Allan Armitage: How Interacting With Your Customers Can Build Positive Energy

Van Wilgens Garden Center Customer Appreciation Day
A large crowd of customers showed up for Customer Appreciation Day at Van Wilgen’s Garden Center.

Our industry is predicated on how we as people relate to others. Plants are our common denominator, but trust and positive interaction with our customers and each other is truly what keeps us in the plant business. I experience remarkable people and places almost every week, and I want to share some of these travels with you.

It’s All About the People

Recently, I was asked to speak at Van Wilgen’s Garden Center in the small town of North Branford, CT. The Van Wilgen family has been in the area growing and selling plants since 1936. I met Bill Van Wilgen a number of years ago and was impressed with the effort and passion he put into making the garden center a success.

I had the chance to meet Bill’s son Ryan, and now I see why the garden center is so successful. Ryan understands that a good staff means a good business, and what a staff they are. I tried to quiz them about plants and customers, and they knew more than me. I was there for Customer Appreciation Day, and let me tell you, those customers came out in droves. They loved the garden center. They loved the staff. They loved the energy, and they took away a ton of plants.

But while plants are everywhere, there is only one Van Wilgen’s, and the trust these people put in them was palpable.

It’s Also About Making Customers Feel Welcome

Years of experience were not the trademark of the next place I wish to share. I attended an event at Heritage Garden Center on Long Island. Heritage recently purchased Martin Viette’s, and this was its first season. The owners made extensive renovations and had opened their doors wide in the spring. They were quite pleased with the results — late frosts, weekend rains, and delayed shipping not withstanding. They decided to have an Open House, and in truth, had no idea what to expect. Long-time customers at Viette’s had loved that staff and were used to excellent service and excellent plants.

And boy did the customers show up. Perhaps they came out of curiosity, but I have no doubt they will be back again and again because of what they saw and experienced. Bill Pandolfo and his amazing staff made people feel good, and displayed high-quality plants in a comfortable and convenient setting. The competition at retail on the island is fierce, but they showed that they “get it.”

Recently, I also attended the Darwin Perennials Day in West Chicago, IL. The meteoric rise in popularity of perennials is no longer obvious. However, as I looked at the plants displayed and the people excitingly talking and taking photos, it was a Woodstock love-in all over again. More than 500 people made the trek, and yes, we are still believers.

I share these travels with you not because of such exotic locations, but because every now and then, we need to be energized. Energy comes from people, and I feel like the Energizer bunny every time I make a visit.

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