The Easy Way to Sell

June 18, 2012
Written by Michael Lascelle
Every nursery and garden centre across this country offers products with one goal in mind: sales. In essence, we are in the business of selling beautiful gardens. Those gardens may take on many different forms and esthetics, such as planters, raised beds, ponds and even houseplant arrangements. We need to connect with the customer’s sense of beauty instead of the all too common practice of trying to impose our own tastes on them. We also need to listen to their individual needs.

GernaiumBallerina  
Plants like this “Ballerina” geranium offer customers a splash of colour throughout the summer and well into the fall.
 

Here are seven common garden centre customer requests, along with some relevant sales advice to make the sale a done deal.

They want plants that are easy to maintain
A good example here is your typical hanging basket. Improved self-cleaning annuals can make deadheading a thing of the past and with the addition of a drip irrigation kit and some slow-release fertilizer, your customers can literally sit back and enjoy their flowers until the frosts roll around.

They are often overwhelmed by the sheer selection of available plants
When dealing with plant purchases, you need to ask specific questions about sun exposure, soil conditions and colour preferences before you start showing your client plant options. We have found that most people buy flowering houseplants based on colour, so we have simply laid them out on tables in colour blocks, making the plants much easier to sell without staff assistance. We have also arranged our bedding plants on individual colour tables, with each of them clearly marked as such.

They want year-round colour in the garden
Far too often, people limit their garden centre visits to March through May, and subsequently fill their landscapes with only spring-flowering plants. This can lead to a real colour void in the garden from summer through to fall. Many perennials such as Rudbeckia fulgida ”Goldsturm,” Hemerocallis ”Stella D’Oro” and Geranium cinereum ”Ballerina” have a long blooming season beyond spring. We need to make our customers more aware of these types of plants.

They want diverse landscapes in smaller spaces
When gardeners retire (as many baby boomers are now preparing to do), they often sell the family home and downsize to a townhouse or other smaller residence. They still have the desire to grow fruit trees, raise vegetables and have a water feature, but there just isn’t as much space available. This is where we need to get creative with dwarf fruit trees such as Columnade apples and genetic dwarf peaches, vegetables that grow well in containers, and above-ground water features. These products are out there, we just need to stock them and inform our clients about these very viable options.

Give the ‘black thumbs’ plants that even they can’t kill
Rather than providing elaborate pruning instructions or explaining how to install garden drainage, why not sell your customers plants that they can work with right now. If they are having hydrangea problems (usually a pruning or summer drought issue), why not introduce them to the ever-blooming Endless Summer series? Better yet, show them a few varieties of the more drought and pruning tolerant Hydrangea paniculata – such as Limelight, Vanilla Strawberry, Little Lamb and Quick Fire. If their soil is soaking wet, introduce them to “Blue Ice” bog rosemary (Andromeda), shrubby dogwoods (Cornus), Siberian iris and Astilbe. In other words, sell them the plants that they can succeed with right now.

They want something unique
When customers start seeing the same plants at every garden centre, supermarket entrance and corner store, they instinctively shop for the lowest price. When they see something unique, like an unusual specimen such as Anemone nemerosa ”Green Fingers” or a spoon-petaled Osteospermum, they buy it on impulse. If you are only going to carry standard plant material, you should expect comparison shopping and lower profit margins, which is something that most garden centres and nurseries can’t afford in this highly competitive sales market.

They want to trust you
The truth of the matter is that we don’t really sell plants, fertilizers and tools – we sell good advice. Most people don’t like to be told what to buy, but they do want you to understand their gardening reality so that you can offer them some informed advice. If they trust you, that advice will eventually lead to regular customers and multiple sales opportunities.

We need to make shopping at the local garden centre as easy and as pleasant as possible. The experience starts with knowledgeable staff and a readily accessible store layout with effective signage. Add a good plant selection, adequate parking and targeted advertising to the mix, and you have the recipe for garden centre success.

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