Archive for the ‘Garden Center Ideas’ Category

Last week, I had lunch with Home & Garden Showplace‘s new director, Sue Amatangelo. We go way back — as way back as I can go with people having been in the industry for just shy of three years; we met in November 2007 on my first-ever GCA Holiday Tour. (Oh, the memories!)

We talked a bit about my upcoming trip to the United Kingdom, and she asked if I’d be visiting any garden centers when I was over there. I honestly hadn’t thought about it and wasn’t sure I’d have time… But Sue used to work for Ball Horticultural and knew someone who might be able to offer some recommendations of great garden centers in England.
I got in touch with Bill Doeckel, who then got in touch with one of his colleagues at Ball Colegrave. Here’s what I got back:

Garden centers near London

Hi Paige,
The recommendations below are from a colleague of mine who works for Ball Colegrave in the UK> He knows the independent garden centre business well so you can be sure these are highly rated centres. His contact info is below should you need it.

South of London

Squires Garden Centre
Sixth Cross Road
Tel: 020 8977 9988
Ruxley Manor Garden Centre
Maidstone Road
DA14 5BQ
Tel: 020 8300 0084

Coolings Nurseries
Rushmore Hill
Nr Sevenoaks
TN14 7NN
Tel: 01959 532269

North of London

Aylett Nurseries Ltd
North Orbital Road
St. Albans
Tel: 01727 822255

The Van Hage Garden Company
Nr. Rickmansworth
Tel: 01494 764545

What do you think?

Can you recommend any other stellar garden centers in or around London? Or, if you’re not as horticulturally inclined, are there any amazing general retail operations in the U.K. that are worth a look? I’ll definitely be stopping at Harrods, but I can’t say that will be a professional endeavor…

Please leave a comment and let me know what your London (or Edinburgh) looks like!


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Golden State Bulb Growers

Callafornia Callas

What a perfect way to start the day! Admiring gorgeous calla lilies! We started our Thursday morning in Moss Landing, where Tom Lukens took us through the Golden State Bulb Growers trials. The calla lily is definitely one of my absolute favorites, so I always look forward to this stop. I loved the way they packaged their new varieties, focusing more on merchandising. They showed the many ways callas could be dressed up at retail for every season.

Pacific Plug & Liner

Comparison trials at PP&L with Ryan Hall

It’s always nice to see the comparison trials at Pacific Plug & Liner. This year, Ryan Hall displayed two separate trials: ipomoea and lavender. Ipomoea has been a huge trend in our industry the past few years, and it was great to see all the different varieties side by side. Be on the lookout for Ryan’s article in GPN, where he will explain the results of his ipomoea trials.

We also got to check out all the new varieties introduced by the various Agrexco companies. Hishtil had some very unique plants on display, as well as some tasty herbs. I really liked this double-flowered petunia introduced by Cohen.

Syngenta Flowers

Decorative mums at Syngenta Flowers

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Syngenta Flowers location in Gilroy was the amazing mum display. Faith Savage told us that some of the big box retailers were extremely impressed with the potential mums will have in the garden center. Rather than going by “pot mums,” Faith is now referring to them as “decorative mums.” The folks at Syngenta dressed up the mums spectacularly; I wanted to take them all home with me!

Color theory

Another display that really caught our attention was Syngenta’s Color Theory. They had merchandising vignettes organized by color. They showed how easy it can be to merchandise hard and live goods together using similar colors. And speaking of color, have you seen Syngenta’s new orange marigold? I have never seen a marigold so bold, it’s no surprise it was a recipient of an All-American Selections award this year.

If you’d like to see even more photos of our trip along the California coast, please check out our Flickr page. One more day to go, then it’s back home to Chicago!

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My birthday’s next week. In addition to my fantastic “free lunch” coupon from Noodles & Co., I also got a sweet e-mail from Bachman’s. (I subscribe to the Minneapolis-based garden center and florist’s e-newsletter because they do a fantastic job communicating with their customers — you should, too, if you’re looking for ideas on how to improve yours!)

Here’s a look at the e-mail I received:

A rose. For free. Just for me!
Now there’s an example of a kind gesture that costs next to nothing for the business — but really stands out as a memory in a customer’s (or potential customer’s) mind.
What do you do to celebrate your customers, on their birthdays or every day?

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Strike up the band — Sun Parasol is coming to town!

To kick off the release of their 2010 line of mandevillas, Sun Parasol went all out: On March 21, they staged a “spring launch” event in Florida. They gave 30 Sun Parasol trucks a royal sendoff to the highway, complete with a ribbon cutting and music provided by a local high school marching band.

This launch event was inspired by the annual parties surrounding the arrival of the new year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine.

Take a look at the video that Costa Farms and Sun Parasol put together to showcase the event. I got goosebumps watching it. Great U2 song paired with an amazing event!

Talk about building momentum…this blooming caravan would be hard to miss!!
What are you doing to celebrate spring?

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Today, I’m happy to introduce our first-ever guest blogger! His name is Randall D. Schultz, and he’s president of Schultz Communications, a full-service advertising, public relations and marketing communications company that serves the home and garden industry. In this post, Randy hits the sweet spot: He’s got a firm grasp on the building blocks of customer service, and he’s an enraged customer himself. Tap into his passion. If you like what you read here, visit www.schultzpr.com for more information on his company.

