Make It Your New Year’s Resolution: Sell ‘Local’

By: Clint Albin

From: Garden Chic, January/February, 2013

Make It Your New Year’s Resolution: Sell ‘Local’
The calendar has changed and another year brings a chance to renew, redo and reset. With a new year ahead, you get the chance to restate the process your garden center will go through to make the needed adjustments for a successful spring.

Garden centers have an opportunity to take advantage of the macro societal trend of “local” - but many have not. The number of farmers markets in the United States has increased by 15 percent - they’re capitalizing on the “local” interest. Here’s how to find your place in the “local” landscape:

You can be more “local” by knowing your customer better. During interactions with garden center owners, when I ask about their customers, many of the responses I get are guesses.

Garden center buyers should listen less to vendor marketing materials and more to what their customers are asking to buy. There will be fewer buying mistakes if a customer survey tells you what your customers are really thinking (not what you think they’re thinking). Require buyers to spend a specific amount of time talking to customers each week. It will help them get a real-time picture of why people need your garden center. Before you mark it down and suffer a big margin hit, decide if you should buy it in the first place.

Buying and marketing must be one body with two brains. If buyers can’t tell marketing about the backstory of a new product line and why that line is important to the company’s “local” position, then that line should be rejected. There’s no room for pure speculation with a buy when, in the end, it has to be discounted after all the hard work and capital risk that it took to get it there.

The hard part of the “local” discussion is the backstory. There is a dysfunction in management to hold buyers more accountable since they made the buy. So what made the product different, and who is better because you have it? Marketing will never be able to message a sense of urgency because the product that the buyer put on the floor looks like everyone else’s. In common terms, “sameness is lameness.”

What makes you good for the county? Without having something that makes you special, you’re like everyone else. And when you’re like everyone else, it’s all about price. So, what makes you good for the county? Is it the number of people you have working for you? Or how much they love their work? Is it how you save energy? Or how you clean the water? Is it how you have pride in your store and the way it looks when neighbors drive by? Tell the story that’s important to locals.

Cultivate local vendors and artists. Have a local vendor fair to help support craftsmen and artists in the community. Tell the community about it. Use signage and your website to tell this “local” story.

Do something different with a retail format that sells plants. While your company uses its primary garden center to merchandise and sell its offering, why not experiment with a seasonal store that only sells hanging baskets? Use local research to determine if there is a need for something specific, and fill that need without adding another location in your current format.

Educate your employees about why you offer each of the items you sell. Just like the insight your buyers will get from listening to customers - each of your employees hear from your customers on a regular basis, so if your employees know why you carry a certain item instead of another, they can counter a sales objection or at least help you determine if the marketing message is getting through.

Determine if your garden center should be as large as it is, based on your ability to meet customers’ needs - not on ego. Often, companies seek to increase their sales not because they are meeting a customer need, but because they are meeting payroll and supporting a lifestyle. If owners and managers take a step back and search for all the things their customers want and really need, there will be enough money for both payroll and lifestyle.

Through a better understanding of your customers, you can define your vision of how you will position your garden center to be the most important part of your “local” fabric in this new year.

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