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The second annual Garden Center Executive Summit covered hot topics from building community to data tracking to millennial marketing in New Orleans.

March 7, 2020

In early February, Garden Center magazine welcomed IGC professionals from three countries and 25 states to the second annual Garden Center Executive Summit in New Orleans. Over three days, attendees learned from some of the best in the industry and each other through networking roundtables, educational sessions and discussions.

We rounded up a few highlights from three sessions at the event to give you a taste of our time in NOLA:

Rob Sproule, co-owner and marketing director at Salisbury Greenhouse in Edmonton, Alberta
Redefining Millennials: How to Use Purpose-Driven and Event-Based Marketing to Cater to What 30-Somethings are Really Looking For

Rob Sproule, co-owner and marketing director at Salisbury Greenhouse in Edmonton, Alberta, shared his insights into what the millennial generation is looking for in a brand. The founder of DIG Marketing explained how to move past traditional marketing and reach this generation of customer.

• Millennials are looking at purpose, not price when making their decisions. “The whole idea of us focusing on price as an industry has driven me crazy,” Sproule said. “That’s not what millennials are coming in for. They don’t want to talk about price.”

• Millennials are attracted to businesses that have a why. “Your ‘why’ is independent of your products,” Sproule said. “The products don’t matter. What matters is why you’re in business.” So if different products serve your why better, then offer different products. “If you know your why, you know your purpose.”

• Traditional modes of advertising don’t work on millennials. To reach them, messagaging must be authentic because everyone is trying to sell them something. They’re digital natives; they’re used to having messages coming at them 24-7. They’re immune to it and ads don’t even register with them.

• Speak to millennials in an authentic voice. “We’ve got to unlearn what decades of marketing to boomers has taught us,” Sproule said.

Founder and CEO of The Sill Eliza Blank
Creating a Plant Community and Authentic Experiences Online and In-Store

Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of The Sill, told attendees about the power of community and how her company has cultivated and benefitted from a loyal group of customers who believe in their message that “Plants make people happy.”

• The Sill also works with members of the community to bundle products and cross-promote. Through events, social media, messaging and marketing, the company has cultivated a strong following. “The community will show up for you,” she said. “They become fanatical and they’ll take to social media. Everyone has an audience now and so it’s not just a one-on-one interaction.”

• The community will want to join your team, too. “We’re attracting a ton of talent just because of our community,” Blank said.

• To build a community, you have to be authentic in your branding and messaging. In order for people to invest in your brand, they need to stand by your purpose. “And being authentic means you have to stand by your values all of the time, whether or not someone is watching,” she said.

• Let members of the community hold their own events and discover new members by co-hosting events with a like minded individual or group. “Even if it isn’t exactly what you would have done, you have to give up that control,” she said. Deepen community-company ties by hosting thoughtful events tailored to customers’ lifestyle, interests and hobbies.

President of Mulhall’s Garden + Home Mick Mulhall, left, Susan Bachman West, president of Bachmann’s, Lawson Thalmann, ecommerce manager at Chalet, and Mark Bigej, chief of operations at Al’s Garden & Home, during a panel discussion
Founder and CEO of The Sill Eliza Blank, left, and Sandi Hillermann McDonald, president of Hillermann Nursery & Florist
Stop the Race to the Bottom – Smarter Plant Pricing

Dr. Bridget Behe, professor of horticultural marketing at Michigan State University, told attendees that when it comes to pricing, focus on the benefits of your plants. Tell people the why of the plant; don’t just tell them about attributes of the plant.

• Sales make people wonder why the plant is worth more at the beginning of the season than it is at the end. “I do not like sales because the psychology of the sale is that we train customers to wait,” Behe said.

• Don’t be afraid to evaluate your existing plant stock and get rid of plants that aren’t performing well, she said. Giving up a particular cultivar may make a few customers upset but think about the money and labor you’ll be saving.

• Instead of focusing on the features of the plant, focus on the benefits. “People buy the benefit,” she said. “Why isn’t the industry talking about what plants can do for us?”

• Don’t sell by container size when there are so many other factors to consider. “When we price by container, we’re ignoring all of this other value,” Behe said.

“When you price by container size, you’re telling them that nothing above the soil line matters.” – Bridget Behe
Mark Ruibal, owner of Ruibal's Plants of Texas, left, and Nick Collins, publisher of Garden Center magazine, at the Top 100 ceremony