Trying to attract new customers with low prices alone can lock you into a “race to the bottom” with box stores.
TRACY WALSH

No one company can serve all the customers, all the time. Nor, can I imagine, would you want to. Charging prices you feel your products are worth and netting healthy margins comes down to finding the right customer. The last thing you want to do is waste efforts on the wrong customer; they eat up valuable time and resources that you should be spending on your ideal customer.

Do you know which customers are your best and most profitable fit?

It might be easy to assume that, as a garden center, you should be targeting anyone and everyone who gardens, or wants to garden. But that simplistic approach to marketing could end up earning you customers you don’t enjoy dealing with, who don’t spend enough, or who constantly argue about your prices and services.

In many ways, the green industry has trained consumers to perceive that most garden centers, landscapers, and lawn services all pretty much do the same thing. Many businesses haven’t marketed wisely enough to help consumers differentiate between them and mass merchants. We’ve evolved from holding down a proprietary niche in the marketplace to becoming commodity dealers … at least in the eyes of many consumers. In a marketplace where products, experiences and services don’t stand out from one another, why wouldn’t customers seek out the cheapest price?

There are low-price customers because there are low-price providers. If a low-price provider has worked out a functional business plan that enables them to be profitable by targeting low-price customers, well then so be it. But I doubt most of you as garden center owners or managers have a primary goal of beating your competitors’ prices as a path to growth and profit. Unless you differentiate through targeted marketing, you’ll be in a race to the bottom with low-price providers for low-price-customers.

Before we can determine your best customer fit, we need to take a step back and look at how you’re currently marketing your business. Do you define and differentiate your brand, and do you know who you are to your customers? Your customers’ perceptions of your brand and value may be different from your perception.

While data collected from surveying your existing customers should not determine your ideal customer profile, it can help you better understand your current standing in the marketplace. Do you know what your current customers value? Can you clearly state what you want your ideal customer to value? Answering these questions is how we work toward identifying your most profitable product, service and customer match. If you don’t know who your customers really are now and want them to be in the future, you may be leaving a lot of profit margin on the table.

According to Jennifer Brennen, manager of education at Chalet Landscape, Nursery & Garden Center, the company featured on the cover of the June issue of Garden Center magazine, her company conducted a targeted focus group geared to their ideal customer to find answers to such questions. “We essentially gathered a group of our customers and asked, “What do we do right? What do you like about our retail operation and what can we do better?” Brennen says. Chalet then adjusted products and services to address what customers didn’t like, and created several new initiatives to boost what they did like.

However, relying only on direct feedback you might get from a few people willing to take a survey or focus group participants shouldn’t lull you into a sense of brand security; it’s what people say about you and your business behind your back that can really help or hurt you. These days, you can find out a lot about your brand by reading online reviews and social media posts about your company, as well as paying attention to what types of customers are being referred by existing customers and why.

To continue their progress at Chalet, Brennen says they put together a “trends” committee that meets regularly to keep track of the latest interests in products, design styles, and services that are desired by their ideal customers.

To pre-qualify and market to the best customers, you first need to profile them. This practice allows you to engage in empathy marketing:

  • Understand how your ideal customers define themselves
  • Understand your ideal customer’s pain points
  • Understand how your product or service can solve pain points
  • Go the extra mile to create exceptional experiences
  • Forecast ideal customer trends based on answers to 1-4

Give your ideal customer profiles a name and make sure to flesh out information on how they spend their money, where they live, what standard and luxury items they tend to buy, how they spend their free time, where else they like to shop … you name it. When you’re profiling your ideal customer, you’re probably going to end up with a few distinct profiles for who makes an ideal customer. That’s because you sell many categories of goods and services that will appeal to somewhat different audiences.

By profiling your ideal customers and what they need and want from you, you’ll make better buying, marketing and paid advertising decisions. Even better, you’ll spend less time and money haggling with bad customers. Ultimately, customers choose to buy from you because they’ve made a connection to the value you can offer them.

Perceived value comes from your special products, services, price, overall optics and experience. What can or will you do for your customers that competitors can’t, aren’t, or won’t — and what you do better. Making sure you’ve identified and amplified your top strengths and skills will help you target and make a match with the right customer.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com