Tick tick tock…

Is it time for your garden center to join TikTok? Learn how the popular social media platform can help you grow your customer base before it’s too late.

Photo © marko ristic | envato elements

TikTok, the viral video app that has amassed nearly 1 billion users, has long been embraced by Gen Z and younger millennials. The app’s algorithm, which changes often and without warning, is quick to reward authentic content. And because the algorithm governs which videos are engaging enough to make it onto users’ specially curated “For You Page,” both existing and brand-new accounts can quickly catapult their followers and viewership into the thousands or even millions.

Now, the app has broken through to the garden center industry, and there’s plenty of potential in joining the app and educating a new audience where they’re at. Read on as three businesses share how TikTok has become a multimodal highway for growth, education and collaboration.

Taking the plunge

For Paula Amezquita, whose family owns Perfect Choice Nursery and its sister company, exotic wholesale grower Aroid Greenhouses, joining TikTok was a no-brainer — especially when the pandemic hit in 2020.

“The garden center was open for landscapers only since it’s outdoors, and my dad wanted me to stay home. So, what is there to do at home? Nothing! So I finally downloaded TikTok,” Amezquita says. As she was scrolling, she noticed that there weren’t many PlantToks and PlantTokkers (influencers and content specifically centered around plants) on the app.

Amezquita, who heads social marketing, already had a passion for video editing, so she began making videos on her personal account. But as interest in her videos grew, she knew there was an opportunity for Perfect Choice to be one of the first IGCs to break into the space.

With an inspired mindset, she launched the IGC’s account in the spring of 2020. She recruited her sister, Melody Amezquita, to assist in videos. They started a series in which Melody “interviewed” plants around the greenhouse with a mini mic, with Paula filming and voicing the different plants.

Paula Amezquita, posing with a rhaphidophora pertusa, dove head-first into creating a TikTok account for Perfect Choice Nursery — which now has 15.6K followers.
Photos courtesy of perfect choice nursery

“We made a whole series of it, and it was great. That was the one that people really grabbed onto,” Amezquita says. Now, the IGC’s follower count sits at 15.6K followers.

Before Instagram Reels, Amezquita says she felt that TikTok was the only platform where users could upload videos with music. TikTok’s cyclical song and dance trends flood users’ For You Pages and are popular amongst participating creators. However, she avoids participating in them, instead creating videos when the mood strikes, gleaning inspiration from the plants and the garden center.

As the sole person behind the account, Amezquita doesn’t have the time to create daily videos. Another reason she doesn’t post every day is that she fears the content would be forced. Back when she started the account, there weren’t many plant-centered topics or creators on the app, but as TikTok has solidified itself as a mainstay force, there’s more competition. Additionally, users’ preferences tend to change, as does the algorithm.

“Now, I've noticed that people want to learn on TikTok. They like to have someone talk to them about the plant or how to take care of it. There’s much more learning going on, and more educational [content],” she says. “I'm more of a montage person, I'm more, “OK, let's put some clips together and make a really beautiful video with nice music in the background. That's more my style.”

Now, when she’s chatting with customers, many Gen Z and millennial customers who come into the store tell her they found Perfect Choice via TikTok.

“I thought, ‘How did that happen?’ I'm very surprised that people found us on TikTok before they found us on Instagram,” she says. “I'm still learning every single day on TikTok. I'm constantly trying to learn and figure it out. The social media platforms are constantly changing, so it's hard to keep track. Something that that worked for you a year ago may not work for you this year.”

From left: Shown above are Rhaphidophora pertusa; white princess philodendron; and Yucca rostrata in bloom. As Perfect Choice Nursery is surrounded by rare and exotic aroids and tropicals, Amezquita says there's no shortage of inspiration when it comes to creating and editing videos for the IGC's TikTok page.

Going viral

Despite the removal of his left eye, Whiskers is your typical, playful house cat — with legions of adoring TikTok fans to boot.
Photos courtesy of Mr. Gardeners

Like Amezquita, inspiration was the impetus of the influencer account Mr.Gardeners, launched by husbands Joshua Hiebert and Jose Tortolero. With a background in real estate — Tortolero is a licensed mortgage loan originator and Hiebert is a licensed realtor — Hiebert decided to take a step back from the industry when the pandemic hit out of safety for himself, his husband and his clients. Since everything was shut down, there wasn’t much to do, Hiebert says. However, inspiration struck as the couple began to remodel parts of their home.

“We took one of the rooms in our house that we just bought [before the pandemic] and we had done an office buildout that we did by ourselves, by hand. We had recorded the footage of all of that, and we wanted to create a timelapse-type piece of content of us building out our office with our two office desks,” Hiebert says.

After the urgence of a friend — an influencer on both TikTok and Instagram (and verified on the latter) — the idea was born. At the time, the couple thought TikTok was just “kids dancing and doing their fun little things,” Hiebert says. They weren’t sure how the app would apply to videos of DIY renovations and gardening, but they figured, “why not?” and reluctantly gave it a shot.

