Marketing Matters

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The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.”
                             – Peter Drucker

Marketing permeates every part of your company, whether you mean it to or not. Most garden centers know just enough about marketing to spend money on it, but not enough to get any real benefit from it.

When business owners analyze profits or lack thereof, they commonly look through the list of expenditures to analyze which ones they can eliminate to increase their profit. Marketing and advertising are frequently targeted during these cost cutting, profit-improving skull sessions. You’ve most likely thought, and have probably heard said, “Half my marketing works, but I don’t know which half.” If you did, you could safely eliminate the other half and increase your profits by exactly that amount. However, most garden centers continue to spend 3 to 4 percent of their gross sales on those items. Why? Because they fear that if they don’t, their sales will go down and profits will suffer.

Myths Of Marketing

There are many myths about marketing – what it is and how it works. We’ve heard some of them so much we believe them to be true and that is at least half of the problem. Even the advertising industry is in turmoil over this, which shouldn’t surprise you knowing how much mystery is involved in the future of our own industry today. The advertising industry got away from the fundamental principles of their business, and got carried away with fancy jargon, programs, and trickery to get your money into their companies. In doing so, they’ve led the rest of us down very winding paths. Today most of them are as lost about marketing as many of our own are.

Getting Footfalls

When I ask prospective clients to tell me about their marketing plan, they usually begin spouting off numbers and percentages such as, “30 percent on direct mail, 30 percent on television, 20 percent on radio, 10 percent on newspaper, 5 percent on Internet, and the rest on who knows what.” My response is to ask: “You’ve told me about your spending but what is it that you’re doing to get customers in the store and keep them coming back?”

Now they open a folder or notebook filled with ads, postcards and newsletters beginning with a spring open house and continuing with a myriad of sales, a fall festival, a Holiday open house and image advertising to keep their name “out there.” I ask how those things have worked, and we’re back to the second paragraph with their answer: “I’m not sure, but I have to do something, don’t I?”

We then talk about the tyranny of the ad lady who wheels into the parking lot on Tuesday morning, waltzes into their office and asks, “What are we putting in your ad this week?” A legitimate question – unfortunately usually without a legitimate answer.

“Let’s just run the same ad,” you say? “Let me see what’s coming in that we could put in there,” you ask? Or do you more often resort to “Let me go out back and see what we’re long on.”

Dear friends, we have met the enemy, and he is us.  The enemy is not the ad lady. We are our own enemy if we don’t have a better plan than she does.

What are the choices? Spending any amount of money on advertising is not a key to its effectiveness. Several years ago I set about defining the fundamental principles of marketing garden centers need to stick to. These are classical, timeless principles we shall explore later.

How Marketing Doesn’t Work

Here are three ways to virtually guarantee your marketing will not work.

1. Advertise where potential consumers will not see it. While most people would say they would never advertise where their consumers would not see their message, most do.

Many adverting dollars are wasted in places few legitimate customers see them, such as outside reasonable market boundaries, overnight television and radio, phone books, play programs, athletic booster calendars and small circulation newsletters. Just doing the simple math, these media are expensive on a cost-per-consumer basis. Always do the math. If the seller can’t provide enough information to do the math, just don’t buy. I can’t do this area enough justice in a paragraph so I’ll just say if you’re not sure you are investing in the right media, you can be sure you are wasting money.

2. Send advertising messages that are irrelevant to the targeted consumer. Irrelevant messages cause significant damage by misdirecting the motivation of consumers to buy our product. Take the time to figure out what you want to say.

We offer consumers incredible opportunities to improve and enhance their lives through the use of the products and services we provide. Do you really believe that? If you do, why don’t you market that way? Passion is imperative to success in attracting customers. Become passionate about your business – but more importantly – be passionate about the impact your business has on your customer. Then transfer that passion with all your might to your customer.

The foundation of marketing (and your entire business) is the reason people buy your products. Products sold in garden centers don’t rank highly on the hierarchy of human needs. Some would argue (incorrectly) that they are not needed at all. The fact is, plants do satisfy an often unrealized emotional need, which is critically important to the mental health and satisfaction of humans.

3. Miss the opportunity to maximize the sale to each customer your message brings through the door.

Selling is a subset of marketing. The two are, or should be intertwined. Is it selling or marketing when a salesperson says something that plants the seed of an idea or brings out an unrealized need in the mind of the customer? My definition of selling is: if the customer buys today, it was selling; if they buy later, it is marketing. Salespeople are there already – leverage the expense of having them by expecting them to serve part of the marketing function.

How Marketing Works

In your company at least one, if not all of those among you must become knowledgeable and proficient in creating results through effective marketing. Today, it is not a passive sport to market a garden center, it is a team sport.

Remember, in retail everything is marketing – everything! Continue to try to build your company without a foundation of solid principles and you’ll remain confused and befuddled. You’ll also continue to waste time, money and your potential on marketing that doesn’t work.

Sid Raisch is founder of Horticultural Advantage, a consulting firm to independent garden centers and servce provider to The Garden Center Group. He created the Advantage Development System to help client companies increase effectiveness to earn greater profits. For more, go to, call 888-339-7456, or eMail

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