Sharing information

To follow up on an earlier post, I thought I’d go into a little more detail about sharing information. This will probably be my last post on the subject for a while as I would rather get back to topics like plants, gardening, and nursery news; which may be more along the lines of what most of you expect to read here. Besides, I don’t want to sound like some kind of incurably snotty, cantankerous person who thinks everyone else ought to do things my way just because. I’m discussing this subject in the hope that some of these ideas will strike a chord with other nursery owners, and also to give gardeners/nursery shoppers an inside glimpse at the industry.

The nursery industry faces many challenges to which it must adapt. And while other uncompetitive businesses get subsidized and bailed out with our tax money, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon for nurseries. We are on our own. What challenges am I talking about? Well, to name a few: the sudden rise of box stores. The lack of interest of gardening among the younger generation. The increasing tendency for landscape plants to be installed by outside firms, reflecting the lack of interest from the homeowner. The shrinking sizes of lots and increasing popularity of condominiums. The greater need (whether actual or perceived) our clientele feels to allocate funds to gas and food leaving less for “optional” expenditures such as gardening. And much more!

This is scary stuff folks. There are a number of things we must do to survive, and perhaps I should start a series on this topic. (One thing I might discuss later is the unhelpful tendency of different kinds of independent nurseries to bicker against each other, each thinking their kind is superior. I’ve about had it with conventional nurseries looking down on specialty nurseries, and [to a lesser degree] vice versa. Each fills its own niche and we have to unite to survive.) But I think something else needs to be discussed first, which is, the enormous potential that exists for nurseries to be empowered by sharing information. This includes both sharing with each other, and sharing with the public.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. At a premier retail nursery where I once worked long ago, near the registers, is a rotating “tower” full of splendid informational handouts. I had always thought this information – and a wealth of information it was – should be added to the nursery web page, since it is the sort of valuable content that has the potential to generate more interest in the nursery for anyone who visits the web site. But the answer was always no, if people want to get that sort of information they have to get their wee buttses down to the store and shop.

Then a couple months ago I was back just to pay a friendly visit (well and to have them sign a paper I needed, but it was still a nice visit), and I mentioned it again just to see what the response would be. Old-schoolery prevails, and nothing has changed. If people want the information on these handouts, they have to come to the store and get it. To that was added, if we put this on the web site, then people will read it and go shop somewhere else.

Folks, that’s not how it works anymore (if it ever was?). True, some people will read the information and go shop somewhere else. But as those are mostly the rude or lazy people, probably representing a small minority of readers, you don’t need to rely on their business anyways. More importantly, I bet that nearly all such people were never potential customers to begin with.

I think most people who are interested enough to look at your web site in the first place will be excited and grateful to receive all this information. They will appreciate that the nursery cares about their website, and become excited to visit. Adding a lot of content to a web site usually generates much more interest in the business – people are like, “Hey, we like this business and what it is about, perhaps we had better go check it out!” And I really think most customers – most valuable customers, at least – think more along those lines in this day and age. The bottom line is, the more you can generate interest in your business online, the more people will come, and the farther they will come, to shop.

As for nurseries sharing information with each other, this has always occurred in a limited way among individuals who happen to be friends, but outside of that context I believe there is generally much resistance. Among nursery owners I’ve met, some are generous, some are conceited, and others—perhaps the majority—just plain don’t want to think about it and/or fail to recognize its importance. (Of course now that I know what warning signs to look for I would not want to work for either of the latter varieties.) I have so far only made it to a few WSNLA meetings, but I am aware that sharing is quite generous with them at certain times. However, many nurseries don’t wish to join the WNSLA because they aren’t interested in being connected (which I am—my skepticism about the WNSLA has more to do with the relevance in today’s economy of trade organizations in general). And the WNSLA is only a regional organization, which is limiting. What about all that can be learned from other nurseries across the country or even on the other side of the world? It’s the digital age folks, and this stuff isn’t out of reach. All we have to do is embrace it. If you’re interested, I have already plugged the Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries group as an excellent place to start.

So, nursery owners and employees, here are a few questions to ask yourself. Are you sharing information as freely and generously as possible? If not, what would happen if you did? Is it possible that you’re thinking backwards about your marketing practices? Are your secrets really so worth protecting that it won’t do to share them with other nurseries or gardeners? If you were to suddenly generate a lot more interest in your business would you really have that much to fear from your competition?

