Cultivating communication

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

Whether disseminating information through daily huddles, notes or Slack messages, consistency is the bottom line.

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December 11, 2019

Messaging tools and note systems can help keep employees informed during a hectic work week.
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If your IGC has more than two employees, chances are it’s a challenge to keep everyone fully informed. You want to be sure the entire staff is up to date about sales and new merchandise. Everyone should be knowledgeable about upcoming events, current pests in the area or common problems customers are experiencing. New hires need to be introduced, schedules disseminated and people notified about which employees are on vacation or away on business. But when people are on diverse schedules and work in different areas of the garden center, keeping everyone on the same page can be tricky.

I recently polled IGC people in several areas and found that there are many ways that our industry tackles this problem.

Frequent meetings

“I have a mini-meeting each morning in the lunchroom where everyone gathers before the day starts,” says Susan Russell Richards, the general manager at New North Greenhouses in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Similarly, Sandi Holmes-Schwedler, the senior buyer and gallery curator at North Haven Gardens in Dallas, Texas, reports that her employees also gather regularly. “We have a weekly staff meeting before we open on Fridays,” Holmes-Schwedler says. “Some meetings are all staff and some just sales staff. We teach about new products or plants that have just arrived, upcoming events and classes as well as keep them informed on incoming plant orders.”

At my garden center, Hyannis Country Garden on Cape Cod, we hold frequent “huddles,” although these aren’t on a regular schedule. Since huddles are convened during business hours, not all employees can attend. Each department tries to have at least one member at this meeting and that person is supposed to take what they’ve heard back to others in their departments. Sometimes this works flawlessly, but in the busy season the reporting might get derailed as customers ask for assistance or trucks arrive for unloading.

Many garden centers have one person take notes in meetings or huddles, and these are physically posted in a common location or sent out by email. But making sure the notes are complete and that everyone sees them can be problematic. Valerie Nalls, manager at Nalls Produce & Garden Center in Alexandria, Virginia, says, “This is what I have a challenge with … getting the daily information out to everyone. Maybe the huddle needs to be recorded?”

Many garden centers are using programs such as Facebook Messenger, Google Calendar or Slack to convey important updates to employees.
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Notes and posts

Jodie MacKenn Bross, one of the owners of Glenwild Garden Center in Bloomingdale, New Jersey, says that they also hold meetings but not as frequently as she might like. “We’re small, only about 10 employees, but it’s hard to find a time when everyone is there together because of split shifts.” So MacKenn Bross puts notes near the schedule and says that one of her managers also sticks notes on the registers.

Others have success putting summaries on paystubs or posting them by the time clock. Marcia Chapman, the horticulturalist at Soares Flower Garden Nursery in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, says, “Our small nursery uses a centrally located notebook that all must read and initial each workday.” It’s not a perfect system, however. “Threats and reminders are required.” Chapman comments, “Compliance and retention are fair, but not great.”

Texts and emails

Texting is another option, but one that may be hindered by to data plans.
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Many garden centers communicate via text messages or emails. MacKenn Bross says that she will frequently send group texts. “Some employees don’t check their email very often, but everyone gets texts.”

The downside of texts is that some employees have limits on their phone data. Sending frequent or lengthy messages in this way can cost them if they go over their service plan’s quota.

For those who do check emails, some garden centers use the same newsletter program that is utilized to communicate with customers. Employees receive their own editions as well as the version that’s sent out to the public. But other businesses turn to alternative digital options.

Apps and other software

Some IGCs report that they use the Slack app to send out notices to their staff, and I heard from several people who use their point of sale (POS) software to communicate. Wendy Weber, department head at Hanna’s Garden Shop in Birmingham, Alabama, says, “The VMX POS we have allows you to email another employee at any time from the register screen without having to go log in to your own work email. It also has a ‘task’ option, so you can assign tasks to employees via POS. Our employees come in, check their tasks and go forward.”

Others find additional apps helpful. Meghan Murray Burnett, a manager at Burnett’s Country Gardens in Salem, Connecticut, says, “We use When I Work for scheduling and it gives us the option to message the whole team, small groups or individuals. I use it for sending information that everyone or specific groups need to be aware of.”

Karen Hansen Van Duyvendyk, owner of Dutch Growers in Regina, Saskatchewan, uses Google and Facebook for very specific reasons. “We use Google Calendar and Facebook Messenger,” she says. “We have department-specific chat groups set up as well as a full team chat. I like it because I can see who has read it. We post schedules there, share videos and photos. And because we have a large number of Spanish-speaking employees, it’s great because it translates everything for them. My staff really likes this.”

At Cactus Jungle Nursery & Garden in Berkeley, California, Google programs are also used to keep in touch with staff. “We use Google Calendar for deliveries and special stuff like vacation days, trade events and so on, and Google sheets for the weekly schedules,” says Hap Hollibaugh, owner of two stores. “All employees are given access to see on their phones or at home, but only [a] limited number have access to edit.”

Hollibaugh also uses some of the lower-tech options for connecting. “We have a ‘communications’ binder with daily sheets at both stores,” he says, “and all salespeople review at the beginning of their shift. All employees have their own work email and we have magnetic marker boards on every locker, so notes can be easily left for each employee. We also do quick team meetings most mornings.”

In fact, most of the people who spoke to me about in-house communications say that they use several methods and that none of them are perfect. After listing emails, apps, Constant Contact newsletters and more, most would finish by saying, “We could do much better.”

It seems that good communications are similar to tending a garden: the effort is ongoing, always changing and never finished.

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