The Invisible Man

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The Invisible Man

I consider myself an everyman. I am middle aged, white with an average height and shoe size, two kids, a dog and a mortgage (or two). As a small business owner, I live the ups and downs of the American economy; gas prices, housing crisis, health care costs – you name it, we’ve got it.

I’ve dumped the SUV, embraced the hybrid and am looking forward to raking the front lawn – and then fertilizing it with an eco-friendly and affordable lawn food. I want a greener lawn and nicely edged beds mounded with fresh mulch. But guess what? Like many, I don’t have the time to even shop for the organic fertilizer, let alone spread the mulch. What I need is warmer weather, more time and plants that prune themselves.

I am your average customer, and I feel taken for granted. I shop at the four or five garden centers in my town, yet I am only on one’s mailing list. I have never been asked to join a loyalty club, not yet received an e-mail update and never felt the impulse to visit a Web site. None of the retailers I shop has a sign-up process that I am familiar with – and I am looking. I spend quite a bit at garden centers – well over $1,000 a year – but I have never, ever received a thank you message or a premium in reward for my patronage.

I shop a neighborhood garden center more than others because I get a friendly hello. In the end, aren’t we all just like Norm from Cheers? You know, everyone wants to go where everybody knows your name.

Instead, I feel invisible. It feels like no one is interested. Except, Staples. Like clockwork, I receive rewards in the form of checks – real money to use on whatever I want. I also get mailers with incentives. I recently purchased an HP laser printer for just $35.

How Can You Show Your Customers You Value Them?

• Stay open later. Many of your customers work until 6 or later. How can they spend money at your store if you’re not open?

• Deliver. Homeowners don’t want to lug 30 bags of mulch home in their cars over the course of the season.

• Offer them advice. You’re the expert, and they need your help.

• Acknowledge them. Add them to mailing lists or offer a loyalty program to let them know you appreciate their patronage.

Making Life Easier

I am a simple guy. But your garden center could make my life easier, and I would pay for it. I don’t think I am that different from any other “Harry Homeowner.” Here’s what I want: I want someone to deliver my mulch – I now have to schlep more than 30 bags home over the course of a couple of weeks – and some really neat plants for the front planters.

I need lots of impatiens, some advice on my backyard pond and someone to service my mower before the lawn gets more than a foot tall.

If I could find it, I would also love a load of pea stone for the front drive and garden paths. Oh, and good tools, not the cheapie pruners that everyone seems to stock. What ever happened to Felcos?Oh, and it would be great if a garden center stayed open after 6 p.m. I am lucky if my work day ends before 7. How can I give you my money if you aren’t open?

It just doesn’t seem like my garden center even knows I exist. I am the invisible man. My time is valuable, and I enjoy spending my weekends puttering around the yard. I have a nice home landscape and I take pride in it. I have for the nearly 25 years I have lived in Connecticut.

That’s 25 years times an average of 30 to 35 bags of mulch a year. When you add it all up, it’s around 1,000 bags of mulch – at around $5 per bag. You do the math. What I wouldn’t give for someone to remember that I buy that much mulch every year – and to offer to deliver it.

Of course, I understand the irony. For 14 years I have run a marketing company that specializes in the garden center industry, and yet only one garden center in my town has my name on its mailing list.

My local CVS, Staples and even Border’s Books seem to pull it off. Why not my local garden center? If large, impersonal mega retailers can get up close and personal, what’s wrong with my local garden center? Is it money? Is it staff? Management? Technology? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Money shouldn’t be an issue. You can buy sophisticated CRM tools at the local Staples for less than a hundred bucks. It can’t be staffing, because there are companies out there that can do it for you very affordably.

Putting Priorities In Place

It all comes down to priorities. Successful companies make it a priority to understand the value of each segment of the marketplace. I don’t really like to think of myself as a segment, but you get the idea.

At the end of the day, I just want my local retailer to value my business. Your customers understand what they spend with your business, even if you don’t. Believe me, if you make the effort, your customers will respond.

So make it your priority to connect with your customers, even those guys poking around the perennials. You’ll never guess what they might be worth to your business, but you can certainly measure it in terms of product sales. That is, when you decide to make your customers your top priority.   

Kurt Fromherz is the owner of Sunrise Marketing. Dedicated solely to the horticultural industry, Sunrise Marketing works with more than 1000 independent retail garden centers and the growers that support them. For more information about building your seasonal sales strategy, contact Kurt directly by phone at 888-393-4443, online at SunriseMarketing.com, or by eMail at kurt@sunrisemarketing.com.

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