“We created the name Mr. Gardeners because at the time, it felt like in our social media feeds, it seemed — and this may be algorithm based, or user interaction based — but for the most part, it felt like we were only seeing women being represented as gardeners and in the gardening space,” Hiebert says.

Married couple Joshua Hiebert and Jose Tortolero are creators of the popular TikTok account @Mr.Gardeners.
Photos courtesy of Mr. Gardeners

One of the goals of their account was to show that men can garden too, Hiebert says. However, the couple never imagined the reach or engagement they’d quickly achieve. Their office remodel video soon gained traction, and their TikToks began to rack up 40,000 views.

“We posted a couple videos and then TikTok actually reached out to us directly to create content for the platform,” Hiebert says. Around this time, Mr. Gardeners had 75,000 followers. However, the discovery of a blind orange tabby cat the couple found huddled up against their garage propelled Mr. Gardeners into a viral sensation.

They adopted the kitten and named him Whiskers, and as they chronicled his health and adoption journey, the growth of their account accelerated into overdrive — no small task, considering Hiebert and Tortolero are a two-man team. To maintain the brand, the couple even owns the audio licenses for their TikToks. “We edit everything completely in-house. We have our LLC and everything like that. So, we decided to go ahead and post this video of Whiskers. Within an hour it had already gotten almost a million views,” Hiebert says. As of publication, the video has amassed nearly 60 million views.

From potting plants to seed starting, the duo creates DIY videos to educate their followers.
Photos courtesy of Mr. gardeners

When the Whiskers content went mega-viral, Hiebert explains that they were in the rudimentary stages of the account and learning to become content creators. They channeled their passion for gardening into the platform, filming their projects along the way.

“When we bought this house, there was nothing but grass in the front yard. The backyard didn't even have grass at all. So, we started little by little in the front yard, tearing out swatches of grass and putting in flower beds and things like that,” Hiebert says. So far, Mr. Gardeners has partnered with national brands like Proven Winners, Scotts Miracle-Gro and PetSmart and Litter Robot.

Like Amezquita, Mr. Gardeners does not post a video every single day, as is TikTok’s preference. The couple says their content does not apply to daily posting, because their projects take time, mainly because they do everything themselves. Often, they grow flower beds from start to finish, or backyard renovations, which are extensive and take time.

“It’s all about reinvigorating the end consumer and re-energizing them, inspiring them to try something different. We're big proponents of even if it fails, that's the only way you learn,” Hiebert says.

Mr. Gardeners' 1.9 million followers tune in on TikTok and watch as the duo transforms their Florida landscape into a beautiful backyard oasis. At the same time, the couple provides advice and inspiration along the way.

Navigating the algorithm

Setting up a TikTok account takes all of five minutes but understanding the nuances of the app and its audience can take time. Trends come and go, but the algorithm is forever, and creators must master balance the art of putting out authentic content and navigating the algorithm.

Michael Fiore, manager of Smith’s Gardentown, created an account for the Texas IGC, and his plan for TikTok has been strategic from the start. But like Mr. Gardeners, he was hesitant to join at first and assumed the app was for lip-syncing and dancing.

“Around September of 2021, I saw stats that there were more hours of videos being watched on TikTok than there were on YouTube and that was something that really kind of shifted the paradigm for me — knowing that it was surpassing YouTube — which I didn't think would ever happen as far as video viewership,” he says.

That was all Fiore needed to know when he created the account and hired longtime customer Felicia Garza — who was already a seasoned TikTok creator — to run it. A year and 70,000 followers later, he hasn’t looked back. In fact, he wishes he had joined sooner. The IGC has a full-time staffer to helm the reigns of its account, so they can produce one video every day. Like Amezquita and Mr. Gardeners, an authentic (and humorous) approach has served Fiore best.

“I did a 15-second [video] where I'm talking about citronella mosquito plants and at the end of the video I sneezed. It was a fake sneeze, but I wanted to do it. I thought it would be funny. And it was so stupid,” he says with a laugh. “But that video was our first to break a million on TikTok.”

The audience often dictates the algorithm, ranging from the video length (for example, seven-second videos might gain favor over two-minute videos) to significant news events, Hiebert says. According to Fiore, the biggest challenge for TikTok is getting rejected by the algorithm, especially after spending so much time and effort creating the videos.

Fiore, left, and Garza, right, share a behind-the-scenes look at filming a TikTok. Creating educational content for a wide audience helps to boost and expand the Smith's Gardentown brand, Fiore says.
Photo courtesy of Smith's Gardentown

“That’s been the hardest part for me, dealing with those low periods. Whether it’s a week or two weeks or three weeks where you’re just not getting any traction it’s important to keep going because you don't ever know which one is going to be the next one to take off,” Fiore says.

However, he says there’s an opportunity for IGCs to market themselves as the experts, and garden centers are losing the market share of influence to hobbyists and influencers.

“The overarching goal is building the brand and being recognized in our space. You could be a garden center or a horticulturist with four doctorates and over 40 years of research under your belt. But if your profile picture is a blank space, you have five followers and no videos, no one is going to listen to you when you go into a comment section and try to tell the truth. You need the clout and the followers,” he says.

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