How Do They Know You’re Great?

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The Washington Post ran an experiment in 2007. Joshua Bell, considered by many to be the world’s best violinist, was asked to perform in the Metro subway system in D.C.

The paper wanted to see how many people would stop to listen to a free concert from a preeminent artist playing on an unequaled instrument (Bell’s own Stradivarius, made in the midst of Stradivari’s golden period in 1713. Bell reportedly paid $3.5 million for the violin, the Post says.). There was no publicity involved, and no sign identified who was performing. He played for almost 45 minutes.

In the article describing the experiment and its results, Gene Weingarten recounts a conversation with conductor Leonard Slatkin. When asked how a world-class musician would fare in a subway, Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in 2007, speculated that the quality of the performance would compel 75 to 100 out of a 1,000 people to stop and listen. And he thought the musician would gather about $150 in his open violin case from passersby.

The reality? Almost no one stopped. Of the more than 1,000 people that streamed by, only seven paused to listen. The person who stopped the longest recognized him. More people – 27 – dropped money in his violin case. The amount only came to $32, well shy of Slatkin’s $150 prediction.

What is the take away of this story for a retailer? That positioning matters.

You can literally have the greatest artist in the world performing for close to an hour and no one will appreciate it if you don’t tell them why they should.
If Joshua Bell playing a Stradivarius couldn’t command attention without a concert hall, high ticket prices and promotional materials, how in the world can gardening products in your store seem valuable if you don’t tell your customers?


The Great Garden Center Experience

Today’s Garden Center’s The 10% Project is helping garden centers improve plant sales, in part, by profiling good marketing. The Post’s experiment shows just how important marketing is. 

What you are telling customers about yourself? Do your ads tell customers that your store is an experience to be treasured? Do the ads give the proper setting for your quality plants and products in a way that price is not very important?

As an industry, we can get so focused on the practical, that we lose sight of the magic gardening can bring to customers. Instead, we advertise $9.99 hanging baskets or plunk gorgeous perennials on a weathered pallet supported by concrete blocks. We look at increasing efficiency in spring, making sure that new arrivals make it to the sales floor quickly and forget how customers think and feel.

Customers are looking for something to brighten a shady yard, or they want a splash of color to welcome guests to their front door. If they want cheap plants, they know Home Depot will sell them at a lower price than you.

You, on the other hand, can give them the gardening equivalent of Carnegie Hall and a Stradivarius. The more you reach for that goal, the less important price will be.

Carol Miller is group editor of Today’s Garden Center and Greenhouse Grower. You can eMail her at

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