Workshops, talks and events have long been a key way that garden centers have attracted new customers and driven sales. But the ongoing pandemic has brought many of these programs to an abrupt halt and sent us scrambling for alternatives. Fortunately, other options for education, celebration and customer experiences exist, and these just might prove to be valuable once we get back to gathering in groups once again.

“Grab and go” projects

Although it might not be possible to have people group around tables to plant containers or make garden crafts, there are ways to keep creativity alive. Materials for a project can be assembled into kits that can be picked up at the garden center and put together at home.

This might require writing out instructions in advance and tucking those in with the supplies. But as an alternative to printed directions, you could film a short video about how to assemble the project and post it on YouTube. A link to the instructions would be included in with the supply kit, and/or emailed to your customer list. In fact, seeing the video might convince many to call and reserve the supplies that are conveniently gathered for their use.

Grab and go projects that parents can do with their children also offer opportunities for sales and for introducing young people to horticulture. Fairy gardens, seed starting, spring color bowls of annuals or a living Easter basket planted with grass seed are just a few projects that can be assembled into kit form.


Virtual presentations

Whether you want to educate your customers about how to prune their shrubs or plant a tree, Zoom or other virtual platforms might be your new venue of choice. Through the screen sharing feature you can either show a PowerPoint presentation or a video on the topic, and take customers’ questions in the chat window afterwards.

You’ll need a staff member who can provide the necessary photography, create the PowerPoint and speak about the subject. Secondly, you’ll need to sign up for a virtual presentation program such as Zoom. Initially a mid-level Zoom Meeting plan can meet most garden centers’ needs, but should your business decide to schedule many virtual events, a webinar plan will offer you additional advantages such as live streaming to social networks and PayPal integration.

Although some IGCs will need to invest time in becoming proficient with the creation of visuals and the mechanics of Zoom, these are skills that will pay off into the future. Virtual presentations often reach larger audiences because they can be presented after normal work hours. Parents, or those who would never dream of going back out once they’re home for the evening, can participate from their homes. Further advantages include no limitations on space, no need for staff to clear an area and set up chairs and no reason to keep employees in the store after normal business hours. Additionally, virtual presentations can be recorded and offered through your website or used for future marketing.


Virtual social connections

Human beings want to connect and a Zoom meeting is better than no face-to-face contact at all. Consider organizing special interest groups around topics your customers are interested in. Houseplant, vegetable gardening or flower garden clubs can meet occasionally or regularly online, with your staff expert leading the group. Members can share photos, ask questions and seek advice, and you have the opportunity to put your plants and products front and center during each gathering.


Outdoor events

Even as we need to continue to distance and wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, outdoor events are still possible. These also come with challenges, such as finding places where people can be spaced at least 6 feet apart and being understood when speaking to a group through a mask.

For these reasons, smaller groups might work better even for classes that are held outside. Consider scheduling walk-and-talk sessions where a set number of customers can be led through the nursery to learn about specific plants and garden practices. Advance sign-ups allow you to control the size of the crowd. Some may even want to charge for a walk-and-talk event, structuring the fee to accommodate each attendee receiving a plant or product at the end of the class.

At this point in the pandemic, we’re all getting tired of hearing the word “pivot.” Yet the reality is, we’re not just called to turn in different directions, we’re also seeing that in doing so we’re presented with new perspectives and valuable opportunities.

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