Display gardens and example photos of your products in action can encourage and inspire customers to recreate the final result at home.

As local gardening experts, garden centers help customers create beautiful landscapes. We are asked for advice about everything from assembling combinations to preparing gardens. Yes, we help people through the process of planting and maintenance, but we also need to remember that people buy with their hearts, not their heads. Although some grow to love the act of gardening itself, what speaks to their souls is the vision of flowers, vegetables and trees, not the necessary digging, mulching and weeding. If we want to reach our customers’ hearts, we must find ways to go beyond the recipe and feed them the cake.

In her book, Marketing: A Love Story, Bernadette Jiwa points out that people go into an IKEA store knowing that they’ll have to assemble their purchases. Yet the desks, tables or shelf units they buy don’t have the instructions printed on the outside of the box. The carton is labeled with a photo of the finished object. IKEA knows that their customers are buying the product, not the process of assembling it.

This is applicable to our businesses as well. Yes, we need to supply our customers with the information necessary to successfully create lovely gardens and landscapes. IKEA does, after all, include the instructions inside the box. But as we give our clients guidance, instructions and the materials they need, we should also inspire them with examples of the finished product.

Businesses with the space can create demonstration gardens on-site. This is only practical for IGCs with enough space and staff to maintain such plantings, of course. The majority will need to find other ways of inspiring their customers with examples of mature plants and designs. Here are a few suggestions:

If you don’t have enough space for a demonstration garden, you can use online photos instead.

Make signs that say, “See this plant in action!” along with a shortened URL leading to the photo. Your customer can quickly reach an inspiring photo of that plant growing in a garden. Ideally, these photos would be on your company blog, but they could also be examples pictured on other websites.

Publish photos of local gardens in your newsletter or blog, along with a list of plants seen in the picture.

Take photos, with permission of course, in public gardens near you, on garden tours, or on a local garden geek’s property.

Put out a call for before and after photos from your customers. You might give everyone who supplies images a small reward and enter all names into a drawing for a bigger prize at the end of each growing season. If your garden center has a design and installation service, be sure to snap these before and after shots yourself. Hint: when photos come in, re-label them with the garden owner’s name and keep a list of names and emails from those who sent pictures. This will help you contact the owners in the future.

If you have an employee who is good with words, spin a short vision on a sign that will help customers to picture how a plant can be used. “Imagine sitting on your patio with your favorite beverage, with the scent of these lavender flowers wafting by,” or “Think about seeing this tree in full, pink bloom every spring from your kitchen window,” for example.

In speaking of stories, because communication skills, both written and photographed, are so important in our businesses, consider having an employee or two join GWA: The Association For Garden Communicators. This group’s meetings can help IGC people sharpen their writing/speaking/photography abilities. For more information, go to www.gardenwriters.org.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com