Set the date

From education and charity to social networking, there are many reasons for retailers to pack their event calendars.

When an independent business thrives, it does not do so in a vacuum. Many ventures succeed thanks in no small part to the support of the local community. Garden center retailers, being no exception, are eager to engage their markets directly through workshops, festivals and other destination events.

Many retailers make it a priority to educate consumers about available products, current growing trends and gardening tips with seminars, workshops and other informative gatherings. Some open their doors during holidays and other important occasions, giving customers and their families a place to celebrate and socialize.

Armstrong Garden Centers, a retailer with 32 locations throughout California, takes pride in the variety of classes and educational sessions on its calendar. Desiree Heimann, vice president of marketing for Armstrong Garden Centers and Pike Nurseries [located in the Atlanta, Ga. area and in Charlotte, N.C.,] says these events give the company insight into the lives of its customers, in addition to giving people the skills they need to succeed in their home gardens.

Guests at Tagawa Gardens in Centennial, Colo., can see unusual attractions such as guinea pig races and other events at the retail location.

These events cover topics including the basics of organic gardening, distinguishing pests from helpful critters, pointers for growing citrus in a home garden and many more. Armstrong also holds “make-and-take” arts and crafts classes for projects such as handmade planting containers. While other events at Armstrong locations are free of charge, the make-and-take classes cost roughly $40 per class, depending on the type of craft taken home.

“We have created and modified our classes over the years so we can better understand our customers, including where they are in life, their behaviors and their thoughts and feelings toward shopping for plants and garden items,” Heimann says. “While our customers rely on us for this expertise, many also want to increase their own gardening knowledge so they are more confident and successful.”

Helping customers learn the craft of gardening can take many shapes. Beth Zwinak, manager of Tagawa Gardens in Centennial, Colo., finds value in going the extra mile to offer knowledge in specialized sessions for specific groups both inside and outside of the store. This also gives members of the local community a welcoming meeting place.

“We also do a large selection of private classes for community groups, either here or off the premises,” Zwinak says. “We call that our outreach department. [Customers] come in and pick the topic that they want to hear about. A garden club might have a meeting here, then we’ll do a little 45-minute seminar for them.”

Tagawa Gardens has been hosting public events for more than 20 years and started offering “outreach” events seven years ago, Zwinak says.

The life of the party

Garden center retail events often go beyond skill-building and education. At the start of growing seasons, during holidays or just for fun, many companies provide their communities with a celebratory focal point to create positive experiences beyond merely purchasing goods.

“We kick off each season with a [public] garden party event on a Thursday evening,” Heimann says. “During the event, we have a bartender serving complimentary wine, fruit and cheese and offer customers 20 percent off their purchase. We understand that our customers prefer shopping in upscale shops, appreciate the difference in the shopping experience ... these events focus on those preferences and set us apart from the competition.”

Family-friendly attractions that form lasting relationships between the business and its customers are a major benefit for Tagawa Gardens, Zwinak says.

“Our mission statement is to provide an enjoyable experience for our community,” Zwinak added. “We want people to come, we want families and community to come and just have a great time with us, learning things not even necessarily all garden related, and just be a community center, a gathering place.”

Armstrong Garden Centers hosts a variety of educational and creative events for guests.
Finding the payoff

While it’s not a simple matter to place a dollar value on the upsides of these social and educational events, retailers with active calendars say the results speak for themselves - both in regard to the bottom line and customer satisfaction.

“We try to quantify the impact, but I don’t think it’s quantifiable in a way that’s numeric,” Zwinak says. “I think the impact goes way further. When we started these events, we’re seeing people now that came as children who are bringing their children to these events because it’s such a tradition for these families. So, that’s just amazing.”

Heimann is confident the events hosted at Armstrong locations have given tangible boosts to the company’s revenues.

“Our events have the largest bottom line impact to the business as they create sales records,” Heimann says. “In general, both the events and customer classes focus in our customer’s preferences and creates a unique shopping experience customers can’t find at a competitor.”

Making it happen

Of course, these events and their resulting benefits don’t happen with a wave of the hand. Zwinak says Tagawa Gardens is served by an events coordination team with a full-time mission of arranging the retailer’s broad array of events. This would be much harder to pull off with staff members given the task of organizing the calendar in between their main duties, Zwinak says.

“We actually have three people in our events department, so it’s not just an aside for someone,” Zwinak says. “We have an events coordinator, we have an assistant and another person who helps out as well. That’s their main focus, they don’t do anything else but that. Because of our outreach, our off-site events … it takes a lot of folks to coordinate them.”

Managing a calendar of events for one retail location is a demanding enough prospect. For Armstrong Garden Centers, there are 32 locations to keep on the same page, so a well-communicated plan is “critical for consistent execution,” Heimann says.

Regardless of the form these events take and how they’re executed, retailers do well to remember their reasons for welcoming the community into their stores.

“We want to be a part of people’s lives,” Zwinak says. “Our community has been good to us, so we want to give back to the community as much as we can.”

May 2016
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