By Brian Minter
By Brian Minter
The huge advantage we have as garden stores is the ability to create a great customer experience.
The huge advantage we have as garden stores is the ability to create a great customer experience. Discovery, solutions and inspiration are three experiences promised by a very good chain of garden stores in New Zealand. Palmers has huge banners everywhere in their store, promoting these three ideals, to ensure that both staff and customers understand what they should offer and expect. I think it is brilliant.
“Discovery” implies finding exciting new plants, new colours and fresh perfumes. It also means coming away with new ideas, new concepts and different approaches to gardening. As we enter into each new season, we need to ask ourselves if our stores are the place for these new discoveries. Are we changing paint colours, adding new features, making sure our growers have all the newest plants (there are a lot this year)? Perhaps it’s time to change traffic flows, hang new banners and build some “wow” endcaps to show off all the new plants and plant combinations. It’s important not only to change plants and displays with the season, but also to continually upgrade and move out plants as new ones become available. We must truly become a place of discovery.
When it comes to finding “solutions,” most large box stores and grocery chains do not employ folks qualified to provide the best gardening advice and information. From doing open-line radio shows for more than 40 years and in several countries, I know the thirst for quality gardening information is insatiable. Folks want good, simple, practical advice that they can trust. In addition, they want fresh up-to-date ideas for their landscapes, baskets, planters and so much more. In our fast paced technological world, where you can find almost anything online, a friendly, qualified real human being who has some time to spend is a precious resource our customers appreciate. Seasonal demonstrations; planters and hanging baskets made up to provide both ideas and solutions for hot sun and shade; and customer information sheets for most plant families, lawn care, pruning, vegetable gardening and container gardening are a must for novice gardeners. A well-appointed information centre is a basic requirement. Ongoing seminars with very good presenters are also incredibly important to many customers, especially for those just getting started in gardening. Our stores need to be the most trusted source for all gardening information, and the folks providing the information need to be well versed and have great people skills.
“Inspiration” is a little more difficult to provide, but it’s an essential ingredient, and more than ever before, folks are searching for it. In a world of ordinary, anything extraordinary can be very powerful. Folks will communicate to their friends more about being inspired than anything else, except for bad service. Creating inspiration is about the “wow” factor. Using unique colour and unusual plant combinations and applying “out of the box” thinking is where you really need to be. Unique water features, especially the new pond-less waterfalls, get folks excited, particularly if they can see an application for themselves. The new fire bowls for a patio, trial vegetable gardens and incredible edibles for small space gardens get folks thinking that your store is the place to find neat new things.
Discovery, solutions and inspiration go a long way to creating an environment that folks want to enjoy throughout the year. Although most centres are doing all these things well, there’s a huge experience factor that seemed to wither a wee bit during the recession, and that’s customer service. Most of us say we provide “good” service, but it’s “great” customer service that makes all the difference. You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression and that’s a weakness shared by so many of us. The first contact with any customer should be a warm and friendly acknowledgment of their presence in the store. “Great to see you”, “Thanks for coming in” and “You’re looking great today” are all salutations that make folks feel good about being in your store. “You should see the new delphiniums”, “We just got the new seed selections in” and “I’m here if you need me” are the second level of greetings that should be layered down. Knowing when to jump in and when to let customers wander and discover is an art, but being attentive to their needs or getting others to help out is critical customer management.
When a customer is ready to buy, our sales folks are not doing their job unless they suggest tie-in sales for the single purpose of adding value to the customer’s purchase. From contorted willow branches to spice up a container and slow-release fertilizer for long and easy feeding to soil amendments for heavy clay soils, all add great value to the customer’s home experience, which they will repeat if they are successful. I love to say to customers who are holding a plant, “If you combine this other plant with the one you have, you’ll get a wow display.”
When it comes to promises that you’ve made to deliver or create something or simply bring in a product, make sure you do it on time or in a timely manner. People don’t like to wait, nor should they. If you can’t do it, let them know and the sooner the better – communication is key. When folks are ready to check out, process the sale quickly. It is also important to say, “Thank you for shopping with us” or “We really appreciate your business.” This courtesy lingers with them because so few businesses today say thank you.
We believe in loyalty cards and in rewarding members with greater recognition and a little bit of pampering. In addition to our seminars, we are doing more ladies’ events, including fashion shows, wine tasting and even foot massages. All these things create a tone of caring and put the finishing touches on experience shopping. The busy season begins in earnest soon. Investing in customer service and providing a great experience will build you a customer base that simply grows and grows.