So, you’re ready to commit to sustainability. You’ve got the products and you’ve got the knowledge. Now what? The sustainability movement has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for independent garden centers, as long as you know how to market it.
Placement Is Key
Getting customers to notice your earth-friendly offerings is the first step in becoming profitable with green products. Jeremy Brunner, vice president of natural plant food manufacturer and marketer The Espoma Company, says presentation is everything, and placement is critical. Espoma’s switch from paper packaging to plastic packaging created the ability for garden centers to display the product outside, closer to the plant material, which Brunner says has been a great success. “You need to get product outside,” he says. “You need to get product in as many places as possible.”
Susan Lewis, founder and president of organic pesticide company Pharm Solutions, says cross merchandising is key. Placing a bottle of Rose Pharm, for example, next to a rose bush display can increase your bottom line while keeping your customers happy, too. “The consumer is going to take home this beautiful rose in perfect health, and in three weeks it’s going to have black spot and rust,” Lewis says. She points out, though, that if you sell an earth-friendly pesticide like Rose Pharm along with each rose bush, customers will be a lot more likely to have success with the plant. “They’re going to be a much happier customer and come back and buy more roses,” she says.
Lewis also advises against displaying natural and organic products with all the chemicals. “The folks who are really organic and really earth friendly are not going down the pesticide aisle,” she says.
Greenscape Gardens in Manchester, Mo., carries not only a selection of environmentally friendly “natural garden solutions,” but also offers an array of native plants, which are all merchandised together in one area. Jennifer Schamber, Greenscape general manager, says that because native plants aren’t always the most attractive in plastic pots, Greenscape paints all the benching in the native plant area one color. The garden center chose purple because it matches the logo for Missouri’s native plant program, GrowNative! “We’ve seen a much greater interest in natives in the past two years, and we believe this will continue to be an important part of our perennials department,” she adds.
Schamber also says word of mouth is one of the best ways to create buzz around earth-friendly products. “I’ve found that customers can be the best salespeople to other customers, so if someone repeatedly buys an organic product, ask them to jot down a quick note to keep posted with that product, like ‘This one works! Great find!–Joe,’” she says. “People are very interested in sharing their knowledge with others when it comes to this subject. It gives them a sense of satisfaction in knowing that they are doing their part.”
Sell It Well
Many consumers aren’t 100 percent sure which products they need, so making sure they’re properly educated through effective signage is extremely important, says Brunner. “Certainly when it comes to the natural and environmentally friendly, you want signage and any kind of literature that can be consistent with that message and help promote the category,” he says. In addition to being attractive and grabbing consumers’ attention, product packaging needs to be informative, too. “It needs to be able to communicate the key benefits to people so they can make a decision,” Brunner says. “There’s a lot of evidence out there that shows that the majority of consumers are making these decisions at the point of sale, so packaging becomes critical in those kinds of environments.” He adds many garden centers don’t have the staff available to be everywhere and talk to everybody, so the packaging needs to be able to sell itself.
Employees play a big role in the marketing success of sustainable products, and making sure you and your staff are ahead of the curve is important. Both Brunner and Schamber agree that shopping your local competition and talking with other independents to see what they’re doing right and wrong can help you make the best decisions for your green campaign. Schamber also says it’s important for retailers to listen to customers’ opinions and take their interests into consideration. Also, make sure you’re properly labeling any locally grown plant material so customers are aware they’re supporting the local economy while being easier on the environment. “We proudly grow our perennials in pots with our name and with a large recycling symbol on the back,” says Schamber. “The interest is there, and this is the year to break free from the old routine.”