Independent garden centers can never have too many ways to connect to their customers. Many businesses do this through direct mail, TV, fliers and other “traditional” advertising, but there is great potential in other methods, including lifestyle blogs geared toward their market.

If your customers are already reading gardening blogs at home, one of them may as well be a blog hosted on your company’s website, where you can control the conversation, build brand loyalty and spread word of special products and promotions. In an age where search engine optimization and web marketing decide the most relevant brands, adding another dimension to a retail website can pay off.

Fairview Garden Center in Raleigh, N.C., has hosted gardening articles on its site since 2007, but it wasn’t until the business overhauled its site in 2011 and 2015 to be more blog-friendly that its blogging program took off. By working with local marketing firm Trimark Digital, Fairview Garden Center has established a system to write and post original blog entries and track which gain the most traction.

The blog posts are written by department managers and sent out to Fairview Garden Center customers through the retailer’s e-newsletters. Marketing Director Heather Rollins says the direction of the blogs are decided ahead of time and cover topics ranging from “top plant” lists to consumer interest editorials.

“Our department managers … we try to sit down and we write out a whole weekly outline of what kind of topics we want to cover,” Rollins says. “Then, depending on what our customers are most interested in at specific times of the year — in the winter, it’s more houseplants, then in the spring and summer, it’s container gardening and annuals and perennials, that type of thing. Our department managers all sit and come up with ideas and then everybody has deadlines.”

We want to educate our customers, but our end goal is to get them to come here and buy something.” — Heather Rollins, marketing director

Rollins says she has found that articles in a short, punchy format perform best among readers. This also gives her the opportunity to promote the most popular plants in the store.

“That whole theme of ‘top five favorite house plants,’ and that type of thing [works well],” Rollins says. “It’s quick, easy to read, really picture-heavy. Obviously, as a garden center, images are everything. We want to educate our customers, but ultimately our end goal is to get them to come here and buy something, too.”

With the informal, relatable nature of their retail blog, Fairview Garden Center is able to add a personal touch to the platform by involving the family behind the business. To top it off, Rollins says these articles have a noticeable impact on sales in some sectors.

“Of course, we’re a family business, and every year, we do ‘Jo Ann’s top 10 favorite annuals,’” Rollins says. “Jo Ann [Dewar] is my husband’s grandmother, the founder of our business, she’s 84 and still works here every day. That’s a big part of our story that we try to reflect. That article where we put out her top 10 plants of the year is [among the most popular], and we can literally see the sales increase from those specific plants that we feature when that article comes out.”

A successful retail blog requires a considerable shift away from the “old school” methods of marketing as well as a time investment from staff, but it can be just the thing to revitalize the web presence of a business looking to become more relevant to their shoppers.