Make Your Customers into Heroes — They’ll be Back Every Season

By Rachel Guttman, MBA, Online Marketing Expert, SCORE Colorado Springs

In either busy or slow seasons, merchandising is paramount. Offering seasonal products and displaying them attractively and in a way that demonstrates the value of a product makes it easy to shop.

There are two ways to earn more revenue: 1) find new customers and sell them your products, and 2) sell more products to your existing customers. One marketing strategy may include featuring desirable products in advertisements to get people in the door in the hopes that they see something else they’d like and purchase additional products.

During any season, garden centers are providing a depth of knowledge and breadth of products that customers cannot get at a big box retail location like Walmart or Lowe’s. Demonstrating this difference is critically important for the sustained life of a retail location. During slow seasons, garden centers may rely heavily on the knowledge base of their employees, holding specialized workshops and demonstrations with tips for all levels of gardeners.

In the age of “I’ll just Google it,” offer something people cannot simply Google to find the answer. Be the gardening resource for your customers by having your staff tach a skill, or bring in a local expert to lead the class. Give something away during your event. And go for it—do not say you’ll put on an event and not invite people nor put money behind promoting it.

Different seasons may attract different demographics, but do not change your brand or the value you bring customers. Consider taking inventory of who comes in during different seasons and what their needs might be. Targeting different customer demographics might be more investment than return because acquiring a new customer requires education and brand awareness. Studies show it can take seven to nine times of exposure before a customer makes a purchase decision. Likely, an existing customer is an easier sell and less investment.

One of my college professors used to say, “If you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll end up being nothing to no one.” It’s a good reminder in finding a niche and staking your claim in that space. Learn as much as possible about your current customers, then during the off season offer a related (not so different that it’s out of left-field) product that they might have bought elsewhere. Be careful not to stray too far from your brand. Move with the seasons, be aware of trends and find out what the millennials are doing (succulents).

Email marketing is not dead; it’s often poorly executed. Same goes for direct mail, it’s alive but poorly executed. When you offer information of value that appeals to the customer, you’ll get a response. A newsletter simply takes up space in someone’s inbox. When you send messages that do not call them to action or offer anything valuable, you train people to delete your emails or throw away your mailing piece. It is not the loudest, the largest or the flashiest company that wins customers, it is by far the one communicating most clearly. When you communicate well, you win customers. Clarify the difference and the value you offer and watch sales increase.

Make your customers feel like the heroes of their gardens. Often companies (car companies especially) want to make the company or their product seem like the hero in their story. This is backwards thinking. The company should position themselves as the guide in their customers’ stories. When your company is the guide, helping your customers get what they want, they will return to feel successful and important. You don’t have to use this hero/guide language in your marketing for it to work; in fact, that would probably be a little weird. But, you can change your mindset and employees’ mindsets when interacting with customers.

Further, your website should reflect the hero customer from imagery to language. Instead of an image of your storefront, showcase a lovely vegetable garden with a smiling gardener. Help your customers survive and thrive, look good to their family and friends, find success and feel like they are important, and you’ll have all the business you want.

Rachel Guttman