Who Is Your Customer?
Today’s Garden Center and Emory University professor Susan Hogan team up to help Lakeview Nurseries better understand their customers and, ultimately, increase their sales.
June 11, 2012
Customers are the core of all retail success. After all, what they want in products and experience determines what you sell.
Despite this, few in the garden center industry have ever researched their own customers. There have been commonly traded viewpoints about customers — garden center shoppers are empty nesters, primarily female and financially secure. Even if that is true for many, it may not be so for you.
So as part of The 10% Project, Today’s Garden Center asked Emory University marketing professor Susan Hogan about how small businesses could go about conducting their own research.
We then asked Revolutionary 100 Northeast Regional Winner Lakeview Nurseries’ Michelle Harvey and Richard Bursch if they would be willing to put Hogan’s methods into practice. They enthusiastically agreed.
Over the next two and a half months, Harvey and Bursch learned a lot about their customers, all of which Harvey recorded in a diary. There were some significant surprises. They discovered problem areas that needed immediate attention. And they were able to find solutions while spring was still under way.
The Three Research Models
Hogan suggested three methods that, when taken together, should give retailers a basis upon which to make many decisions, from marketing to buying to store layout.
- The Observational Method. The research that had the most immediate impact on Lakeview Nurseries is similar to what Jane Goodall did when she studied chimpanzees in the wild. Lakeview arranged for individual customers to be unobtrusively followed throughout the store, with the observer noting details about the customer’s age and behavior.
- The Interview Method. The second method doesn’t look like any traditional research you are used to seeing. The retailer sits down with or calls a single customer at a time and tries to get to the root of what gardening means to that individual. Hogan calls this type of study laddering. It starts with a low-key question along the lines of “What was the last gardening purchase you made?” The follow-up questions are then designed to reach the emotional heart of why the purchase was made and help translate that into future sales.
- The Survey Method. The final method is the most far reaching. Hogan created a sample survey for all of Lakeview Nurseries’ customers on the store’s eMail list.
Watch for Part 2, which reveals the surprising results from the observational research.
Carol Miller is editor of Today's Garden Center. You can eMail her at email@example.com.