Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Are Your Customers Blind?

At the recent Seeley Conference, Katy Moss Warner (former Director of Hort at Disney World and EPCOT) gave a presentation about “Plant Blindness.” Basically, we, as a society, are blind to the landscapes around us. Whether the plantings are stunning or just ho hum, we don’t notice them. Maybe this is because they don’t move. Maybe it is because the green just blends in. Maybe we are just used to seeing plantings. Whatever the reason, it’s a barrier to adding value and staying relevant with today’s consumer.
So what can we do to eliminate “Plant Blindness?” Obviously there’s not one answer but I have a few ideas.
  1. Add another sense. Some plants have fragrance that attracts attention, but not all of them. So why not add a moving element – a water feature, tall grasses that blow in the wind, animatronic elements, etc.
  2. Break all of the rules. Remember painted poinsettias? They certainly broke the rules and they sold well for a couple years. The Chicago Park District painted some dead trees with bright-colored paint and got more emails from happy residents than they ever received for a stunning landscape installation. Even something as simple as an upside down tomato planter can grab attention – just because it is unexpected.
  3. Raise the plants up to eye level. Maybe we don’t notice plants because they are on the ground? If we walk around looking down, we’ll no doubt run into things. If we look at garden beds while driving, we’ll crash. Landscape rubbernecking might be more dangerous than texting while driving! Lift your plants off the ground in big containers and elevate them on unique risers or natural elements like rocks and stumps. Make gardens an “in your face” experience.
Those are just a couple ideas that popped into my head. I actually think some of the blindness comes from the fact that life seems to be moving faster than ever and it’s really hard to focus on anything. But the more we remind people to look at plants, the more they will see them.
One final way to reduce blindness is to promote more than plants. Promote the value they bring to our quality of life!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Observation: Quality

Peak spring season is the ideal time to look at product quality. Obviously having top-notch plant material is vitally important for all garden centers, at least that’s what you say. But when push comes to shove, it’s easy to let things slip while you put out staff fires and scramble to complete the “to do” list, all while waiting on the crazy hosta “collector” threatening to steal your morning.

Working for a breeding and distribution company allows me to visit dozens (hundreds?) of North American retail garden centers each year, and I have to say the only thing that stays consistent across all stores is inconsistency. With your wide range of products and often segregated departments for each, there’s a tremendous lack of a unified look, even within the smallest garden centers. And quality ranges just as much.
A lot of times, quality is determined by plant maintenance at retail and on an even more basic level, by the hand holding the water wand. How much time do you spend training the folks responsible for maintaining your plants (and ultimately your image)? Now that the weather is heating up, plants can dry out almost as fast as you get them watered. Yet nothing is as important as maintaining plant quality and driving demand to move plants out the door. Make this your top priority and you’ll no doubt see almost immediate results.

Visiting retail garden centers this weekend, I saw product quality ranging from spectacular to downright terrible – often within the same store (and in some cases, within a department!) It won’t surprise you that customer traffic was heaviest near the best-looking plants and lowest near the parched ones. The days are gone when shoppers by half-dead plants at a discount as some sort of rescue mission. One idea is to assign a “quality control manager” each day. Their duties could include surveillance of plant material, changing out shopped-over displays and spot watering as needed – from the minute you open until the last gate is closed and locked down.

This post may seem basic, but this time of year it’s a good reminder to spend extra attention making sure your plants look their best and stay looking their best through regular maintenance and of course, plenty of water.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Container Veggies - Not necessarily a no-brainer!

Planting veggies and herbs in containers is not some kind of revolutionary new idea, at least not to most of us. It actually makes a lot of sense because veggie gardens tend to be in the back corner of the yard (supported by Ball consumer research data AND common sense) away from the place where people cook (grill and kitchen). But a container of herbs or cherry tomatoes will be harvested and used more frequently if it's near on the patio by the Weber and back door. No brainer. Or so I thought.

Last weekend, I planted veggies. Burpee Home Gardens veggies, you ask? Of course. But that's not the point. I planted 5 tomato plants, 5 pepper plants, cabbage (snuck into my cart by my 2-year old... unnoticed until I got home) squash and lettuce seed. Most went into my raised veggie gardens but my Sweet 100s and Pinot Noir peppers went into big patio pots.

I was planting with my father-in-law, a brilliant guy who has planted gardens for years. He kept asking why I was planting some things in pots. I explained about how great it was to have them close by, on the patio, and the benefits of keeping them somewhat compact and really managing the soil/nutrients throughout the season. He went home at the end of the weekend planning to grow some veggies in pots.

