Here's a great piece from the Wall Street Journal: In tough times, businessess coddle their regulars.
Money is tight in my household--just like it is for so many others. I know that I'm far more likely to spend my hard-earned dollars at a place that appreciates my business and treats me like one of the family.
What are you doing at your garden center to keep the loyalty of regular customers? Are you using data gleaned from loyalty card programs to create special events? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Some noteworthy stuff from last week’s National Lawn & Garden Show in Hotlanta …
* NLGS president/CEO and industry “good guy” Bob Mikulas welcomed some 60 buyers and 100 vendors to the 15th gathering of the industry’s premier appointment-based event. If you haven’t acquainted yourself with this show, here’s the format: Buyers (garden center owners and distributors) set up at tables in a big room and entertain vendors over the course of the three-day show via predetermined 10-minute appointments. Think “speed dating” for products. A signal alerts the vendors when an appointment starts and ends; in between, they meet prospective buyers and spend the session trying to show them why they need to knock “prospective” off the title. On a good day, a vendor might have 20 appointments. A savvy buyer will make sure to hook up with practically any product manufacturer that could ultimately help pad the bottom line. It’s a win-win format that has proven successful for a decade and a half.
* A viewing area displayed literally hundreds of new items, suggesting that those economists who predicted that home/lawn-focused businesses would survive a challenging economy were probably correct. Several prominent product lines in the mix: Pest repellents, birding and nature items and lots of “green” stuff, most notably compost bins and rain barrels. A personal favorite was the Tow-n-Stow convertible trailer and storage unit. By day, it’s a sturdy trailer; push a few buttons and turn a few cranks, and by night it becomes a storage unit – complete with shelves – that can be placed anywhere in the garage or shed.
* The event drew a generally upbeat group of buyers and vendors from around the country. While business isn’t quite “as usual” in most locales, the show principals with whom we spoke said it has been steady to “better than expected” throughout the spring – some rare good economic news.
* Next year’s NLGS, set for June 15-18, 2010, is tentatively scheduled to take place in Colorado Springs. Check here periodically for updated news on the 2010 show.
The recession has caused consumers to postpone many large purchases. This pent-up demand could play a crucial role in emerging from the economic downturn,USA Today reported. Economists say the longer people pull back, the more likely it is they’ll spend even more when their confidence in the economy returns. Analysts, however, differ in their opinions on when the shopping fever will actually hit.
Small businesses are turning to Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms for networking opportunities, The New York Times reported. According to the April index of Discover Small Business Watch, compiled by Discover Financial Services, 38 percent of owners were a member of an online social networking community, up from 22 percent in October 2007.
A recent study for Sage North America found that 65 percent of small businesses that used social networking sites said that they felt more comfortable doing so this year than they did last year, and 51 percent said that they had acquired and retained customers because of it. More than 260,000 North American businesses currently use social networking to promote their businesses.
As resident editor, I’ve given dozens, if not hundreds, of speeches over the past two decades, and the “Q” I’m asked most during the obligatory post-talk “Q &A” time is …
A. Has anyone ever told you that you look like Tom Cruise?
B. Do you know the way to San Jose?
C. How ‘bout them Cowboys?
D. What trends do you see affecting the industry this year?
If you answered (A), you are now my best friend for life. However, you are also probably both blind and not very bright, and I would suggest that the next time you take the quiz you either study with or copy off of the paper of the person who answered (D).
Indeed, trends – specifically, your ability to anticipate them, know them and adapt a business strategy for them – represent the trump card for most successful retail operations. Catch the wave early, and you become the Big Kahuna. Don’t, and you wind up doing a lot of dog paddling trying to keep your head above water.
Trend/wave catching is at the heart of a new project from Brandwise and the Gift & Home Trade Association, which have collaboratively launched an index that monitors statistically relevant industry trends based on aggregate sales information from vendors that attend the events.
Brandwise is an application service provider that delivers hosted and distributed software solutions to manufacturers and their sales channels within targeted industries. The GHTA is the gift and home industry’s non-profit trade association formed to help vendors, sales agencies and industry affiliates work together to improve relationships. In essence, Brandwise has the technology, while the GHTA has a market that can use it. Hence, a marriage that has “win/win” written all over it.
