Tips to Help Your Customers Become Successful With New Plants

Planting-Instructions independent garden centers

Offering your customers detailed plant instructions helps them learn how to properly care for plants. Photo: Brian Sparks

Greenhouse Grower reached out to several independent garden centers and asked them about some of their greatest victories when it comes to helping their customers succeed in growing plants, as well as which techniques did not work out quite as well.


Sell the Plant and the Soil

“We added a new warranty program that requires the customer to purchase the correct fertilizer and soil for the plants being purchased,” says Ben Polzin of Down to Earth Garden Center in Eau Claire, WI. “This has increased plant success for them greatly and has increased hard goods sales as a side benefit. We feel the customer is more likely to do the watering necessary if they are purchasing the fertilizer needed.”

Offer Fact Sheets

“We specialize in high desert plant selection and advice,” says Bruce Gescheider at Moana Nursery, which has three stores in the Reno, NV, area. “To help our customers, we offer specialized plant fact sheets and videos online. We want our staff to serve as plant doctors at every store.”

Be a Consultant

“Our customer base is quickly becoming younger, more tech savvy, and not as interested in gardening as a hobby, so what has worked in the past is not necessarily working today and certainly is not likely to be as effective in the future,” says Jeff Griff of Lowes Greenhouse in Chagrin Falls, OH. “For us, providing one-on-one, in-home consultation and design services for customers in their yards has become not only very popular, but an income generator and loyalty builder.”

Provide Educational Seminars

“In the off season, we offer free seminars every Saturday that cover topics such as growing vegetables, new plants, container gardening, trees, shade plants, perennial problem solvers, growing fruit, etc.,” says Kate Terrell of Wallace’s Garden Center in Davenport, Iowa. “We make awesome handouts and try to teach people how to do everything the right way and [we explain] why we encourage certain practices. Many people know they need to prune, but not why, when, or how the plant will react.”

Connect and Inspire

“Our most continued success story has been working one on one with guests as much as we can,” says Tami Culver of Culver’s Garden Center and Greenhouse in Marion, IA. “Finding plants that match their sun/shade and height requirements, and tweaking the color palate every now and then makes consumers feel more successful and professional.”

Culver says her team also works hard to display plants in a design instead of just putting them out on the table.

“Mixing and matching inspires our guests to try new things,” she says.

Don’t Assume Anything

Jennifer Gibson of The Good Earth Garden Center in Little Rock, AR, says it’s important to never assume your customer knows how to care for the plants they buy.

“We focus on actively listening from the start of the conversation,” Gibson says. “The more you know about the customer’s needs, the better you can help them be successful, and that is our mission with every interaction. Our goal is to have a team that is confident, but in a casual, approachable way, not an intimidating, know-it-all way.”

Trial and Error

For every strategy that helps one grower sell more plants, there’s another that doesn’t work quite as well. Here are a few missteps that some retailers have made along the way. The following quotes are attributed anonymously.
• “Hosting seminars/classes based on providing general horticultural information is no longer attracting our clientele and is something we have pretty much abandoned as a marketing effort.”
• “A few years ago, we did a segment on a local radio show on Thursday mornings. We asked people to call in with questions. We had just a few call-ins, despite offering a $10 gift card for every caller. Radio always seems to flop for us, though I know it is quite successful for other stores.”
• “I think our biggest struggle has been balancing signage. Signs for every plant species and vegetable made the whole greenhouse look cluttered and messy. So we backed off the signage and relied more on tags in the pots and personal interaction with each guest. It seems to work a whole lot better.”
• “Self help everything. We have had posters of weeds and bugs, and interactive screens where people click on the bug or disease and are then given the treatment. None of it worked for our customers. They want to talk with someone and be heard. It doesn’t help if you are the expert, but your customers can’t connect with you in their preferred communication method.” GG