Prevent price prejudice

Give your customers the best options first before considering what you think they’ll pay.

Anyone who’s worked retail sales knows it’s not always an easy job. In fact, being a salesperson can be the toughest job in the independent garden center (IGC). It takes finely tuned people skills and industry knowledge to be able to quickly assess what your customer wants, needs and how much information to provide them. Yet, even highly experienced sales staff could be self-sabotaging by allowing their own personal feelings about cost creep into the sale.

One of the biggest sales killers I experienced in my years of IGC management was personal price prejudice. What is price prejudice? Sometimes the term is applied to how customers perceive specific types of pricing. In this context, however, I’m referring to our own personal perceptions about price. Do we as salespeople avoid suggesting items that may be out of our own price range?

How do you buy?

When, as a salesperson, you feel that an item your store has for sale may be too expensive for you to personally purchase, you may be reluctant to suggest it to a customer. This can result in lower-priced or lower margin items being offered to the customer, instead of what might be the best option.

Combating our own personal price prejudices requires developing strategies for taking the fear out of making a big sale. I spoke about this process with Carolyn Hestand, someone who worked for me as a garden center salesperson for several years. Carolyn is now the marketing manager at North Haven Gardens in Dallas. “Price prejudice” was a common topic of our sales meetings, so I asked her if she had a particular customer experience or strategy that helped her make the mental shift.

“It was not so much a particular customer experience, but the realization that the average customer is not an omnivorous plant addict like myself,” Carolyn says. “I enjoy experimenting and want one or three of everything and therefore the lowest price in order to continue feeding that habit. I observed that many customers instead want to solve a problem and that they will pay to take care of it, particularly if expertise provides confidence that it is the best choice.”


Ask yourself a few questions: Are you a price-based buyer or a value buyer? Do you tend to buy large volume to get a lower unit cost or are you happy buying just what you need at a higher price? Are you an impulse shopper or do you sit on buying decisions for a while before you make a move? Once you pinpoint your personal price profile, you can better see how you might inadvertently subject your customer to it.

“Since NHG [North Haven Gardens] is a destination generally hidden from drive-by traffic that does not benefit from spontaneous visits, it became clear that each customer arrives with wallet in hand hoping to get a solution or get inspired. So it’s important to focus on understanding their needs and to respond without those personal parameters in mind,” Carolyn explains.

Look first, judge later

As salespeople, we do need to take visual cues from our customers to determine what their gardening goals might be. However, looks can be deceiving. Torn jeans and muddy boots don’t necessarily mean that a customer wouldn’t easily drop $500 for a Japanese maple. It just might mean they’re in the middle of a gardening project. Just because you wouldn’t necessarily spend $500 on that Japanese maple doesn’t mean you get to make that same decision for your customer. Remember, they’re visiting your garden center to be inspired and delighted. They’ve come because they’re seeking quality; provided with the right option, they just might be willing to buy a higher priced item or a large volume of plants.

Listen first, talk later

There’s nothing new to this sales strategy, but it can be one of the most difficult to master. “To grasp that others simply have a larger budget and/or a higher standard of perfection was more of a struggle for me,” says Carolyn. “Again, putting aside my own motivations and learning to just listen to each customer was initially challenging, but improved with experience.”

We’re all plant geeks, right? That means we’re collectors and love to chat about plants to our customers. However, that passion can easily get you in trouble when it comes to making a sale. We’re all guilty of it at some point or another. An important sales skill is learning how to listen first, talk later. If you jump the gun and start rattling off too much technical information or offerings too quickly, you’ll overwhelm or annoy the customer. You may drive down your average sale or kill it altogether.

What are you selling?

It can be easy to get into the mental trap of thinking we’re selling plants, one by one. Remember, your goal isn’t just to close one sale, your goal is to sell a relationship of trust. If, based on their description, the customers really needs 40 boxwood shrubs to fill their space, don’t be afraid to tell them that. Even better, suggest buying larger plants so that the space will fill in faster. It might seem like a large expense to you; but if the customer really needs 40 large shrubs, sell her 40. It’s your responsibility and your job. You might be surprised when she simply says, “OK, load them up!” The worst customers can say is, “No thanks”, or “I’ll start with 20 and see how it goes.” When she plants the 20 1-gallons, rather than the 40 3-gallons you suggested, she may quickly realize that you were right in the first place. Undersell customers from the get go, and they’ll blame you for not being able to finish their project to satisfaction.

Value vs. cost

These situations evolve into trust building exercises between you and your customer.

Truth is, we all typically get what we pay for. A customer who is really resistant to the offered price, or even tries to haggle you down, probably doesn’t really value the item in the first place. Ultimately no price, no matter how low, will really satisfy them. Your job is to sell the item or service’s value, not the price. Practice selling the value before you discuss price in order to create desire, urgency and affirmation before you get to the price. If you sell a customer a great value, even at an expensive price, their actual cost over time should be lower.

If a customer buys too few plants, plants that are too small or a tool that’s too cheap, their cost will end up being higher over time. Why? Because they’ll probably have to make another trip back to the garden center, wait too long for their landscape to fill in or have to replace shoddy tools often. So remember to think about the value and overall cost you’re providing to your customer when you make suggestions.

Compartmentalization is something all of us humans have to learn to do at some point in our lives; leave your own buying emotions at home before you hit the sales floor. Your customer, and bottom line, will thank you.


Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies.

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