In challenging economic times, smart retailers look for ways to stand out from the competition. Few independent garden centers can (or should) compete against the “big box” stores on price. Instead of a low-price strategy, it is much smarter to compete using a unique product mix and friendly, knowledgeable employees who offer superior customer service.

But what about after the sale is made? Most retailers are not aware of how important their customer service policies are in maintaining happy customers, and they often give little thought to the competitive advantage of a people-oriented customer service program.

Many Happy Returns?
Let’s examine the customer service policy — in particular, the return policy — at a mass-market retailer to see how it offers a smart independent retailer a great opportunity for a competitive advantage. I’m sure this retailer’s executives believe that its customer service policy is equitable and generous. Its returns policies enable a “guest” to return an item for a full refund with the sales receipt. If the customer does not have a receipt, store credit can be issued if the return is made within 90 days.

That sounds fair and generous, right? In most cases, it probably is. But this is a large corporation, and it has created a “no exceptions” customer returns policy. The company’s well-trained employees know the return policy and follow it to the letter. No one — not a store manager, not a customer service representative at a toll-free number, not the corporate office — can make exceptions to the policy.

I know this firsthand. I recently received a gift that had been purchased at said retailer. When I returned the item (without a receipt but within 90 days of purchase), a customer service employee scanned the bar code. Unfortunately, the item wasn’t in the computer system. I was told the retailer no longer carried the item, so I couldn’t exchange it. In fact, the product’s packaging had just been changed slightly, and the SKU had changed. Still, no one was authorized to make an exception to the customer service policy, even though it was obvious that it was not my fault that the product packaging had been changed.

Instead of trying to keep me as a customer, they hid behind their rigid “customer service” policy — and failed to serve me, the actual customer. That’s precisely where the competitive opportunity lies for a nimble, people-oriented independent retailer.

Don’t Be That Guy
As an independent retailer, what are your exchange and return policies? Are they written in stone, to be followed to the letter regardless of the situation? Or is a company representative able to “make a judgment call” on a case-by-case basis in an attempt to keep a good customer happy?

What this big box’s policy failed to take into account is the “lifetime value” of a happy customer. I’ve spent thousands of dollars at that retailer in my 20 years of shopping there. If they had made any attempt to solve my customer service problem, I would have been delighted to shop there for another 20 or 30 years. The way I feel right now, I may never darken their doorway ever again.

Could your store afford to drive away its best customers? If not, now is a great time to take a look at how you treat your customers when they bring you an opportunity to make them happy. In this age of social media, where word of mouth stories — both good and bad — can go viral instantly, smart customer service policies and a well-trained staff that can actually solve customer problems are more important than ever.

So, ask yourself this: Is your customer service policy designed to serve your customers, or is it designed to protect your company? Is it designed to solve customer problems and turn unhappy customers into loyal customers for life? Or is it an impenetrable wall between your customers and your business? In today’s ultracompetitive environment, the answer might actually determine whether your business survives — or thrives.

Lawn & Garden Retailer published a story on garden center return policies in March 2009. Click here to read the piece. How does your store’s policy stack up?

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Headed out on the road again!
Sunday morning, I’m leaving for Louisville, Ky., for my third American Nursery & Landscape Association Management Clinic — a great opportunity for people in this industry to network and learn more about the business side of the business.

If you happen upon the blog and want to follow along in real time, give my boss, Tim, and me a follow on Twitter. His is for our sister magazine, GPN, at @gpnmag. Part of my Twitter feed is just over there to the right, but you can also go directly to my page by clicking here, @lgrmag.

Boundless networking opportunities and three days FULL of educational sessions are always something to look forward to, but as I meet more and more people in this industry, these trips are an opportunity to see friends as well. There are a few people I’ve connected with online who I’ve never met in person that I can’t wait to get to know at the clinic.

Here are a few people I can’t wait to see:
Jonathan Bardzik, ANLA’s director of marketing and industry relations: I do not get to talk to this man nearly enough. He is my best source of information on all things ANLA, and I could talk with him for hours about the horticulture industry, the next generation of gardeners, social media and life in general. The media lunch break is always one of my favorite hours of the whole clinic.

Laura Kunkle and Michelle Gaston from OFA — an Association of Horticulture Professionals: These ladies are the best source for what’s going on at this important organization. OFA has just appointed a new CEO, Michael Geary, who will start at their Columbus, Ohio, headquarters in March — and I can’t wait to get the skinny on what’s coming at our annual dinner on Sunday night.

Larry Grossman of Grossmans Garden & Home: I was thrilled to receive a Facebook message from Larry this afternoon that said, “It’s working!” Yesterday, their Facebook teased customers with a status message that said, “We’re telling SECRETS on Facebook!” If customers went into the garden center and said the secret code word from the status message, they received 50 percent off any one item in the store. And it worked. Thirteen degrees outside in upstate New York, and people were busting the doors down! He told me they sold the most expensive wall hanging in the store and gained a bunch of new Facebook “fans,” too. It will be great to hear more about his marketing strategies online.

Steve Cissel, CEO of 10-20 Media: He and I have connected on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…you name it, we’re pals. His company recently created a new little iPhone app called Garden Pilot, which is generating a lot of buzz in the industry, and I’m looking forward to hearing his plans for getting more exposure. Maybe we can help! Read the quick news story we wrote when the application was released on our website, www.lgrmag.com.

So many networking opportunities, so little time!
Will you be there? Leave me a comment or send me an e-mail and let me know so we can meet up.

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