Friday, 29 August 2014

Hort. Retail: Deliberately losing a customer

The recession has made life very difficult for businesses. As people draw in their spending they have created a climate where companies have to be incredibly sharp and competitive to earn their money, with incentives such as attractive payment options (as seen in car sales), free fitting/assembly (as offered by a garden centre near me on garden furniture), and even the offer of a cuddly toy from a broker's website for buying something from another company (as seen on a certain Meerkat-centric insurance broker's website)!

Businesses are going all out to attract their customers, and each sale is vital... but is it OK to actually deliberately lose a sale? In horticultural retail the answer maybe yes. There's no doubt that horticultural businesses are feeling the squeeze just the same as every other industry, but we are a bit different. Horticultural retail is a combination of product and advice, whether advice on the label or advice delivered face to face, and the customer is buying both. Customers value good honest advice from people who know a lot about horticulture in general as well as about their products. Sometimes customers enter into lengthy conversations with staff, wanting to know everything there is to know about a plant or a gardening issue important to them, while others just want a brief synoptic answer. But is it appropriate for an employee to actually deliberately lose a sale?

The quality of any horticultural advice is matching the knowledge of the advisor with the needs or problem of the customer. If a customer has heavy soil the advisor will have to be knowledgeable about plants for heavy soils, and if a gardener is trying to grow plants in an exposed coastal garden the advisor will have to understand the problems they face and the plants that will meet their requirements. Giving bad advice is not good.

Let's take a scenario- a customer wants a tree for a specific place. The staff member has a choice of just four trees; one will grow too big, one will grow too small, one won't tolerate the soil conditions and the other won't take the wind. Here the staff member has to make a decision; find the best matching tree to suit the customer's requirements or tell the customer that there are no suitable trees in stock, maybe asking them to come back another time. If the customer is told that the four trees are unsuitable then the staff member has lost the sale and the customer will leave without buying a tree, but what happens with the 'best fit' tree?
'Crab Apples' are great for many gardens, but not all

The first thing a lot of customers do when they get home is to look up their new plants in their books or online. This process allows them to find more information, and possibly reassure themselves that they've bought the right thing. If a customer's source of information tells them that their new plant will grow too big or will be wrong in another way then they won't be happy! Similarly if the customer just plants their plant and then it gets damaged or doesn't grow how they wanted it to then they will be disappointed or even angry.

Let's take the other side of the coin. The customer who has left without a tree may be frustrated that they can't get planting right away, but at least they haven't been coaxed into buying the wrong thing. When buying a plant a customer makes a connection with the business they are dealing with; they are relying on that business' integrity and the quality of the advice given, and if they are happy that the advice they are given has been sound then they will think positively about the business in the future.

The customer who has bought their tree but been given bad advice will have a bad impression of the business they bought it from, whereas the customer given good and honest advice without being forced into buying the wrong thing will feel positive about the retailer and is more likely to make another visit. Subsequent visits with good advice and a high quality of care will cement that customer's impression of the business and its employees, making them much more likely to become ambassadors for the business in the future.

Yes, there is a risk that the customer who has left without their tree will buy elsewhere and won't come back again, but the risks of losing a customer through good customer service are much lower than losing a customer through bad service.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

How To Grow A Gardener

So after months of preparation and waiting the new book from the Old Horts, 'How To Grow A Gardener', is out! It's hoped that the experiences of the 25 contributors, each passionate about horticulture, will inspire others to join take up this exciting career.
The contributors are a diverse bunch, working in all sorts of businesses from a nursery to a public garden, from domestic horticulture to social horticulture, and some are self employed. The diversity of the accounts in this book give it the edge on other books about horticulture, which tend to concentrate on one particular theme, because this is a book compiled from the personal experiences of many different people rather than being focussed on one person (as you see in celebrity written gardening books), and also this book embraces the diversity of practical horticulture. It is a shame that nobody working in horticultural science wrote a piece, and neither did anyone from the horticultural media, but maybe this just reflects how diverse horticulture actually is; 25 different people have told their stories and yet there is no repetition.

There are however certain themes the recur in the writing; every writer is enthusiastic and loves what they do, and many regret not coming to horticulture earlier in their lives. With horticulture still sadly seen as being a lower end career path the latter theme will continue to blight the industry, simply too few young people are seeing the appeal of working with gardens and plants.

Great thanks must go to the editors/collators of this book, Andrew and Debbi Bentley, who have worked hard behind the scenes to generate interest in this project, to edit the book and, presumably, who have had to pay the printers before the book has even been released! Also thanks is due to those who contributed and told their stories. Personally I found writing my piece to be a fun process, and I hope to contribute to any future publications.

'How To Grow A Gardener' is currently only available from the Old Horts network, and is priced at £8 plus £3 P&P (please remember to add the P&P at the checkout).