Promote the benefits of gardening to create a worthwhile shopping experience that customers won’t soon forget.

One of the things we learned during the pandemic is that in stressful times, people look toward things that make them happy. They also enjoy sharing what brought them pleasure with others. Two podcasts that I listen to, “Pop Culture Happy Hour” from NPR and “After Hours” from Harvard Business Review, include regular segments where the co-hosts report on one thing that’s making them happy or tweaking their curiosity. The excitement from the enthusiastic reporters usually prompts me to check out what they spoke about.

This resonates with what an IGC is all about: we are in the happiness business. Most of what we sell isn’t essential to our customers’ survival, yet our products are important to their emotional wellbeing. This was reflected in the sales reported by most IGCs both last spring and in 2021. As many in our industry wonder if or how those numbers can be sustained, it occurs to me that stressing simple happiness is one of our best marketing strategies.

Generate delight

Create “What’s Making Us Happy” plant lists that appeal to the five senses to engage your customers.
PHOTO © liderina | ADOBE STOCK

Yes, plants and flowers have always lifted our customers’ moods. But how often do we remind them of that? Sometimes it helps to spell things out. For example, many IGCs feature a “Plant of the Week,” but what if those same plants are recast as “What’s Making Us Happy?” Suddenly that weekly listing isn’t just a plant in the spotlight; it’s a generator of delight.

When featuring a plant that makes people feel good, emphasize the aspects that appeal to the senses. Flowers and colors for sight, fragrance for smell, great flavor for taste and even texture (lamb’s ears, anyone?) for touch. If you’re featuring a happiness plant every day on your social media, simplify things by featuring one aspect of that plant. Sure, the plant showcased might have several desirable characteristics, but distilling your post to the essential happiness quotient makes it even more attractive. “This is why this plant is making us happy. This is why it’s delightful. Yes, it also grows well and has attractive leaves, but this is why you want it.”

Save customers time

Beyond individual plant portraits, there are other ways that we’re in the happiness business, and saving time is a big one. Point out to your customers how a new pair of pruners or a sharp folding saw can save hours when they’re pruning or doing cleanup. Time-release fertilizers that are applied once fit in this category, as do weed-smothering mulches.

Share the wealth

When people create something beautiful with plants or are successful with what they grow, most enjoy sharing those triumphs. Encourage your customers to post photos of what they’ve grown on their Facebook or Instagram feeds, using your company’s hashtags.

Additionally, remind them about the pleasures of picking small bouquets, tying them with a short ribbon or string, and passing them out to strangers. By passing out small give-away bouquets, we have the power to change someone’s day for the better. Create a few sample bouquets and shoot a photo of one in the drive-up drawer at the bank, or being given to the grocery clerk or local librarian.

If your customers are vegetable gardeners, encourage them to share some of what they grow with local food banks or soup kitchens. Assemble a list of the places in your area that welcome donations of fresh, organic produce, and have that available in your store.

Handing out small, free bouquets at the register can brighten your customers’ days, and they may even share a snapshot of it on social media, which can bring new customers in the door.
PHOTO © Svetlana Kolpakova | ADOBE STOCK

Think beyond the garden center

Don’t limit your happiness highlights to the landscape and what’s happening at your garden center. Consider offering your customers a recipe that’s making you glad you prepared it. Highlight a book or movie that someone on your staff has found to be uplifting, funny or beautifully done. This can be especially effective if your newsletter, social posts or blog have become a bit too predictable. Shake things up by surprising your customers with other things they care about: tasty treats, food and drink to share with friends, or entertainment that they might have otherwise overlooked.

Here are some suggestions to get you started: The Amazon series “Clarkson’s Farm” (2021) or the documentary “The Biggest Little Farm” (2018), The quarterly 2 Million Blossoms, a full-color publication that is devoted to pollinators, or GreenPrints: The Weeders Digest, a magazine filled with stories that are about the people who love plants and gardens. And a pizza topped with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, basil, chopped chard and zucchini rounds makes mouths water and smile at the same time.

What’s making you happy? Share that with your customers.

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