Online Only: Two Way Street

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One thing most people know about Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm is that he doesn’t have a problem speaking his mind. His weekly “Rants,” sent out by eMail, touch on just about anything that he finds worthy of his two cents. They are generally well-received (sometimes not) and often conjure up discussions and feedback from those who read it.

Lloyd Traven has a good grasp on what customers expect of him. But what about retailers? They aren’t off the hook. Here are a few things he expects back:

1. “Get back to me when you say you’ll get back to me.”
2. “Look at your vendor as somebody that’s very interested in your success. I cannot do anything but fail as long as they look at me as an adversary. We’re not trying to steal their money. We’re trying to make money for them.”
3. “I expect loyalty. When I do the job for you, I anticipate in my production planning that you will come back to us. When a customer, without telling us, decides to change programs and decides to make that change because of margins and not quality, I get really upset about that because I don’t believe they can find a better product. When they say they switched because it’s easier for them, well that drives me crazy.”
4. Visit. “If people come to see what we do and see how clean we run it, then we believe they will get very excited. When I show them around, they’re saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ That’s when you begin to sell to them, saying, ‘If you carry this material, you will be selling what other stores do not have.’”

Communication is something Traven does well, and it definitely carries over to his retail customers – New Jersey’s Amy Seuberth from The Farm at Green Village and Stephen Barlow of Barlow’s Flowers can testify to that. And when it comes to contacting each other, all three agree that a good deal of expectation gets involved.

Managing Expectations
“After chasing a retailer for five weeks with phone calls, eMails, messages left with their secretary…enough already,” Traven recounts a recent experience with one of his buyers. “All I want to hear is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And ‘no’ is okay. Just tell me you’re getting the eMails and messages and that you’ll get back to me. Just tell me something.”

This particular instance was an outlier for Traven. His normal interactions with customers typically occur on a once a week basis, at least. He works on three circuits: phone, eMail and fax. “I send out availability, pictures and my Rant.”

In building and keeping quality relationships with his customers, Traven has learned that everything revolves around honest communication. “Tell them what it looks like. If it looks great, let them know that. If it doesn’t look great, let them know that,” he says. “No surprises.”

Peace Tree Farm customer Amy Seuberth of The Farm at Green Village says, “I know I’m getting a good product. Lloyd’s upfront about it. He’ll tell me, ‘Don’t take that’ or ‘It’s not ready yet.’”

Retailer Likes And Dislikes:
1. “It’s nice to be able to call someone’s cell phone,” says Stephen Barlow of Barlow’s Flowers in Sea Girt, N.J. Using Traven as an example, “It can be 6 o’clock in the morning or 8 o’clock at night and he’ll pick up his phone.”
2. “Sounds funny, but we don’t have a huge place and smaller growers usually have smaller trucks and I like that,” says Barlow.
3. For growers looking to earn Barlow’s or Seuberth’s business, wait until after the busy season. “They should know spring is not a good time,” says Amy Seuberth of The Farm at Green Village. Barlow says, “Stopping in on a busy, sunny day will leave a bad taste in my mouth. It shows they don’t understand my business and my situation.”
4. For those same growers, be sure to stop in with a sample. And remember color sells, says Barlow.
5. Barlow explains that getting invited out to the grower’s operation in early spring is another way to get them interested in their product and check out new varieties.
6. When it comes to availability sheets, “Throw something on your hotlist that will give us ideas and get us excited,” says Seuberth. “We’re all plant nerds, so use ‘deer resistant,’ ‘shocking color’ or ‘great for the weekend’ to get our attention.”

With some of Peace Tree Farm’s larger, higher profile customers, Traven has learned that this necessary communication might demand more than one phone call and more than one eMail. He understands that while these customers want to talk to him and require that personalized touch, they also expect him to do all the footwork and make all the follow-ups.

“They expect me to understand that he or she will be interrupted several times during our conversation and will probably have to leave at one point, which means I’ll have to call them back later to finish the order,” explains Traven. “I understand that, and I’m fine with it.”

Speaking of personalized, Seuberth refers to an eMail she recently received from Lloyd. “This morning I got an eMail from him saying, “Great new and weird datura available and you’re the first one to know about it. That email just went to me and that’s nice.” Seuberth loves it when growers keep an eye out for her. “We don’t have time to look around and find what’s new,” she says. “We just get into a routine of ordering…begonias, vinca, impatiens.”


Mihalek is a former Meister Media Worldwide editor.

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