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Three Trends to Embrace in 2017

Marshall Dirks
Marshall Dirks

Both high- and low-tech trends are shaping our industry, and smart growers and garden retailers are learning to take advantage of them to connect with customers and build great relationships.

By Marshall Dirks, Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Proven Winners LLC

Change continues to shape our industry and encourages us to look at new ideas and practices to stay competitive.  I follow trends outside our industry to see what affects our customers and to understand how we need to be prepared for the customer of the future.  Here are three trends I predict that will be great opportunities for both growers and garden retailers to connect with customers and grow their businesses. 

Ever-changing technology

The pace of change in our technology seems to move more quickly every year, and the way we adapt technology is fascinating.  Photography is one example.  It is not new, but how it’s done now with drones, phone cameras/videos and GoPros makes photography more accessible to just about anyone and we’re seeing some amazing results. 

Marshall Dirks
More and more retailers are using social media to reach out to customers with event announcements and to encourage feedback.

Hardly any television news show is complete without a bystander’s photograph or video used to tell the story.  Four Star itself has embraced drones and regularly uses the overhead photography for videos and Display Garden shots.

One way to take advantage of these technologies can be in your company’s marketing and also as outreach to customers, by sponsoring best photograph/video contests of customer’s gardens. 

Another example of new technology is in taking payment.  Who carries cash anymore?  Swiping a credit card, or even using one with a chip seems so passé now — tech-loving customers are moving to contactless payments/fund transfers like ApplePay, Paypal, Chase’s QuickPay and Square.  Many merchants are just now installing chip-reading machines. Are you taking steps to be ready for the next wave?

Even communicating with customers is getting more high-tech, as more people than ever turn to various social media platforms to express their opinions, complaints and ideas.  The key is to recognize that new customer expectations are being formed each time these services appear.  Ask yourself how good is your business at capturing emerging expectations as they become available? Are you waiting until all the kinks get worked out, or the expiration of a contract, or the notion that “my customer” does not need or use that yet?

At Proven Winners®, we recognize that many businesses are struggling to implement a regular social media campaign, so we’ve taken out much of the hard work and created all the visuals a garden center may need to support our products for whatever platform they choose – Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  And it’s readily available on the cloud on a Google Drive. Learn more here.

Low-tech opportunities

Don’t forget that countless opportunities to connect with customers and enhance the relationship live in the realm of low-tech options. 

Recently, I reviewed a list of all of the articles on Proven Winners website (there are hundreds of them), and sorted them by the number of comments each received. What struck me was the articles on the most “basic” topics were the ones with the most comments and questions.  These articles truly cover the basics:  Soil, watering, deadheading, pruning hydrangeas, etc.  And each had a common element – they were about nurturing or creating an ideal habitat for a plant so it would have a better chance to survive.  I realized that basic needs don’t change but unlocking new services to meet those needs are always on the rise.

Marshall Dirks
Reaching out to customers via social media can be easy by using Proven Winners’ library of marketing ideas and beautiful visuals. 

Anyone can access this information online, but how are you helping your customers in the store?  Does your staff have the training to answer customers’ questions?  Is it possible for you to create useful handouts on customers’ most basic questions?  Could you create a few “beginners-only” events for a useful hands-on experience? 

We’ve all heard about the importance of not just selling products but offering experiences.  This can range from hands-on access to products (think Apple stores) to container garden departments where customers can test/play with new products and ideas to exclusive experiences available only to certain customers. United Airline’s new Polaris program comes to mind – it’s no longer just about the journey but the entire travel process, including the airport experience long ignored by airlines who thought their job was flying passengers. 

The same holds true for garden centers.  Their main function is not just to house the best garden/gift/décor products, but also to offer an experience.  Until now, that’s mainly been limited to a garden center’s ability to merchandise and have knowledgeable staff, as well as create events.  More and more garden centers are expanding the event into seasonal social events combining food and beverages and possibly entertainment with themed gardening experiences.  How can you use this concept to excite your customers?

Another example is a simple, low-tech way to give cherished customers some attention and recognition in an increasingly impersonal world — personal thank you notes.  The past few years, Cindy Meyers in our office has written 600+ personalized thank you notes to our top online customers that include comments regarding the plants they purchased, along with a calendar.  You would not believe the responses she received back.  Here’s a recent one:

Offering outrageous services

Marshall Dirks
Proven Winners’ free library of visuals is available for retailers to use in their social media campaigns on a variety of platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, etc. 

How we meet the basic needs of caring, or simply wanting something new should be a high priority in our industry. 

I’ve always been blown away by a super expensive item that’s offered in a store or catalog like Hammacher Schlemmer, such as a $50K barbecue dining boat or the $76K Porter Garden Telescope.  The lesson:  It only takes a single buyer.  Ask yourself what outrageous services or products your business can offer.  One that comes to mind could be a very upscale planter that comes with four regularly scheduled change-outs and a maintenance contract. 

I used to think it was odd when the big box stores moved from a bulletin board with contractors’ business cards to directly offering those services like installation.  This has turned into a multi-million dollar “service” profit center that was previously never captured directly by those stores. 

What services do your customers need that you’re not providing?  Or better yet, what services do you anticipate they’ll need in the years to come and what are you doing to ensure that your business will be able to exceed their expectations? 

At Proven Winners, we’re actively looking at some exciting new ways to support our grower and retailer customers in the future, including technologies like artificial intelligence and others.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series to learn more about it.

Share your thoughts on this article at or email me directly at

This is the first of a two-part series covering trends and Millennial customers.  Look for Part 2 in our next issue.

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