Greenscape Gardens in St. Louis, Mo., has done something quite remarkable in the last two years. By integrating itself with local community organizations and projects, it has found a way to increase demand for native plants while building a customer base that feels empowered to become a part of something worthwhile. Better yet, it’s done so without allocating significant marketing dollars, and instead relies on its customers and its community partners to help tell a story.
Here’s the best part: Last year, Greenscape’s customer count, average sales and overall sales increased dramatically. It’s a non-traditional model, to be sure, and it’s a resounding success.
Marketing Plan Targets Specific Projects
Jennifer Schamber, general manager of Greenscape Gardens, has a name for this approach to business: social impact marketing. “My older brother is an entrepreneur, and he helped us define what it is that we have created by comparing it to other cause-based marketing plans,” she says. “Our plan does more than benefit the end user. It gives people the courage to venture out and plant something they never thought about planting before.”
Through this approach, Schamber says they are raising awareness about how gardening for wildlife adds a whole new dimension to one’s yard.
“Everything we do is based on growing these social impact projects,” Schamber says. “By fully integrating our business with community organizations and projects, we have also built a large team of customer advocates. This has driven a significant number of new customers to our store and has played a major role in increasing our sales volume.”
Native Milkweed Giveaways Key To Campaign
One of the most successful components of this marketing plan is “Show Me The Monarchs.” The idea behind the campaign was to raise awareness about the decline of the monarch butterfly and create a call to action within the community to plant native milkweeds, a crucial host plant for monarchs, in every yard.
In the spring of 2014, Greenscape allocated a portion of its marketing budget to contract-grow native milkweeds grown by a local ecological restoration company. With any purchase, customers were offered a free native milkweed (the cost of the plug was about $1), regardless of what was in their cart.
“We worked with our grower to focus on milkweeds that were native to our area, which was very important,” says Tammy Behm, horticultural manager at Greenscape. “Then we broke it down into what would do well in a typical residential landscape. We also added a larger common milkweed for people who had a little bit more space that they could work with.”
The butterfly-specific plant giveaway made sense for Greenscape, says Behm, as they were looking for a way to bring in younger customers, especially children. “Monarchs were the entry point for us, since kids are already learning about it in schools.”
To show it was serious about the campaign, Greenscape gave away 5,000 milkweed plants. “For people that wanted to purchase additional milkweeds, we made sure there was enough of a markup to cover the cost of the others that were given away,” says Behm.
Helping Partners Multiplies Exposure
Partnerships with local conservation programs such as Grow Native and BiodiverseCity St. Louis (coordinated through the Missouri Botanical Garden) have been especially important in raising awareness. Both Schamber and Behm serve on subcommittees within these organizations. “When you are an active contributor on committees like this, and share an authentic passion and a purpose, the others in the group want to be a part of it and help you make it happen,” says Schamber.
Behm echoes these sentiments: “There are people in these groups doing great things on a big scale and trying to make a difference. Together we can be better, and we try to help each other, tell each other’s stories and build support and encouragement for what we are trying to do.”
When it came time to market this endeavor, Greenscape relied on its own promotion, as well as others in the community. It had signage on display throughout the garden center and used its eNewsletter (which has a strong open rate of around 38 percent) to drive the message home. “We believe this has been successful because we keep the content information driven, not promotion driven,” says Schamber.
Everything Is Tied Back To The Business
The model Greenscape has set up may seem too altruistic, which is why both Schamber and Behm say every decision they have made along the way goes back to whether or not it makes business sense. “Every time we look at something new, it needs to have a social impact marketing component to it, but it also must be something that will bring a return to the business,” says Behm. “There are some incredibly worthwhile things going on in our area that don’t make the cut when you look at it business wise. We’ll support them, but we won’t put marketing dollars behind them.”
Fortunately, the numbers from the last two years show that Greenscape’s social impact marketing approach brings many positive returns to the business. Between 2012 and 2013, Greenscape’s customer count was up 1 percent, average sales were up a few percent and overall sales were up 11 percent. These are decent numbers for sure, but nothing compared to the following year. From 2013 to 2014, customer count was up 11 percent, average sales were up 11 percent and overall sales were up a whopping 29 percent.
Success goes beyond the numbers, however. “By fully engaging ourselves with the community and responding to its needs, we have built something that no amount of money could ever buy: true credibility and authenticity,” says Schamber. “We must continue to take a proactive role in helping to promote progressive projects and experiences. Our goal is to give our community something to believe in and empower them to spread our message to others.”
At some point, says Schamber, every business will have to stand behind something, or they will not have relevance in the new economy or with the next generation of consumers. “The millennial generation votes with their dollars. We’ve helped them find something to believe in, and when they get the message, they’ll bring their friends, and their wallets.”
It’s Not Just About Monarchs
Greenscape’s social impact marketing strategy has spread to other programs as well.
• Coming in spring 2015, the Pollinator Palette project will be a store-within-a-store concept that goes well beyond the typical nectar plant selection found at most garden centers. It will tell the stories of the most important component to the food web: host plants. “Each month, we will feature a different plant selection from the St. Louis Zoo’s Pollinator Project, and again, with any purchase, each customer will have an opportunity to take one home for free,” says Schamber. “Each of these plants serves an important role in the landscape and each one has a story to tell.”
• Greenscape has a leadership role in the local “grow your own” movement. It built a relationship with the local food pantry, Circle of Concern, along with one of the local middle schools and helped develop a full-circle educational edible demonstration garden. “We are offering programs to the clients of the food pantry as well as the students of the school to learn the basics of growing,” says Schamber. “Food from the garden is donated to the food pantry as well as in the salad bar of the school cafeteria.”
• Tied in with edibles is a relationship Greenscape built with a local community enhancement organization, Gateway Greening. “We have teamed up with this group to help raise awareness about the importance of community gardens, and we started a series of casual seminars we call Thirsty Thursdays,” says Schamber. “On select Thursdays, from 4 p.m. till close, 10 percent of sales benefit the organization and they bring in a guest speaker to talk about progressive topics.”
“Show Me The Monarchs” remains the heart of Greenscape’s social impact marketing. “There have been some people concerned we shouldn’t be giving away something we could be selling,” says Schamber. “It’s not that we’re giving away the plants; we’re giving people a whole new reason to add more garden space to their garden. We are creating a whole different mindset of what landscaping should be. We’re not just giving away a plant, we are planting a new idea.”
5 Ways To Follow Greenscape’s Model
Greenscape’s Jennifer Schamber and Tammy Behm offer five tips to help you replicate their success.
1. Get endorsements from the community. “We sought out local groups like our Monarch Watch, the local Audubon society and others,” says Schamber. “Seek out endorsements from local organizations, tell them what you are doing and ask to use their logo — and vice versa. There was not one partner that declined that offer. They were all eagerly excited to help us take it to the next level.”
2. When you’re working with a partner, tell both of your stories at the same time. “We wanted to raise awareness for what each of us is trying to accomplish,” says Behm.
3. Be authentic. “Whatever plan you come up with, it needs to come from an authentic and genuine passion,” says Behm. “It can’t just be something you are trying to create for the sole purpose of increasing business; it has to be something you’d be willing to do anyway. Otherwise, the audience you want to reach will not buy into it and believe in it.”
4. At the same time, make sure it makes good business sense for you. “Throughout the process of developing our programs, we were constantly evaluating whether it made business sense for us,” says Behm.
5. Go all in. “Moving forward, we will always have social impact be the main component of our marketing plan,” says Schamber. “It’s the number-one way to pull in the millennial generation. This is the group who will be voting with their dollars, and if you’re worried about them coming into your store, you need to give them a reason.”