20th century advice for the 21’st century.

I thought we had made headway when I was interviewed by a trade magazine about blogs and their importance, or lack of, with garden centers.

Looking at an internet site put on by the same people who publish the magazine, I was excited to see an article with this teaser, "Consider this: You now have ways to communicate with your customers that will boggle the mind ... at least until next year, when the new ways will render the current mind-boggling ways obsolete. That's how it is with technology, and, as we noted last month, it's a challenge you must address to stay competitive". I could'nt wait to see the article, since I thought that maybe some up to date advice for small and medium sized garden centers was forthcoming.

Do you know what the cutting edge is according to the magazine? Watch more television! Yes, the answer for garden center owners is to watch the Saturday morning garden shows and be ready when the customer comes in filled with ideas. This way I can respond knowledgeably about what "so and so" said, and offer products that tie into that shows ideas. We are supposed to be able to speak to customers, as the article continues in their "native tongue that being the dialect of the six or seven garden shows that she watches. This way I will be able to respond when "your customer will be coming in talking about 'this great idea I just saw on television', you will have a jump on the competition when you can say, 'yeah, and we have (fill in the blank) that will make it work for you.'"

This is well meaning advice, if just a little dated. I don't know about other garden center owners, but I do not have customers coming in talking about these shows. If they are watching them, they are not saying anything. I have a feeling that the local Home Depot probably gets the majority of these kinds of customers, since they sponsor, along with the other mass merchants, most of these shows.

My impression with this advice is, while it's not unwise to keep an eye on the garden shows, it's foolish to watch them all. Some are boring, others are marketing tools for the sponsors, and others are not about our unique region. These shows are aimed at a mass audience in the middle, the middle the mass merchants own. I believe as an independent garden center you need to reach the edges. People who might watch one or two of these shows, but are looking for something other than the mass appeal these shows have. The only hope for the independents is to be aware of mass media, and then figure out how to circumvent it with your own targeted media, to get you message out. Why would I want to emulate the mass media/merchants when they already own that turf, and I couldn't possibly compete. I need to get my unique message out to the customers who will respond, and watching television is not going to do it.

Finally this gem from the magazine. "Even if you have a regular e-mail system in the works or a state-of-the-art Web site that shouts, 'my garden center is on top of it, technologically 'there's still no substitute for knowing your customer. She'll let you know what she' s thinking every time she sets foot in the store" (or on her blog!)

Small and medium size garden centers are fighting for a small piece of the gardening pie, and the advice we get is watch Saturday morning television to get to know our customers better. Yikes!