Use the ‘Buy Local’ Movement to Strengthen Your Store’s Brand

By: John Kinsella

From: IGC Retailer, January/February, 2013

Use the ‘Buy Local’ Movement to Strengthen Your Store’s Brand
The buy local trend is an exciting opportunity to differentiate your store brand from the national competition and attract customers seeking to support the local community. Your garden center has many advantages that play well into the “buy local” message, including sourcing local products, supporting the local community and providing personalized service.

For your big box competition, there is a fundamental disconnect when it comes to their broad national advertising campaigns and local marketing efforts. While they struggle to learn the local market and make inroads to gain customers, your local business has a distinct home-field advantage that can be leveraged even further.

Getting the ‘Local Word’ Out
As a garden center, much of your live plant material is likely sourced locally. Make a point of promoting this to your customers through signage, social media and promotions.

Beyond plants, what other types of product are made locally that could be part of your assortment?

The unique appeal of locally made or grown items is important to many customers and will keep your store brand authentic in your local area. Consider inviting your local suppliers and vendors to an informal event so customers can have the opportunity to meet them and learn more about their products. Connecting your garden center to a local product that supports a group of locals is a powerful message in today’s market, and it’s one that big box stores can rarely touch.

Many communities have local business associations that promote events throughout the year and help connect businesses to civic organizations. Participating in and co-sponsoring civic events, such as parades, festivals and philanthropic causes, connects your brand to the local community and reaches people in a positive way. Habitat for Humanity, Christmas in April and Toys for Tots are examples of civic organizations that allow you to give back to the community, which in turn supports your garden center business. Organizations like The 3/50 Project offer resources and support for independent businesses to thrive within their respective communities.

Offering free or low-cost classes, workshops, demonstrations and expert advice to gardeners of all levels and interests is a great way to build your store’s local brand. Customers shopping at your store on a day that a demonstration or class is taking place will notice the buzz and energy the event generates. Offering these types of value-added services to your garden center showcases your authority, expertise and enthusiasm. You’re not just selling plants - you’re helping customers learn skills to bring their gardens to life and create beauty in their world. You are providing solutions to the local community.

Programs to consider that could help build your store’s brand locally include:

• Working with schools, non-profits and garden clubs to organize donations of used garden tools or teach gardening.

• Introducing a customer rewards program, which creates loyalty and incentivizes customers to return to shop.

• Using customer relationship management to offer customers a gift, discount or incentive to use during the month in which their birthday falls.

Collaboration & Cross Marketing
Collaboration and cross marketing with local businesses and organizations that interact with potential customers is a powerful approach. By combining forces with other businesses and groups, you reach a larger customer base and reinforce your store’s local brand authority. Choosing synergistic brands is key - make a list of other local businesses that share a similar ethos and customer base. Collaborations can include:

• Offering reciprocal links at your website to key local businesses

• Teaming up with the chamber of commerce to host a fundraiser

• Building strong alliances and referral programs with local restaurants, specialty shops and like-minded businesses

• Offering incentives to another business’ customers

Reciprocal marketing works best when all businesses involved benefit equally. Forming key strategic alliances with other local businesses will expand your reach and further reinforce your stake in the local community. When choosing potential partners, consider the following questions.

Which businesses in the community:

• Are distinctly different but serve a similar customer?

• Could leverage your expertise to help their customers?

• Serve customers that could benefit from your offering?

• Have a brand that would resonate with your customers?

• Have a related offering that you don’t provide?

Social Media & Your Website
Decide which social media platforms reach the widest audience in your market. Facebook and Twitter are easy to maintain in tandem. Pinterest is a great social media platform that allows your store’s brand to visually inspire customers and connect them to new ideas and trends in the garden industry.

Remember the “social” in social media. While it’s perfectly fine to use these platforms to inform customers about sales, incentives and new products at your store, also remember it’s about connecting with people and creating a dialogue to strengthen your store’s brand. For every post or tweet that is a call to action to shop, remember to post twice about community events, information, inspiration, resources and announcements that make you a valuable resource within your community. Blend your sales effort with useful content.

Building goodwill and a rapport with your customers strengthens your store brand on many levels. When your social media followers come into your garden center, invite them to introduce themselves, and make a point of greeting them personally. Reinforcing these personal connections through social media strengthens your brand.

If you have a large following on Facebook or Twitter, consider segregating your followers so you can engage with local customers on a different level. Among your customers, you may have a group of rose enthusiasts as well as a following of shade gardeners. By allowing your customers to opt in to distinct groups based on their interest level and your expertise, and by targeting your messages for these distinct groups, you create loyalty and establish store brand authority.

Optimize your website for your local market. Before making decisions, sign up for Google Analytics to learn how customers find your website and discover more about their demographics. Effective SEO marketing will make sure that your garden center comes up at the top of web searches. Done right, your local web traffic can increase tremendously. Be sure to choose your relevant keywords carefully, and limit any pay-per-click advertising to your specific geographic area.

To ensure consistent local store branding, it’s important that your message is consistent and predictable to your audience. When providing content and information online to assist your customers, make it relevant, simple to follow and easy to access. If you’re heading into spring, offer a list of appropriate soil amendments for your area to get gardens off to a great start before the ground warms up. If you’re approaching the holidays, communicate the distinct advantages of shopping for gifts and greenery at your local garden center versus the boxes.

Keep an eye on your online reviews written by customers who help tell your story. When you search online for your business name, Yelp and Google listings (which can include customer reviews) are often in the top three results. Be sure to claim your business page on these platforms. Monitor your presence on these sites, as they are an important brand indicator. Encourage your loyal customers to share their positive experiences with others through these channels.

Be sure to set achievable goals, even if they’re small at first, to work to better establish your store’s brand in the local market. By taking smaller steps, you can more accurately track which marketing method has the widest reach and receives the best response.

Create a realistic schedule for posting to your social media and adhere to it. Engaging with your followers and encouraging customers and employees to post images of their gardens and share their successes creates a unique dialogue that puts a personal spin on your brand.

Accurately measuring your marketing efforts allows you to evaluate and optimize your media investment across all channels.
The cumulative effect of all these tactics will better establish your credibility with local customers. Knowing how to meet their needs and marketing your benefits effectively will make the most of your home-field advantage.

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