Quality over cost

Departments - Digital Dirt | Modern marketing tailored to independent garden centers

How grower-retailers can successfully market their in-house plants and compete with retailers with lower prices.

July 6, 2017

Grower-retailers have the advantage of being their own suppliers and can adapt quickly to changing demands.

I’m a third-generation garden center owner. We’ve built our brand, and the backbone of our revenue, on the 4 acres of annuals we grow for spring sales.

Promote the fact you are a grower-retailer with consistent, strong branding.

Whether you’re in retail (as I am) or a wholesaler, being a grower-retailer is exhausting. You freeze your cash into a million plants before selling one, and, if you lose a few precious May weekends, you spend the rest of the year scrambling to make a profit.

But you control your own destiny. I grow hanging baskets so full that shipping would destroy them. If there’s a nationwide rush on basil, I simply plant another crop while my competitors scramble to buy more.

From one grower-retailer to another, here’s what I’ve learned about how to turn the internal practice of being a grower into external messaging that will help you attract your ideal customer in your store.

Be a “gardener’s” garden center.

Indy GCs are a quirky bunch. I’ve seen places that sell six digits in hot sauce and others that sell more clothes than plants. Your business model is your own, but sometimes fate opens the door.

Fair-weather gardeners, for whom buying patio planters are a mandatory, albeit pleasant, spring task, will follow the lowest prices. If you try to compete for that customer, the box stores will eat you.

As a grower, you should speak to growers.

People passionate about gardening, who pace as the first strawberries ripen, will flock to a company that shares their passion. Don’t hide that you’re a grower. Advertise it proudly. To most gardeners, it’s synonymous with expertise.

You’ll lose ground on commodity plants, like annuals in packs. Don’t sweat it. Focus on unique hanging baskets, workshops, the widest selection of tomatoes, and perennials organized by how many pollinators they attract.

Watch the trends, listen to what your sales data is telling you and you’ll stay a year or two ahead of Home Depot and Lowes. Unlike their suppliers, you’re agile and can adapt on a dime.

Focus on quality.

If you don’t already run an annual survey, throw one together (SurveyMonkey.com is easiest). Ask your customers to rank how important the following things are to them:

  • Selection
  • Service & staff knowledge
  • Supporting local businesses
  • Low prices
  • Quality

If “low prices” doesn’t rank at the bottom of the list, you’re talking about price too often. That’s attracting fair-weather gardeners, who are inevitably disappointed when they compare prices.

Start talking about quality. Make it your marketing goal that in 3 years, “quality” is first on that list and “low prices” is last. Gardeners will drive across a city for a healthier tomato plant, and as a grower, you have instant credibility to make that claim.

Incorporate your growing expertise into your marketing to establish yourself as the expert.

Educate and inspire.

Your ideal customers are passionate about gardening, but aren’t experts at it. Experts grow everything from seed, overwinter geraniums, and buy surprisingly little.

With the knowledge that comes from being a grower, you can speak to your target customer (I always have a 35-year-old mother in mind) as a gardening coach. In your blog, on your social media pages, and in quick videos taken on your phone, teach them how to seed salad greens, show them how to train tomatoes, and inspire them how to make a beautiful hanging basket.

At my garden center, our marketing brand promise is to “educate and inspire.” We don’t release any content that doesn’t fulfill those two elements in equal balance. Be her mentor, but entertain her, as well.

As a grower, faster adaptation is built into your business model. But you need to have the will to adapt. If you’re displaying plants the same way or sending out the same content as 5 years ago, you need to seize the advantage that growing gives you. Differentiation is built into how you do business; use it every chance you get.

Rob is co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse, an independent garden center based in Alberta, Canada, and founder of Craft Marketing, a lean digital agency specializing in content marketing for independent businesses. rob@craftmarketing.ca