Culture and the Workplace

March 30, 2005
Written by Michael Lascelle
The cultural identity of Canada is not a static entity.  It constantly changes through every decade and with every immigration influx. Those two solitudes of the English and the French are now liberally adulterated with the languages, religions and cuisine of countless cultures from across the globe.
18The cultural identity of Canada is not a static entity.  It constantly changes through every decade and with every immigration influx. Those two solitudes of the English and the French are now liberally adulterated with the languages, religions and cuisine of countless cultures from across the globe. Many people embrace these changes, others simply respect them, and a few actually try to resist them, but sooner or later, you are probably going to have to deal with cultural conflicts at your garden centre. And how you handle these encounters will determine how broad a customer base you can count on in the future.

The Language Barrier
In a perfect world, we would all speak the same language or at least have the capacity to comprehend one another, no matter where we came from. Unfortunately, few of us have such an extensive linguistic background and when confronted by a customer who does not comprehend the official language of the region, some of us tend to panic.
That panic may take the form of us unintentionally marginalizing that customer by pretending we didn’t hear them, or just shrugging our shoulders and placing the onus back onto them.
What you have to remember is that a language barrier is not the customer’s problem – it’s yours. They have come to purchase product from your store and it is up to you to find a way to communicate. I often put myself in their place and wonder how awkward it would be for me to ask for help in a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language – it seems to make the effort much easier.

Probably the best personal example I can give was a long-term gardening client of mine – an elderly German lady who owned a large summer home and garden in Vancouver. She didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak German, but we did have botanical Latin in common, so we knew which plants we were talking about. It took a lot of gesturing and I did learn a few German phrases (as she did English) along the way, but in the end we really didn’t have a hard time understanding each other, and we also became good friends over the years.
So no matter what effort you put forward, I think you will find that it will be well received, and that these new customers usually continue to show their appreciation by becoming dependable, long-term clients.

In a perfect world, we would all speak the same language or at least have the capacity to comprehend one another, no matter where we came from. 
Racism
Racism is a strong emotional expression of hate and it deserves an equally strong response. Not only do you need to implement a zero-tolerance policy among your staff, but any customers making racist comments directed towards anyone in your store (including other customers), should be asked to leave immediately. A failure to respond may make it appear like you agree with their comments and could potentially put you in a position of legal liability. Even in the best-case scenario, an offended customer is not likely to return and your business reputation will be painted as black as the pernicious comment that caused the incident in the first place.

This zero tolerance should also apply to off-colour jokes about race, sexual orientation or distinguishing attire (i.e., turbans, veils), as many people try to use humour to filter or mask their racist or discriminatory comments. After all, we live in a multicultural society and if we hope to run a successful business within this diverse milieu, then we need to be respectful to all of our clients and their cultures.

Discounts Work Both Ways
Negotiating the asking price‚ is a standard business practice in many parts of the world (particularly Asia and eastern Europe), and when you think about it you only have to visit a local flea market or second-hand store to realize that discounting is also alive and well in Canada. However, some retailers find it very offensive when an ethnic person (please excuse this generic term) comes into their store and attempts to negotiate the asking price of a particular item.

Personally, I enjoy the flexibility of discounts – it is a powerful business tool that no box store can take advantage of (as their prices are fixed at head office.)  When used properly, this tool definitely works to the seller’s advantage. I simply tell everyone who wants to negotiate a price that I can provide a discount when they purchase in volume – it’s then that the real negotiating begins.

Quite often, these customers will bring back their family or friends, so that together they can purchase enough fruit trees or flowers to warrant the maximum discount I have offered. In the end, I have gained a new clientele and increased my daily sales volume enough to offset any losses from the discounted prices.

The Other Holidays
Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter – we put a lot of effort into marketing around these holidays but at the same time, so do most other retailers. So when you get a few customers asking for flower arrangements, cards or gift plants at other holiday periods – such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Chinese New Year – are you giving serious thought to catering to this niche market? Granted, this sort of specialized retailing may only be viable in large urban centres, but any marketing advantage is a good one.

In our local garden centre we have been celebrating a Dutch Christmas with Sinterklass (around December 5th) for the past few years. This event appeals strongly to the large local Dutch community, and children of all backgrounds get to experience a new holiday and a really strange-looking Santa, who dresses like a medieval bishop with his pointed mitre and staff. We, on the other hand, are able to kick-start our regular Christmas sales season and show off all of the new products and plants that will be available during this festive period.

Reminders of Home
We sell plants from around the world, so it makes perfect sense to market them culturally. When a customer can find something, which reminds them of home, you are almost guaranteed a sale (provided they still have room in their garden.)

By way of example, I sell almost all of my fruiting mulberries (Morus nigra or M. alba) to Iranians, all my Saskatoon berries to prairie expatriates, and all my edible figs (Ficus carica) to people of Italian or Portuguese descent. This is not some vague stereotype; this is an accurate profile of the persons who buy these plants. Similarly, red camellias (Camellia japonica) and small citrus fruits are incredibly popular with our Asian clientele around the Chinese New Year. So, be sure to stock plants of cultural significance and don’t be afraid to point them out, should the opportunity present itself.

As retailers, we need to anticipate that as the cultural dynamic of our community changes so will its demands. After all, being willing and able to provide the services or products that this new multicultural generation of customers demands is just good business.

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