“The independent garden centre can’t win the war on price; it has to differentiate itself on service.” How often have you heard or read variations on that theme? But what does it really mean?
It doesn’t just mean a warm welcome, a hearty smile, help to the car, or endless patience even on that longest of long weekends in May. We only fool ourselves if we think the staff in the grocery store parking lot or big-box store can’t offer all of those things if they have decent management (and they usually do). Nor does it mean the kind of superficial plant knowledge that teenagers at both your store and the local Lowes can fake after a few weeks on the job.
The kind of service that will make new and true gardeners alike come back to your store goes deeper than that. It’s about the education of your staff and their willingness to pass on their knowledge in a meaningful way to your customers.
This issue has two articles that delve into the heart of customer education. On page 10, Michael Lascelle investigates the trend to more responsible pest management. This has been a long time coming in parts of Canada, but it’s fair to say that the majority of shoppers hitting your centre this spring will welcome more complex but less toxic solutions to their creepy crawly challenges.
As Lascelle explains, key steps include obtaining the details of the damage, fully understanding the issue, and then proposing a number of educated options. Don’t shy away from the complexity, discuss the pros and cons of the range of possible solutions, and make sure you stock them all. Some clients will want the quick fix; others will be open to more subtle forms of integrated pest management. Discover who you’re dealing with and come to a solution that works for them while slowly educating them about more sustainable, long-term solutions.
That deeper knowledge is also required to work with customers interested in plants that serve a broader purpose than esthetics. Whether it’s drought resistance, weed control, edibles and herbs, or pest management, a growing number of gardeners want their plants to do more than look good.
On page 12, Andrew Hind discusses the opportunity to boost sales by catering to this need. Again, the number 1 tool is education, from signage and displays to staff communication. Like modern pest control, this requires customer consultation at a higher level than just pointing the way to your shade-tolerant plants.
That should be good news to the independent garden centre, as these are areas where you should have an edge over the competition. And ironically, these new trends mean that even many of your more experienced customers will need guidance in a way they haven’t in years. If your region, like mine, is relatively new to the war on traditional herbicides and pesticides, you have the opportunity to get out in front of your customers’ knowledge base in a way that will translate into sales.
It’s a war out there, but not just one for the hearts of your local gardeners. It’s also a war for their minds. Do you have a clear strategy to win?
Welcome aboard, Brandi
Careful readers will notice that Amanda Ryder’s photograph no longer graces this page. Amanda has embarked on a career in marketing, and we wish her the best. Please join me in welcoming Brandi Cowen aboard as the editor of Canadian Garden Centre & Nursery. Brandi was formerly the assistant editor for some of our other retail magazines, and will bring that experience to her new position.
Scott Jamieson, Editorial Director