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Thursday, August 17, 2017 Vol. 81 No. 4

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Cover Story
Inspiring Customer Confidence
| Pam Buddy-D’Ambrosio
>> Published Date: 1/15/2009
In the world’s economic state, disposable income has been disposed of. As a result, garden center customers are taking on their own projects. The eschewal of experts is not always wise, but if given the proper tools and education, your customers can become DIY landscapers extraordinaire.

It’s best that customers do their homework before coming to the garden center with their landscaping plans. Trish Gannon and co-workers at Wayside Garden Center in Macedon, New York, designed a DIY Landscape Worksheet that is accessible in the garden center and on the store’s website. It’s a comprehensive guide with graph paper that covers house dimensions, paving materials, soil characteristics, favorite and least favorite plants, budget and more. After the homeowners make decisions regarding project scope and plant heights, some may feel overwhelmed.

Wayside Garden Center has inserted a DIY “escape clause” at the bottom of the worksheet: “If you have now decided you need further assistance with on-site consultation or professional landscape design, please provide the following information…”

“If people really don’t have the time or the inclination to become gardeners … I think it’s better to help them get realistic about paying for what they want … ,” says Trish. “I try to help them not get in over their heads by completing a cost estimate worksheet that compares their established budget to actual costs, e.g., paying for planting labor versus doing it themselves.”

Trish advises, “For DIYers, books, magazines, slideshow presentations and their own photos are most important to connect with what they want in a space they are designing. Include comfort and memories … or favorite travels, fragrances, paths, hardscaping elements, colors, statuary and hedges. Rather than fill a space out of peer pressure or utility, they can personalize and really invest themselves in an extended area of their homes that they will want to maintain, utilize and improve each year.”

Keep ’em Encouraged
Chris Campbell is the garden center manager (and 2008 Green Profit Young Retailer winner) at Campbell’s Nurseries and Garden Centers, with two locations in Lincoln, Nebraska. Chris stresses that the sales team must encourage customers who want to do their own landscaping work. After all, they want their customers to succeed.

“Encouraging someone to do a larger project in phases or spreading out a smaller project over the weekend can make the results more enjoyable and very rewarding,” Chris says, adding, “The wonderful thing about our current staff is … they not only work in a garden center each day, but go home and tend to their own lawns and gardens. Many times it’s one of our sales team that alerts us to a seasonal insect or weed problem. I personally have learned more by creating and maintaining landscape projects in my own yard than I could by reading a book.”

Chris says two of their landscaping options include a formal blue-line drawing and a plan for a fee, and a free landscaping packet that customers can work on at home. The packet includes graph paper and a short questionnaire about the area to landscape. After completion of the information and a drawing, and consultation with a Campbell’s sales representative, the customer can walk around the garden center to choose the suggested plants. “We make sure they know that we have landscape/maintenance crews that can finish any project with them,” Chris says.

To ensure customers are at ease when shopping, Campbell’s displays their shrubs, trees and perennials in alphabetical order according to common name. Landscaping tools hang on moveable metal racks that people can walk around. Pavers, stones and edgers are on pallets; rock, mulch, compost and sand are in labeled sample bins in the garden center.

New York’s Wayside Garden Center has nearly two acres of perennials. Their Hydrangea Hill has a stream and 50-foot waterfall surrounded by more than 100 varieties of planted hydrangeas. Trish Gannon says they are moving toward more garden rooms and mixed containers along with larger groups of the same varieties. For example, all their viburnums are displayed in one area and are separated by short rows of compatible trees or shrubs that will look great in spring and fall. The garden center has a resource room filled with gardening books on various topics such as organic lawn care, orchids, roses and color in the garden.

Red’s Garden Center in Northbrook, Illinois, features their trees and shrubs near the building in practical displays, says Jeff Sibley, nursery manager. “We carry only a small line of shovels… we tend to focus on the plants.” Various walkways and walls throughout the garden center utilize the pavers and rocks that they sell. An outdoor stone display allows customers to see the sizes of the bags of stone available for sale.

Jeff says Red’s is eager to help in any stage of the landscaping process. They guide the customers from design to installation, delivery and care. He adds that if customers purchase plants that are too large to handle, the delivery team will set the plants in the hole for them or assist with placement ideas at no additional charge. The employees at Red’s are hired based on their passion for plants and their desire to help people. Jeff is proud of the staying power of the staff, which has an average length of employment of 14 to 15 years for full-time employees.

Getting Dirty
For the fully charged, ready-to-get-dirty customers, Wayside Garden Center offers free DIY clinics on weekend mornings.

“For customers with simpler designs, this will lead to a home visit and measuring the space for planting where Wayside will do all or most of the labor,” says Trish. For the confident DIY customers, she offers an intensive three-session workshop at Wayside and at the Rochester Civic Garden Center, a non-profit horticultural education facility. The students “intend to do most or all of their own work, except maybe hardscaping … [They] are guaranteed to come out with at least one complete design,” says Trish. “If they need a more extensive or an aerial design, I refer them to Len Sorbello, Wayside’s owner, or our two residential designers, Bill Teamerson and Sue Preller.”

With the focus on stretching dollars and taking care of the family and home, wary wannabe landscapers will come to garden centers for assistance. Sell your products and services, but offer confidence for free.

Pam Buddy-D’Ambrosio is a freelance writer in New Rochelle, New York.

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