving past here for years and I never knew you were here,’ then you must slap yourself.”

That customer comment means the store has become invisible. The cloaking effect often extends from the street side to external communications – ads that don’t get read or newsletters (once print, now electronic) that don’t give the customer a reason to visit the store.

Failure, not only to get your store noticed, but to command the customer’s attention is a failure of customer service. After all, first you must communicate to the customer that you actually want that customer’s business in order to make any claim about customer service. The customer who does not pull into the driveway can never be the object of your unique service.

So how do you get that customer into your driveway? How do you get yourself noticed? Both on-site and out-of-store communication tools should focus on the single objective of giving the customer a reason to come to the store. 

Small budget, smart focus

Here are five techniques that require small budget investments, but a strong focus on being visible. Any one of these can make your store more visible; the five together can make your store top-of-mind for your customers.

1 – Talk to the street.

In his book “Why We Buy,” Paco Underhill says the store is a “great big advertisement for itself.” The store starts at the street with a presence that demands the customer look, put on brakes and turn into the parking lot. That presence is made up of two elements: traditional signage and street side planting signage.

Traditional signage tells your customer the name of your store and its purpose. That means using the words “garden center” in the name, especially if you are suffering from invisibility.  The sign should be readable at 10 miles faster than the posted speed limit.  

The ultimate street talker mixes Supertunia® Bubblegum and a white resin fence.

Street side planting signage is NOT a landscape. No amount of shrubbery and grasses will cause the customer to put on brakes. A single-color, seasonally changeable planting mounted on a white resin fence is the optimum street side planting sign.

2 – Talk electronically.

Forget the excuses. Choose at lease one electronic communication technique and use it regularly.  An enewsletter using a supplier like Constant Contact is so easy even I can do it. Social media takes a little more time, but pick one – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or the social media du jour – and find a way to use it.  If you don’t believe the impact, take a look at the investment in social media from companies like Proven Winners®.

3 – Talk personally.

Personal selling by trained staff can set your business apart.

Nothing takes the place of personal selling. The independent channel prides itself in staff knowledge. OK, make that a signature product. Use in-store signage and electronic communication to introduce your staff by name and face – and by areas of expertise.  If you have a birding expert, include that in every electronic newsletter.  If your staff has participated in programs like the iGarden Certification from Proven Winners or other training programs from other suppliers, talk about that.

Multi-season coupons encourage customers to keep coming back. Click to enlarge.

4 – Let coupons talk.

Couponing has made a comeback in all retail segments.  Whether distributed in direct mail, at the register or electronically, coupons give the customer another reason to visit the store.  Our industry has used “play money” as a kind of couponing to build traffic after the main selling season.  Combining an enewsletter with an electronic coupon is an easy way to target immediate inventory issues. Hand-out materials like the “Gardener’s Idea Book” from Proven Winners, or a multi-season container gardening coupon are economical and effective options.

5 – Talk to groups.

In-store events specially focused on non-traditional gardening groups invite new customers into the store.  Many stores have found food-related events to be natural extensions.  In fact, any event that focuses on wellness, from yoga to breast cancer screenings, is a perfect fit.  Make and take events that focus on container gardening in all its forms – from planters to wreaths – encourage the customer to access all the expertise of the store in a short period of time while he or she creates a garden project and leaves the mess at the store.  Using event kits like Proven Winners’ Bloom Box or Smiles Campaign can help your staff plan and execute events that target all demographics.

Judy Sharpton is a garden center design and renovation specialist with 35 years’ experience in advertising and promotion, and the owner of Growing Places Marketing.  Since 1995, this company has specialized in on-site consultations exclusively for independent garden centers, and also provides program content for Store School™, assisting trade groups and suppliers in the green industry.  For more information or to contact her, visit or call 770-815-1052.

© 2014 Growing Places

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