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Throwing a Can’t-Miss Event

August 11, 2010  By Michael Lascelle

There are just four reasons to host a special event at your nursery or garden centre. Simply stated, they are as follows:To bring potential customers to your place of business.
To promote the products and services you provide.
To keep your business name in the public’s eye.
To give back to the community that supports your business.

UBC Botanical Garden’s Apple Festival in Vancouver is a great example of a long-running event that attracts people of all ages.  

There are just four reasons to host a special event at your nursery or garden centre. Simply stated, they are as follows:

  1. To bring potential customers to your place of business.
  2. To promote the products and services you provide.
  3. To keep your business name in the public’s eye.
  4. To give back to the community that supports your business.

Essentially, you are creating an event to bring more people to your garden centre in order to increase sales. That said, if your visitors feel like the occasion is nothing more than a ploy to get them to come out and has little interest or merit of its own, they are not likely to come back. Which is why it’s so important to plan an event that you or your family would actually want to go to. I think you’ll find that if you put in the effort, your visitors will spend more freely as a means of thanking you – and those ‘guests’ are also likely to become regular customers.


The Making of a Special Event
Special events should also serve the purpose of attracting clientele to your garden centre at times or seasons when they might not normally come. At my place of work, we needed a means of bringing customers into the nursery during early spring when the new plant stock arrived – the problem being that March weather is not often conducive to shopping at your local garden centre. After discussing several proposals, we decided to tap into what was then the budding environmental movement and created Nature Day – a one day event promoting native plants, sustainable gardening, recycling and organic products (soils, fertilizers, pesticides). We invited local naturalist groups, garden clubs, sales representatives (for organic products), eco-landscapers and even an amateur entomologist with an amazing butterfly collection – in essence, anything remotely connected to the natural world. In return for their one-day commitment we provided free table space (under cover), refreshments, extensive advertising (listing every group) and even a room for seminars, should they be needed. Twelve years later, Nature Day seems to have taken on a life of its own – with environmental groups contacting us asking to join in, families making annual pilgrimages to see ‘Henk the Butterfly Guy’ and many out-of-town gardeners dropping by to shop from our extensive selection of rare native plants.

Another Success Story
Last October, I visited the 19th annual UBC Botanical Garden’s Apple Festival (pictured at the left) with my two eldest daughters. The $2 entrance fee was only a quarter of the regular admission, making the event affordable for both pensioners and families alike, and judging from the broad demographic and large crowds, I would call their marketing strategy a resounding success. Our time was filled with displays and events which included cider-pressing demonstrations, apple tasting, an exhibition of 200  varieties, several longest apple peel contests, a children’s play area and a beautiful day to meander the magnificent grounds that hosted the event. While the Botanical Garden does make profits from the secondary sales (apples, pies, tastings, trees) – the public relations windfall they create by opening up their facility with an inexpensive entrance fee will definitely pay future dividends with returning guests, especially those young families.

Similarly, autumn or harvest festivals held at your garden centre can be an excellent means of attracting customers during the fall planting season. You might consider inviting orchardists, honey producers, specialty vegetable growers or even local wineries (keep in mind that a special liquor license is required for tastings) to share their products with your customers – much like having a one-day farmer’s market on site.

Making It Your Own
There are a lot of business-related special events out there, particularly during the holiday seasons so if you are going to try the typical Easter egg hunts, free Halloween candy or Christmas colouring contests you should expect to get lost in the crowd. You need to create a special event that stands out and one that the community instantly associates with your nursery. By way of example, we needed to increase our customer flow in early December in order to show-off our live and fresh-cut Christmas trees, as well as our extensive line of poinsettias. Since the nursery owners (and much of the community) were Dutch, we decided to host a traditional Sinterklass event, which is normally celebrated on Dec. 5 in Holland. Crowds of people came out to have their picture taken with Sinterklass with the older generation reminiscing and the younger ones discovering this strange Santa for the first time. Of course, while they were there they also got to see the many products we offer to make their holiday season a little bit brighter.

Look around at your community and your customers – what type of event could you offer that no one else can or does? Is there a slow time when you’d like to attract more shoppers? Sit down with your staff and host a brainstorming session where no idea is too crazy. Fifteen years from now when your event is a long-standing community tradition, you’ll be glad you gave it a whirl.

Special Events Checklist
Ample parking – Nothing is worse than hosting a popular event
with inadequate parking, as guests are forced to spend their valuable
time looking for that empty space. If possible, have staff park off-site
or in a back lot so that every available space is reserved for your
Weather permitting – Always plan for every weather scenario –
providing covered areas in the event of rain, shade and water access
for hot spells and protection from strong winds, which can wreak havoc
on displays.
Security and safety concerns – Whenever you have a special
event with more people than usual on site, you statistically run a
greater risk of theft or personal injuries. Make sure you have a first
aid attendant on staff that day and ensure that all equipment and work
areas are secure.
Busy kids = shopping parents – If you are planning a family
event, be sure to include free supervised kid’s workshops (I.e. crafts)
during the course of the day. This will allow parents the time to peruse
your seasonal stock – which almost always results in increased sales.
A constant reminder – With our often busy lives filled with
constant distractions, it takes more than just a few advertisements in
the local paper to attract a large enough crowd to create a successful
special event. People require numerous reminders in the form of hand-out
flyers at the till, personal invitations from the cashiers and e-mail

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