Greenhouse Canada

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Ideas to Grow On

January 19, 2010  By Amanda Ryder

You can give your customers a great place to shop and offer them the highest quality products you can find but if you can’t keep traffic flowing to your garden centre, your efforts are wasted. Marketing is crucial when it comes to running a business – it lets customers know what products they can find at your garden centre and gives them a reason to make a visit.

You can give your customers a great place to shop and offer them the highest quality products you can find but if you can’t keep traffic flowing to your garden centre, your efforts are wasted. Marketing is crucial when it comes to running a business – it lets customers know what products they can find at your garden centre and gives them a reason to make a visit.

This year’s Garden Centre Symposium at the 2009 Garden & Floral Expo in Toronto offered garden centre operators a number of great marketing and promotional ideas. Tom Shay, owner of Profits Plus in Tampa, Fla., was one of the day’s speakers and he shared his sales experience as a fourth generation business owner and his knowledge gained as an author, business coach and speaker. As part of his presentation, Shay lined the seminar room walls with posters and each poster represented an effective marketing idea that he’s created or heard about during his travels and consultations. Here are the ideas that he shared with the audience:


Firefly sale – In the fall, select one day to host a giant Firefly Sale where your goal is to clear out your inventory. Shay says the garden centre owner that developed this sale was a seasonal operation that shut down over the winter months. This sale allowed the owner to start with fresh inventory in the spring. To kick off the sale, close down the garden centre at 5 p.m. to prepare for the sale. Open the garden centre at 7 p.m. with free beverages and snacks and offer customers a 10 per cent discount between 7-8 p.m. When 8 p.m. hits, increase the discount to 20 per cent and add another 10 per cent for each hour that passes. This means if a customer wants to get a great deal on a hot product, they have to come early and stay late. The good news is that the longer customers wait for higher discounts, the more they are likely to buy. You could add to the event by lowering the lighting and giving everyone a free flashlight to poke around with, thereby inspiring the name ‘Firefly sale.’

Thank your customers
– Print out a list of your very important customers. Ask your staff to pick the customers they know best and send them a thank you note (you, the owner, get the leftovers). The note can be personalized if possible but it basically just thanks customers for shopping at the garden centre.

Free, with no catch
– Mail customers a free coupon for a product, with no strings attached and no minimum purchase required. Put that product at the back of the store so the customer has to walk all the way back to pick it up. It will get shoppers into the store and is an incentive to sign up for your mailing or e-mail list. You could do this every month and then switch up the product to give a variety.

Birthday sale – When a customer comes into your store and it’s their birthday, give them a discount. Have them show you some form of proof like a driver’s license. Send customers a birthday card ahead of time to remind them of the promotion and to come into your store.

Get product testers
– Let your best customers be your product testers. When a supplier has a brand new product that would be a great fit your garden centre, ask them to send you a half-dozen free products as samples. Give these samples to VIP customers and have them tell you their thoughts. It will make that customer feel special and give you some great feedback.

Invitation only event – Mail your customers (or hand out) an invite to an exclusive sale for 15 per cent or a discount of your choice at your garden centre. Tell them if they bring a brand new customer that’s not on your mailing list, the friend gets the 15 per cent discount and the customer’s discount is increased. If a shopper comes to the sale without an invitation, offer them one on the spot – they’ll appreciate it!

Entice the senses – The more senses you can appeal to the more likely you are to make a sale. Give away free cookies or bring in freshly baked ones to create that homemade smell.

It’s raining, so come on by – Every garden centre owner knows that if the weather’s bad outside, business could be bad inside. Host a rain sale at your garden centre – if it’s raining out and shoppers come into the garden centre they get a 10 per cent discount. If you’re worried about this cutting into your bottom line, make a distinction that this only applies to weekends or weekdays specifically or a certain product line.

Hi, my name is…
Set up a whiteboard in your garden centre and post a new name every day. If a shopper comes in and their name is on the board, give them a free product or a small discount. Keep track of the names that are used and if someone mentions that their name has never been used then tell them it could show up soon. It will give your customers a reason to come on by your centre.

Dropping mercury
– When the weather gets cooler, pick a certain degree on the thermometer and whenever it hits, offer hot apple cider to shoppers. It could become a family tradition and yet another excuse to swing by your business. Put a sticker on cups with your garden centre logo to remind them where they got it.

Parking lot coupons
– If you’re garden centre is located in a strip mall or shares the parking lot with another business, team up with that business to offer a joint coupon that you can put out on parking lot cars. This is great for centres that share a parking lot with a grocery store or gas station because it’s a high traffic area and there’s potential to snag new customers.

Colour sale – Pick a colour and any product in your garden centre with that colour on it is 10 per cent off. This could be promoted around holidays and the discounted colour could tie into the occasion (for example red on Valentine’s Day or orange for Halloween, etc). Take it to the next level by giving employees the same coloured highlighter – if a customer asks “does this qualify for the colour sale?” let the employee add that colour with their highlighter. It will up the entertainment value for your customer and they’ll be grateful for the discount.

Dutch auction – This is a great idea for that inventory you really need to get rid of. Take your old merchandise, clean it up and re-price it. Set up a table in your garden centre and leave it empty with a sign that says “We are getting ready for our Dutch auction.” Now that you’ve created some suspense, pile the leftover products on a few days later, offering a discount of 10 per cent. Each subsequent week, up the discount until you reach 50 per cent off. You can carry over any remaining product and save it for the next sale.

Label for refills – There are products you sell that customers use a portion of for one year and then put it on the shelf to use next year. Label these products with a sticker that says: When it’s time for another, get it at Bob’s Garden Centre. It’s a great reminder for people to come shop with you.

Create a holiday tradition
– You need to be dedicated to make your garden centre a tradition – it could take a few years and you can’t slack off one season. Shay suggested giving away magic Santa dust, which could consist of all different kinds of glitter. The children take this home and sprinkle it in front of the house. Santa walks through the magic dust, signifying that he was there. Shay also suggested selling old keys (get damaged or unusable keys from a key cutter or buy a bulk set of keys) and put a tag with your logo on the keychain. Children who don’t have a chimney would come into the garden centre and purchase/take home a key to put under the mat to make sure Santa gets in.

Christmas tree competition – Invite non-profit groups to set up and decorate Christmas trees at your garden centre. Have customers vote for the best tree at the cost of a dollar per vote and ask them to leave their contact information so they can qualify for the chance to win a tree. It’s a win-win situation – one of your customers goes home with a decorated tree, you raise money for non-profits and you get more traffic to your business. Non-profits also have access to free or discounted advertising and can get press releases into the media much easier than businesses.

Hint cards – Let your shoppers fill out a hint card for birthdays, occasions like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Christmas. The customer will fill out a card that says: When I was shopping at Bob’s Garden Centre, I saw [insert product name]. The salesperson that helped me was [insert employee name here]. The hint card will have all of your garden centre information so a loved one can come in and purchase the product as a gift for your customer. It’s the perfect idea for the shopper that says “I’d love to buy this but Christmas is right around the corner and I shouldn’t.”

Dear Santa – Similarly to hint cards, have people write a letter to Santa to request products from your garden centre and/or other items. Have them give you their address so you can mail the letter to their spouse.

When it comes to marketing, don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks. You never know what could catch on with shoppers. The key with trying different events and sales at your garden centre is to evaluate each event right after it happens. If it worked out well, make note of why it went over so well with your shoppers. If it didn’t work, look at what you can improve or change to make it a success. Give the event one more chance. Keep in mind that marketing and promoting is a process that takes time, analysis and a lot of creativity but the payoff is well worth the effort.

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