In a nutshell, the index gives subscribers pertinent trend patterns based on sales (and lack thereof) of various products lines at the various shows. Brandwise President Todd Litzman said the index was used most recently to monitor sales traffic at AmericasMart in Atlanta. Ultimate potential targets include the gift shows in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and the Highpoint furniture market in High Point, N.C.
“The whole concept is to give people something to judge their business on,” said Litzman. “What’s trending up? What’s trending down? We have hard information based on the dollars spent at the shows.”
While the system helps vendors know what to vend, it also could be a boon to buyers looking for “that special something” that their competitors might not carry. This is where the garden center operator comes in. If you do the home and gift thing, you can become an index subscriber and have at your fingertips, literally, information that can help you stock your shelves – with items that are “hot.”
And hot is good. Just ask my “twin,” Tom C.
Just a few short months ago you could find dozens of articles eviscerating McDonald’s and Walmart for their inability to reach today’s savvy, upscale consumers. Things sure can change in a manner of weeks. The recession has hit everyone hard, and we’ve done a complete 180. Now consumers are gravitating to no frills, low-cost venues. Earlier today, McDonald’s reported sales rose 5.1% in May.
I wonder…in this economic environment, does the low-key, mom-and-pop garden center have an edge over more polished, upscale garden centers? Do low-cost perceptions influence where consumers buy plants? What are you seeing in your part of the world? Leave us a comment below.
Ball Horticultural Company recently partnered with two garden centers to host Simply Beautiful Container Contests to benefit local charities. The contest drew over 4,000 people to Tagawa Gardens, Centennial, Colo., and thousands more to Dickman Farms Garden Center, Auburn, N.Y., the last week in May. Participants competed to benefit local charities. Efforts in Denver supported the Ronald McDonald Houses and in Syracuse, a cerebral palsy foundation.
These initiatives were designed to not only provide a donation to these organizations, but also to build momentum and demand from gardeners. “We were pleased to see that so many new gardeners attended this event,” said Beth Zwinack from Tagawa Gardens. “All of the contestants had a great time – and it was great to see the younger folks ‘hold their own’ against some of the more seasoned pros!”
Each contestant was given a time limit to finish their ‘creation,’ which was then judged on style, color and creativity.
"The event was a tremendous success and exceeded our expectations. Local gardeners had fun creating wonderful container gardens while benefiting a charitable organization," said Dave Dickman of Dickman Farms. "It was a positive indicator that reinforces gardening is on the upswing."
Now, here’s why you really should attend water gardening’s most prestigious event: The 10-year anniversary celebration of Pondemonium, set for July 16-19 in St. Charles, Ill., will offer hands-on training sessions, workshops, keynote addresses and networking opportunities. Indeed, Pondemonium 2009 offers something for practically everyone, whether you’re a veteran water gardener or someone just getting started with water features.
In addition to the event itself, Aquascape Inc. also has scheduled its first-ever “Extreme Green Community Makeover.” On July 17-18, an entire neighborhood in Sugar Grove, Ill., will receive a green makeover from Aquascape contractors who will incorporate rainwater harvesting solutions, native plantings, pervious patios, LED landscape lighting and more.
Ed Beaulieu, chief sustainability officer for Aquascape, Inc., and his wife Ellen, initiated the Extreme Green Community Makeover in their neighborhood and received an overwhelming response.
“Neighborhoods created before the popularity of sustainable landscapes can be retrofitted to become environmentally friendly,” said Ed. “Outdoor conservation efforts need not be limited to new construction sites. Our vision is to create a template for contractors or homeowner associations to implement in greening communities across North America.”
For more information about the Extreme Green Community Makeover, log onto http://www.aquascapeinc.com/pondemonium/extreme-green-community-makeover. For additional information on Pondemonium in general, visit www.pondemonium.org.
For a preview of my speech, visit okihaven’tstartedwritingityet.com.
The early-bird deadline for Garden Centers of America’s Summer Tour is Saturday, June 6. Participants will be visiting some of the top garden centers in Portland, Ore., June 28-July 1. Stops include Al’s Garden Center, Drakes 7 Dees and Cornell Farm. Registration fee is $550 for GCA members; $600 for nonmembers. Click here for complete details and registration forms.