Encourage new customers to become loyal shoppers with good service and by collecting information so you can keep in touch and know how to reach them again.
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For three quarters of the year, when you have time to be on the floor and talk to customers, it’s largely the same people. Your regulars come to see what’s new and the odd new customer pokes their head in.

During the second quarter, independent garden centers are the talk of the town. New people flock to our doors, some for our store specifically, and some just to experience this thing called “gardening.”

Most of those new people will shop once, enjoy themselves, and leave. You’d love to be able to talk and engage with them, but you can’t. Because it’s May, and you’re stocking shelves, watering plants, helping customers find plants and trying to keep the long lines moving.

The challenge is turning those one-time May customers into repeat customers. You’ve cleared the biggest hurdle; you’ve got them in your store. In dating terminology, they’ve come to sit beside you. Now it’s up to you to make the move and ask for a number, or in this case, an email address.

You need “conversions.” That is, you need to convert these new customers from anonymous visitors into subscribers on your email list. Every person who leaves your store as anonymously as she arrived is an opportunity lost and out the door.

You have higher prices than your competition. Don’t fret about that as a weakness; embrace it as an opportunity.

Our higher prices mean that our customers are coming because they want to. That means they’re usually in a good mood, and are usually happy to talk to us. So, start a conversation.

Give one of your friendlier, outgoing staff members a tablet. Ask her or him to approach customers in a noninvasive way (i.e., don’t hover). Ask them politely about their experience, and if this is their first time at the store.

For the next question, you’ll need a functioning email list for a regular email newsletter. If you don’t have one, start building your list as you set it up.

I’d suggest going to Mailchimp.com and starting an account. It’s free to send up to 2,000 emails a month. It’s the most popular and user-friendly email platform in the world, and I use it for my businesses.

Gather information from customers casually by starting a friendly conversation.
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Focus on list-building, but make sure to set up an email newsletter and send within two weeks. Anyone with computer and/or design skills can help you, and that person may already be on your staff, or you can hire a freelancer.

Collect names and emails in Excel or Google Sheets. You’ll be able to import them easily later.

Let the customer know that email is the best way to keep up to date with sales, special events, and gardening tips. Ask them if they’d like to sign up for a weekly email. About half of them will probably say yes.

Engaging people who have come into your store will get a much higher conversion rate than any online sign-up tools. They already think you’re worth driving to, now it’s up to you to engage with them.

A word about email. Someone’s email inbox is their personal space. If you don’t respect that, you’ll lose them forever. Unless your brand promise is bargains, avoid coupons. As an independent garden center, the more you remind people about what your prices are, the worse it’s probably going to be for you. Every email needs solid content. “20 percent off bedding plants” is not solid content. Learn your customers’ questions and answer them in an engaging and entertaining way. That will get people opening and reading your emails. I’ll say more about email marketing in my June column. I’d love to hear your feedback or topic ideas. Email me at rob@craftmarketing.ca.

Rob is co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse, an independent garden center based in Alberta, Canada, and founder of Craft Marketing, a lean digital agency specializing in content marketing for independent businesses. rob@craftmarketing.ca