When passion is your brand

Departments - Retail Revival | Store improvement tips from the Garden Lady

Infuse your key values into branding so customers remember you long after they leave.

March 11, 2021


In a recent conversation with Marcia Chapman, horticulturalist at Soares Flower Garden Nursery in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, I complimented her on their garden center’s ability to stay on top of new plant introductions and trends. Soares is a small nursery, but it has become well known in the region as a source of new and unusual plants.

“I think it’s partly our own plant lust that’s helped with establishing the Flower Garden Nursery’s growth,” Chapman says. “I’m as much about spreading the word as making sales.” Of course, by spreading the word about interesting new plants, they are indeed driving sales. A passion for plants is their brand.

People often confuse their company’s logo with their business’ brand. Yet a logo is just a graphic that is a quick visual reminder of the business. An attractive logo is important, but few customers will return to your store because they like the graphic. They come back because of your brand.

Marketing author Seth Godin put it most succinctly: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a customer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”


Those in retail understand that part of what creates expectations and memories for our businesses is good customer service. People remember when we’re attentive, helpful and kind. So that’s certainly a component of every garden center’s brand. But what else distinguishes an IGC from another source of plants and products that is equally attentive?

I suggest that the answer here is passion. In Marcia Chapman’s case, it’s her love for, and curiosity about, plants that get communicated to the public. People like to be a part of something good and they enjoy being “in the know.” So when Chapman admits that, “When I’m placing orders from growers it’s one for me, nine to sell,” this is the equivalent to the Soares stock getting a five-star review from an expert in the field.

Examples of other passions that can feed an IGC’s brand are numerous. One business might be devoted to organic plants and products. Another could be eager to promote native plants and diversity in landscapes. Some IGCs are especially dedicated to a particular type of plant such as succulents or edibles. These enthusiasms, when well communicated with staff and customers, are what can create the lasting bonds that become a brand.

One way to tell new hires and remind current employees about the passions and values that create your brand is to paint them on the break room or office walls. Two years ago, when I visited White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut, I saw a lovely graphic in the entrance to their offices and meeting room. It read: “Our Core Principles: Independence, Industry, Thrift, Modesty, Kindness.” By stressing that these were important standards for their employees, they were creating a culture that would translate those same qualities to their customers.

If I were to paint words to remind my garden center’s staff about our brand, I would write: “At Hyannis Country Garden, we help our customers to discover joy and reconnect with nature. We do this by communicating our excitement about the plants and products we sell, and the organic growing methods we support.”

If your store is about sharing your passions and core principles, and these resonate with your community, you’ll be cultivating sales along with the expectations, memories, stories and relationships that make up your brand.


C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com