Marketing Chemicals the Garden Center

By Sarah Wong, CCNP

We’ve all seen it—a panicked customer rushes into the garden center on their lunch break or after work with a zip lock bag. Inside is a little twig with mushed, wilted leaves, and some barely recognizable insect carcasses or one confused beetle scurrying around. They’re short on time. Something is wrong with their bush. It’s dying! Help!

Our panicked customer is an almost guaranteed sale walking through the door. If they’re lucky, the sales person they’ve happened upon might identify the plant, or even better, the pest. But what then? Are all of your employees up to speed on what chemicals your garden center offers to alleviate their pest or disease problems?

The only thing worse than a panicked customer is a sales person who is unfamiliar with your beautifully stocked shelves of chemicals. When employees are unable to give quick answers, our guaranteed sale is walking out the door—dissatisfied, confused, and on their way to Home Depot.

Chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides can be intimidating for customers, garden center employees and purchasers alike. A large number of choices and long labels make it a task to learn what will work best, if at all, for any given situation. Thankfully, this scenario is an excellent learning and marketing opportunity for garden centers everywhere.

Creating your own, simple promotional material can be a quick and fun exercise for a newbie staff member who needs to learn your product range or even a handful of seasoned vets to knock out on a snow day. All you need is access to a computer, word program, and printer. Fancy displays are optional.

First, choose a handful of chemicals to start with: maybe some of your best sellers or maybe that one batch of fertilizers someone accidentally ordered 11 cases of, instead of one and it’s been sitting around for a year…

Second, have your employee(s) answer three types of questions
about the product by carefully reading the product label:

  1. What is it used for? Does it make grass green, deter deer and rabbits, kill aphids, etc.?
  2. What plants should it be used on? Is it for indoor or outdoor, turf grass, flowers, bushes, trees…?
  3. How is it used? What is the dosing information and frequency? Five capfuls in one gallon of water every month while the plant has green leaves? Or what?

Once those questions are answered, you can add more information like whether the product is organic, safe for kids, has any additional benefits, or is one of your best sellers. Don’t forget to keep your answers short and sweet. Our goal is to save time for customers and sales people by helping them make quick decisions and recommendations, respectively.

Lastly, type up the answers in a simple word document, maybe add a company logo, print, and display your new promotional material proudly. This exercise is more about creating content that answers questions and provides useful guidance than spending lots of time making pretty signs—you can always do that later. Also, make available any manufacturer promotional materials, should the customer want to learn more about a particular product.

Spending a little time on your own promotional materials for chemicals has several benefits. Customers come to garden centers instead of the big box stores for our knowledge and customer service; your promotional materials serve as silent sellers by allowing customers to browse and educate themselves, all while reinforcing your store brand.

Once you have displayed your promotional material, any novice sales person can then direct customers to relevant products by referencing the three questions and answers. You can also re-use material on social media and your website as well as during sales. However, keep in mind that you must use your own photos, don’t copy and paste the manufacturer’s material, and do not make claims about the product that are not explicitly on the label. If you are unsure about copyrights concerning any of your products, ask your vendor.

About the contributor: Sarah Wong, CCNP, came to Colorado in 2012, after graduating from North Carolina State University with a masters of science in entomology. She started in the green industry working at Silver Sage Garden Centers in early 2013, and first served as the Customer Service Manager before becoming the General Manager in 2016. She currently assists Keith Williamson in teaching the Colorado Certified Nursery Professional (CCNP) courses twice a year. She enjoys working with plants in Colorado because it gives her the opportunity to learn and teach every day!