PHOTO COURTESY OF IGC SHOW

Each year, the IGC Show at Chicago’s Navy Pier features a collection of morning keynotes from experts within and outside of the independent garden center industry. In the past, show founders Jeff and Cheryl Morey have welcomed everyone from Ernest Wertheim to Martha Stewart to the stage. This past August, speakers included Dr. Charlie Hall, professor and Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, Daymond John, “Shark Tank” co-star and founder of the clothing brand FUBU, and retail expert Bob Negen.

We will share highlights from Hall’s talk, “The evolution of IGC retail,” in our upcoming State of the Industry Report issue in November. John’s keynote, which included a soundtrack of famous soul and hip-hop hits, centered on how business owners can be successful and take better care of themselves. Negen’s presentation focused on how to take care of customers so that they become loyal, long-term visitors to your store.

Daymond John Keynote: 5 S.H.A.R.K. points for success in business and in life

John discussed how his background growing up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., and his love of hip-hop inspired him to launch FUBU. He spoke about his personal life, how he almost lost everything and how he rebuilt his career by being a business mentor and co-star on “Shark Tank.” His life experiences helped him develop his 5 S.H.A.R.K. Points for Success in business and in life: Set a goal, do your Homework, Amor, Remember, you are the brand, and Keep swimming.

S.H.A.R.K. Point #1: Set a goal

Observing small business owners, hip-hop artists like LL Cool J, who lived in his neighborhood, and his mother, who raised John mostly alone and worked several jobs, inspired him to think about what he wanted out of a career. He knew he didn’t have the creative talent required to sing, rap or dance, but he wanted to be involved somehow.

“People were making money doing something they love,” John observed, and that resonated with him.

During the time, major brands were rejecting hip-hop culture, stereotyping the artists who wore their clothing. That’s when John had an idea and set his goal.

“I want to make a uniform for this community,” he said during his keynote address.

He realized that hip-hop was more than just music, it was a lifestyle, and he wanted to celebrate that.

“You can’t hit a target you can’t see,” he said. “If you’re not in charge of the goals you set, you let other people set them for you.”

Photo Courtesy of IGC Show
S.H.A.R.K. Point #2: Do your homework
John knew he needed to have a better understanding of retail and clothing brands, and knew part of doing his homework was attending apparel trade shows, researching what other brands were doing and networking with buyers. However, he still couldn’t get into expensive trade shows yet — so he set up a hotel room and created his own booth of sorts, and invited people to check out his merchandise. He wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of orders at one early show, but still didn’t have the production facilities or team established to fill those orders. Thanks to his mom, who believed in him and took out another mortgage on her home to fund FUBU, he was able to purchase machines and hire staff to craft the clothing from a workshop set up at her house.
S.H.A.R.K. Point #3: Amor, or love for what you do

All of that work took passion, belief, and especially “amor.” “I loved what I was doing,” John says. “I would dress people for free.”

S.H.A.R.K. Point #4: Remember, you are the brand

This goes beyond public image, John says. It’s about taking care of yourself and your family, too. He reevaluated what success was several times in his life, including after his divorce, after he was diagnosed with the early stages of thyroid cancer and when he spent time with his children. Success, to him, was that he was going to be around for his family, and that meant focusing on his health.

“We take care of everybody else, but we don’t take care of ourselves,” John says of business owners. “Take care of yourself.”

S.H.A.R.K. Point #5: Keep swimming

Despite all of the obstacles John experienced, he “kept swimming.” He was able to rebuild his career, reinvent himself and use his talents to help other entrepreneurs through his role on “Shark Tank.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IGC SHOW

Bob Negen Keynote: The ultimate marketing system for independent garden centers

Bob Negen, co-founder of WhizBang! Retail Training, learned a lot after founding a kite store in Mackinaw Island, and it inspired him to become a consultant and retailer to help others find success in the industry. Any successful business must have three pillars as a foundation:

1. Generosity

2. Reciprocity

3. WWMCW or considering “What would my customers want?” when determining hours, return polices and more.

“The more generous you can become, the more you can give, the more you can get back,” Negen says. “Give yourself permission to be open, loving, giving and to tell your story.”

Another key focus of any business owner is acquiring and retaining customers. He shared key points from what he calls “The Whizbang Retail Marketing System” to attract and keep shoppers.

Step 1: Get new customers

The cost to acquire a customer may seem high, but the benefits over a lifetime can be measured. For example, if a customer visits six times per year, spends an average of $50 each time and is loyal to your brand for 10 years, that can result in $3,000 for that one shopper, Negen says.

“The old model was get a customer, make a sale,” he says, but that won’t work anymore, and neither will old strategies. He encouraged attendees to throw away their coupons, and instead, give customers gift certificates.

“People treat coupons like trash,” Negen says. “Yes, some people will take advantage of you … your team will hate it for a while.” But many will spend more than the $5 or $10 on the gift card, and it gives business owners an opportunity to start a relationship.

However, the fine print is incredibly important, and IGCs should stipulate, “please, only one per customer.”

How you distribute the gift cards is also important, and there are several ways Negen suggests retailers get these to customers:

  • Keep some in your pocket or purse to share with people during personal conversations while you are out at a restaurant, church, networking events, consumer shows, etc.
  • Ask your business district neighbors to share the gift cards with their customers, either in-store or through endorsed mailings. Their customers could be yours.
  • Cause marketing: Create a special gift card that organizations can hand out to their supporters, with a portion of proceeds from those sales going to the non-profit.
Play the name game: Share out on social media and in store that if you happen to be named Bob, Alex, Michael, Theresa, etc., that those individuals can receive something free that day.

Have a great website: “You need to have a great website that makes you look like the kind of place I want to shop with. Your website represents who you are,” Negen says.

Step 2: Great first experience

Creating a great experience has many benefits, including creating loyal shoppers and having the ability to charge prices that will help you remain profitable.

“We priced based on cost back in those days. The value you provide as an independent garden center does not come solely from price. You earn the right to great margins,” Negen says.

Creating a great experience is something Garden Center magazine has covered extensively. Read the June cover story, bit.ly/ColonialGardens and the 2017 Top 100 issue, bit.ly/IGCTop1002017, for ideas.

Step 3: Get their contact info

When businesses connect with customers on Facebook or on other social media platforms, Negen says it’s akin to “renting the relationship.” Getting customers contact information gives businesses control of that information, and they own the relationship. The best way to acquire this information is through a loyalty program.

For specific ideas on how to easily acquire this information, read “How to improve your garden center’s email list” here bit.ly/GCNewsletterTips.

Steps 4 and 5: Get them back in again … and again

Once you have contact information, you can start to build a relationship with your customers. Content is king, so focus on education and special events over promotions, Negen says. For more information on creating great e-newsletters, read “Effective newsletters: Solve don’t sell,” at bit.ly/FornariEmailTips

“Be the natural first choice, but also be proactively getting [customers] into your store,” Negen says.