How to Attract Customers of Diverse Cultural Backgrounds

Photo courtesy of Donna Garrett

While most if not all plant businesses welcome customers from all cultures and walks of life, our businesses have not typically made efforts to market or provide products and services for specific cultural demographics. But, if you aren’t considering the preferences and needs of these different customer segments, will people who are a different color or native origin than you be attracted to your business?

Beyond race and nationality, customer diversity can include many types of differences including gender and age as well as physical and mental ability. The green industry has been focused on attracting young people for years, and many companies offer events and products specifically targeting men or women. Why does it seem natural to target younger shoppers differently than older shoppers, male shoppers differently than female, but specifically targeting African Americans or Hispanics doesn’t seem like a worthy goal?

Of course, Americans of various racial backgrounds will likely have a lot of common shopping interests, similar to how young and old people have many similar interests. But just like a percentage of millennials are attracted more by specialized technological or sales approaches than their elders, many non-Caucasians may be attracted to specialized products and marketing.

multi racial background
Photo courtesy of Arbor Valley Nursery

Retail businesses often offer amenities to better serve elderly or disabled people and families with young children. Some provide wheelchairs, motorized shopping carts or even golf carts for customers with mobility issues. Other specialized services for these customers range from in-house potting of plants to personal shopping. For people of color raised in urban areas, garden centers could promote similar educational services as they have created for young novices.

Many nurseries and greenhouses have the advantage of employing people with diverse backgrounds including immigrants and temporary workers from Central America and Africa. The friends and family of these employees help attract a more diverse customer base with the ever-important word of mouth, plus they feel more comfortable shopping where they see people similar to themselves.

“I am a repeat shopper when I am treated with respect, and the people are helpful in locating what I am looking for and willing to brainstorm what might or might not work for my space,” said Khadija Haynes, a long-time, avid gardener and co-chair of the FreshLo Initiative, a community-driven project for healthy food, cultural arts, equitable economic development, and affordable housing in Montbello, Colo.

Photo courtesy of K-Sol Photography

Haynes also points to affordability and “the wholeness I feel near plants and the promise of bountiful and beautiful tomorrows that they give to me,” as motivations for her to shop at a plant business. Both reasons are common to many customers of all shades and backgrounds.

Here are some tips for attracting and better serving the diversity of your customers.

  • Stock and advertise plants and vegetables traditionally popular for various cultures such as:
    • basil
    • black-eyed peas
    • coleus
    • collard greens
    • ficus trees
    • Japanese eggplant
    • kale
    • lemongrass
    • mustard greens
    • peppers
    • tomatoes
    • zucchini
  • Promote your products and services in diverse neighborhoods.
    • Diversify the newspapers, radio stations and other media where you advertise.
    • Add a school in a culturally diverse neighborhood to your school outreach activities.
  • Find ways to sell in different communities because not everyone can travel to the places where nurseries are located, but they can purchase!
    • Partner with organizations like Montbello Organizing Committee to have community plant demonstrations and sales.
    • Participate in cultural events like the Denver Black Arts Festival and Denver Cherry Blossom Festival.
  • Provide diverse learning opportunities.
    • Advertise with photos of beautiful plants in a variety of locations (showing can be so much better understood than telling).
    • Recommend plant combinations.
    • Give out simple, plant-care instruction sheets.
  • Include images in marketing and displays that reflect the reality of people of color who garden, give gifts and shop. Hint: very few have the sprawling estates or mega-backyards that most greenhouses and nurseries display.
    • Along with images you are already using, add images of how plants look on a bookcase, end table or nightstand.
    • Make sure your images don’t just include people of one shade or hairstyle. If your customers can picture people more similar to themselves with your products, then they will be more motivated to shop with you.
  • Photo courtesy of Donna Garrett
    Make sure your employees are not timid in approaching customers who look or speak differently than them.
    • Ask your staff if they are uncertain or uncomfortable helping customers who are a different race, speak English as a second language, or are in other ways different than themselves. If they are, help them become comfortable so they can help ALL your customers.
    • Observe your staff and how they interact (or don’t) with diverse customers. If they avoid helping certain customers, help them understand why and how they should help ALL your customers.
    • Incorporate information, scenarios and tips for helping customers of diverse cultural backgrounds into your staff training programs
    • Hire people from diverse cultural backgrounds. If you are only getting Caucasian job applicants, consider new places for your job advertisements and incorporating your help-wanted information into outreach events in culturally diverse areas.

Special Thanks to members of the CNGA Board and Communications Committee who contributed insights for this article: Mike Bone of Denver Botanic Gardens, Joe Haskett of James Nursery Company, Jeff Jones of Great Gardens, Jessica McCool of Little Valley Wholesale Nursery, Kathleen McGuar, Harriett McMillan of Echter’s Garden Center, Bruce Rabeler of Little Valley Wholesale Nursery, and Mike Schleining of Arbor Valley Nursery.