Your more experienced gardeners can be an unofficial marketing department or helpful advisors.
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If you work in an IGC you’re well aware that many of our customers are inexperienced with plants or new to gardening. You’ve helped people like this woman, who said to me, “If I buy this shrub, do I have to take the pot and the dirt too?”

We’ve all assisted those who don’t know that plants require water or haven’t been told that a perennial should come out of the pot before it goes into the ground. We’re used to the naïve and the newbies, and most IGCs go out of their way to speak to these folks in blogs, newsletters and educational programs. But are we giving the same attentiveness to those on the other end of the spectrum? Are we paying proper attention to the garden geeks who come to our stores?

Many times, we take experienced gardeners and plant fanatics for granted. Of course they’ll come in! We sell what they’re crazy about, right? It behooves us, however, to put at least part of our focus on these passionate plant people. Not only could they be our best customers, but this group can also be our informal marketers and advisors.

Since the majority of people share their enthusiasms on social media networks, garden geeks can help us market our businesses and products. After finding an exciting plant, they’ll post about it, which frequently leads to their friends and followers asking, “Where did you find that?” So, making sure that we’re stocked with the unusual and new, as well as the tried and true, will keep the plant nerd excited about our IGCs, and that excitement is contagious.

Experienced gardeners are often the earliest to spot potential problems and difficult situations. They might be the first into the store for Spinosad, for example, to treat the newly hatched hibiscus sawfly larvae. The rest of the population often doesn’t notice early insect damage, but those who are well attuned to their plants frequently have a better awareness of such issues.

Plant enthusiasts also have their eyes open for new products and plant varieties, so when a known garden geek asks if you have the newest organic fungicide, shrub rose or houseplant, you’d be wise to pay attention. Instead of saying no and returning to the stock at hand, it might be smart to write down what that experienced gardener was looking for. The perennial or garden hose that they were asking about might just become a best seller that other customers will soon be requesting.

Beyond paying attention to when an avid gardener comments on what’s happening in the landscape, or asks for an innovative product or new-to-the-market plant, how can a garden center keep the plant geek’s loyalty? Here are just a few suggestions.

Ask your top customers to send photos of their favorite plant, then share them. They’ll love showing off their garden for their peers.
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Garden geek night

Once we’re able to gather safely again, have an invitation-only event just for passionate plant people. Invite those you’re aware of, local master gardeners and garden club members. In the meantime, schedule a virtual event for this group of people. Give them some insider information about what’s just arrived, play a “name this plant” game or ask them to send in photos of their favorite plant or section of the garden to share with the group. Ask your vendors for information about plants or products that will hit the shelves in the coming season and give those who attend a “you heard it first” update. At the end, reward them for attending by handing out or emailing a special discount coupon.

If you tag your known social media-savvy plant-lovers in your posts when a new shipment comes in, it may provide inspiration for them to do some shopping of their own.
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Quote them

Gather this group’s emails and ask if you might tap them for a quote on a plant or product in the future. They’ll be flattered, and personal statements from such garden geeks will make your newsletter, blog or social media posts livelier.

Show that you know them

Keep a list of plant enthusiasts in the office where your employees can access it. Such a list should show the gardener’s name, email, phone number and the plants they are known to admire. Given such a database, the greenhouse manager can contact those who love succulents, for example, when a new shipment comes in. Likewise, a gardener who collects dwarf conifers, loves orchids or maintains large perennial gardens can be sent an email or given a call when fresh stock arrives in those departments. Another way to connect with plant lovers is to tag them on social media when you post a photo of new plants they will be interested in.

In the age when most plants and products can be ordered online, make sure the local plant lovers know that you value their business supporting their passion.

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 www.GardenLady.com