I remember having similar discussions with customers when I worked at the garden center - helping educate them about growing veggies and herbs in containers and how pleased they were when they came back and shared results (and some of the harvest) in the fall.

So, container veggies and herbs may seem like a no-brainer to you and your team but it's not for many of your customers. Don't forget to encourage customers to add a couple more plants (and pots, soil, etc.) to their cart for those sunny spots on the patio! Or better yet, have some big pots of tomatoes and peppers on hand - add perceived value with decorative trellises and stakes. Sell the benefits and your customers will respond.

Here's a LINK to a good container veggie story from CNN's Eatocracy section online:

Monday, May 2, 2011

For the Children

With two little kids at home, my wife and I are always looking for fun activities and classes that expose our girls to new things. We've done sports classes, "little learners" classes and now gymnastics - all through our local community center. So when the seasonal catalog of workshops arrives, we immediately look through it to plan our next couple months of parent-kid activities.

I was happy and sort of surprised when my wife pointed out a couple gardening classes in the latest edition. Some were for adults and some were for kids/parents. But it got us thinking. Why are our local garden centers not hosting these workshops instead of the community center? Seems like an opportunity not captured by local independent businesses hungry for new customers?

Maybe they do hold classes like this. It's unfair to scold local IGCs when I am not aware of their activities. But maybe that's the point. I just don't know what kinds of cool things they have available for my family. Our daycare provider always knows about local activities - probably through the local network of in-home daycare providers. Our rec center reaches out to us because we're their target demographic. Heck, we get constant communication from companies like Pampers who see us as a goldmine...

But as my wife said, we would be all over classes for our girls at the local garden center, so I have to believe other young parents feel the same way. And judging by the sold-out classes at the community center, we're not the only parents looking for semi-structured activities in the evenings and on weekends.

If you are trying to attract young customers/families to your store- try reaching out to parents by promoting activities for kids. A great place to start is within your own team. You probably have a young parent on your staff. Ask them where they find out about fun and educational things to do with the kids. Reach out to your local daycare providers to get into their communication vehicles. Send information to churches with big youth education departments. Hopefully some of these ideas give you the push you need to go out and bring in your next generation of loyal customers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Virtually Prepared for Spring

Right now, an entirely new gardener is walking into garden centers across North America. They know a little bit about plants, a lot about the stores they visit and have specific projects in mind. The plant knowledge might have come from family or friends, but some of it was no doubt gleaned from the Internet. They certainly spent a couple minutes online poking through local garden center websites and box store specials before hopping in the car. And they do not see gardening as a hobby – it’s functional, adding visual impact and value to their home landscape, balcony, patio, deck, etc, etc.

Simple Math:

77% of the U.S. uses the Internet.

68% of U.S. households garden.

There’s bound to be A LOT of crossover!

It’s time to pay close attention to this new customer and the gardening tools they use. Besides shovels, wheelbarrows, hoses and trowels, they use an array of devices and digital resources to get the job done. Right now, there are 195 iPhone apps and 52 iPad apps related to gardening and the list grows all the time. As for finding a garden center, a quick search for the term garden center and a Zip code quickly get plenty of results.It’s time to pay close attention to this new customer and the gardening tools they use. Besides shovels, wheelbarrows, hoses and trowels, they use an array of devices and digital resources to get the job done. Right now, there are 195 iPhone apps and 52 iPad apps related to gardening and the list grows all the time. As for finding a garden center, a quick search for the term garden center and a Zip code quickly get plenty of results.

It’s really as simple as that. This new consumer finds most products and services that way. Scanning reviews and checking out the store’s Facebook page are generally part of the process, as well. It’s going to be interesting to watch these gardeners over the next few years as their shopping styles and preferences shape the industry!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

You're invited!

Customer Day 2011 is shaping up to be a cool event, complete with tours of our new Premier Seed Lab set to open soon. Plans are underway for an action-packed day showcasing the best new varieties from dozens of breeders around the world. Starting bright and early, come see The Gardens at Ball in full bloom, as well as specialty combinations, sun container trials, row trials, perennials ornamentals and more.

In addition to cutting-edge plants, participate in thought-provoking discussions with industry speakers and tour the new Premier Seed Lab to see the latest technology making the seeds you use even better. All of this and a great opportunity to network with peers, old and new friends and experts from Ball Horticultural.

Save the date and make plans to attend Ball Seed Customer Day 2011 - July 29.

Spring Trials 2011

MixMaster Orange Blush

Plentifall Trails and Winters Over

Plentifall Trails