Kate Spirgen

Getting customers in the door is hard enough for any retail outlet, and once they have a bad experience, they’re likely to be gone forever. And what’s worse, they’ll tell their friends. You can have the most amazing products, but if the service doesn’t match, you’re going to be in trouble.

During the Garden Centers of America Summer Tour, I had the opportunity to visit quite a few garden centers in the Nashville area and I’ve got to say, I’ve never met so many happy employees. These businesses really knew how to make visitors feel welcome.

Almost every single garden center we visited had an amazing, friendly and knowledgeable staff. You couldn’t pass by anyone without a “Hello” or a “How are you?” And I suspect that wasn’t just southern hospitality.

However, there were a couple of stores where the employees didn’t seem thrilled about being at work. And I get it — the heat and humidity weren’t ideal for hanging around outdoors. But regardless of the weather, that’s not what you’d want a potential customer to see when they walk into your garden center, especially if they’ve never been there before.

It reminds of this little Mexican restaurant people in my town raved about. “You have to go! The margaritas are amazing! The tacos are to die for!” So I stopped by one day to check it out. The tacos were amazing and so were the drinks, but the owner was incredibly rude and the staff was nowhere to be found.

So, while the quality of their product was absolutely amazing, I never went back since that first visit. And when the topic came up, I always told people that the food lives up to the hype, but I’d never recommend it. That restaurant went out of business a few years ago when it stopped turning a profit. The owner blamed dwindling sales and I can’t help but wonder if poor service had something to do with that drop in patronage.

Having a helpful staff around when someone has questions is a great way to make a recurring customer, whether they’re just starting out in the garden, trying something new or need some help with a pest or disease. Even just a friendly greeting when customers walk in the door can help.

This month’s issue is chock-full of ways garden centers can educate, reach out and problem-solve with their customers to become a one-stop plant shop, no matter what they might need. If you can help them succeed, you just might be able to turn them into life-long patron.

Kate Spirgen