Since I wrote, and still have, five or six of the handouts which are still available for customer perusal on the rotating tower at the aforementioned nursery, perhaps I ought to put these on my website with a link to the nursery for whom I wrote them. Now there’s a funny idea. No, wait, I can’t put them on my web site. If you want them, you have to come over here and get them. And don’t leave until you buy something. Preferably a lot.

Social Media Shenanigans

Twice now I’ve joined a local nursery’s facebook page, posted something perfectly on-topic and reasonable, only to have my contribution deleted without a word. I thought I’d provide an update on the first incident, and describe the latest one with some additional thoughts. As usual I’ll keep these folks anonymous as I wish them no ill will. As I have said in the past I want success for all small businesses who are doing something special and worthwhile, particularly in the field of horticulture.

So to follow up on the nursery that was the subject of this post. The owner posted on another facebook forum about a certain rare plant she was just dying to get hold of, and I was able to provide it for her. I delivered it to her (as I was passing by anyways) and she appeared quite happy to get it: she traded me for something else not quite as rare but still useful to me. Hopefully this means a positive business relationship has begun and will continue into the future. So that is nice. (Here’s a possibly funny side note: she assured me this plant is hardy for us, citing a single, well-established specimen in Port Angeles; but, sadly, this plant now appears to be dead: it took all winter and part of spring for the damage to show. That’s too bad. But wasn’t my post that she deleted about the very same subject—delayed freeze damage? Talk about irony!)

Then just a few days ago I went to another local nursery’s facebook site, which I had been following for a while, and posted to their wall an invitation to join the Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries facebook group and affiliated LOGON public portal, with a link to The Blogging Nurseryman’s post describing it. (No, I didn’t put all those links on their page, just the last one.) It seemed to take them a few days to figure out that I had posted something, but when they did, they simply deleted it without a word. The group has been great, so if they are not interested in it, that is really their loss. More about that in just a moment.

Folks, this is not how to use social media to your advantage. A facebook page is more than just a place to share what is going on at your business: certainly, that’s a big part of it. But just as importantly, it is a place to INTERACT with your clientele. Interact means interact, converse, and respond. I cannot emphasize this enough! It does not mean to simply delete stuff that you didn’t put on there.

It may sound like I’m personally offended by what happened, or something—that’s not the case at all (though I do wonder what goes through people’s minds when they delete posts: why would they not want to take every advantage to communicate with their clientele, and especially other industry professionals? Really—enlighten me). All I’m saying is that, generally speaking, deleting stuff other people post on your facebook page is not a good habit to get into. Occasionally undesired solicitations may be a problem, but most often I believe people do this to try to contribute something of value or initiate a conversation that is likely to lead to more business. What if a year from now this business has 500 facebook fans on their page? They’ll probably receive a couple of questions, comments, or links every week on their wall. I hope they’re not going to just delete them all with no further communication. That sounds like a great way to start losing customers. (We might also note at this point the irony that the link they deleted was entitiled “How to use facebook for your business” written by a nursery owner more than qualified to discuss the topic and relate it to horticulture.)

I’ll conclude with a brief plug for the IGC&N group. If you own or are employed at a retail nursery or garden center, this should be of great interest to you. Rather than describe it here, I’ll refer to this blog post from the Blogging Nurseryman (again, the same link I posted on that nursery’s wall) to tell you all about it and provide the appropriate links. The group is of immense value to any nursery owner or management who thinks the horticulture industry in general has potential for improvement. If you already know everything about running your business, are absolutely content with no possible room for improvement in your business, and have no interest in sharing anything you have ever learned, well I guess then this group is not for you. (That is actually a serious comment and not intended to sound snotty.) Anyway, the group is there for you, if you want it. Heck, it’s even there if you don’t!

Lastly, if you want to read something really fantastic about garden bloggers, check this out, also from the Blogging Nurseryman. Give yourself a few minutes. I’ll continue to refrain from offering my own commentary about this, since I lack much of the background information about the history of garden bloggers. Long story short: if you’re blog is any good, don’t sell out to advertisers.

By the way, in case you haven’t noticed by now, I am a nursery social media expert. So if you learned anything of value from this post, that will be $300 in consulting fees, please.