When you’re in the growing business, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of your greenhouse or nursery operation and forget that plants aren’t the only things you need to grow. A loyal customer base is one of your greatest assets, but growing your business also means bringing new customers on board. These tips can help you cultivate new customers while nurturing current one
1. Get involved and promote your expertise. The depth of knowledge you and your staff provide is one reason old and new customers will seek you out. But unless they discover who you are and where your expertise lies, it never gets that far. By getting involved in the industry and in your community, you can increase your visibility and extend your reach.
Consider greater involvement—for you and your staff—in local, regional, and national nursery and horticulture associations. Volunteer for industry panel discussions and serve on committees. Reach out to community organizations as well. Offer to share your business or plant expertise at upcoming meetings or host a tour at your nursery or greenhouse. You’ll expand your sphere of influence and enjoy word-of-mouth that your advertising budget can’t buy.
2. Leverage connections inside and outside the industry. Chances are you and everyone on your staff could make a quick list of business connections, from vendors and customers to friendly competitors, who know someone that would benefit from doing business with you. The same goes for connections from neighbors, family, and friends. Put everyone on alert to let their contacts know you’d welcome the chance to connect.
If the thought of asking for referrals or recommendations sounds too direct, clear that stumbling block once and for all. You’ll find that the people who appreciate you also appreciate the opportunity to tell others about you—all you need to do is ask. Helping good people connect with other good people and grow their businesses makes everybody happy, all the way around.
3. Be easy to find—in person and online. Once potential customers see your business represented at an event or get an impressive recommendation from a trusted colleague, they still need to connect. Make it easy for them. Be available at industry events. Stroll the floor and stop to visit. Listen to the challenges facing those you meet and learn how your operation might help.
Establish an internet presence through a website and social media, including professional networks such as LinkedIn. Encourage your staff to do the same. Setting up a LinkedIn profile is simple, and you’d be surprised how many businesspeople and industry writers look for you there first. If you don’t have a website, invest in one. They’re much easier (and less expensive) than you may think. Display your address, phone number, and email prominently. Don’t make it complicated to connect.
4. Review, revive and reinvest in staff. Any plan for expanding your customer base should include a long, hard look at your staff—from executives and salespeople all the way through customer service and support. Be realistic about what kind of workload your staff can handle and still provide excellent service to customers and coworkers. Get feedback from your people and your customers; hear the story their insights tell.
While it’s not always easy, take an honest look at every link in the chain and see who’s pulling their weight and who’s not. If you find a weak link, know that new and old customers will find it, too. Do what it takes to staff all positions properly, revive your team, and get them back on top—whether that’s training and teambuilding, adding new positions, or adding motivated new faces instead.
5. Stay relevant and engaged. It used to be that plant retailers handled consumer marketing, but recent years have seen growers take that role for their own. It’s a whole new world out there, and the attention has shifted to you. End consumers want to know who grew the plants they buy—and your stance on everything from sustainability to growing media and pesticide use. Don’t shy away from the spotlight.
Stay abreast of industry advances and general lifestyle and gardening trends. Give the retailers who buy from you a reason to promote your name. When you take a stand, let people know. Position yourself to be a sought-after vendor that end consumers connect with ethics and integrity. Business-as-usual thinking won’t draw new customers in—outside-the-box is the new norm.
6. Reach out to customers who slipped away. When you analyze seasonal sales, don’t neglect to compare your accounts and account activity to last year. Then look back a bit further and compare again. As the names of former customers pop up, stop and remember why they took their business elsewhere. Do you know? Did you try to keep their business at the time? Regardless of your answers, now’s the time to re-engage.
Don’t leave the task to an email greeting or the newest hire in sales. Pick up the phone yourself. Forget about special offers or discounts for a moment and focus on reaching out. Listen to why that customer’s buying less or not buying from you at all. Uncover where you, your staff, or your products may have gone wrong. There’s probably more involved than price point—and they’ll be glad to know you noticed they’re gone. Hear what they say and learn how to earn their business back.
7. Show your appreciation for new business and old. Special incentives are a time-proven way to convince potential customers to give your growing operation a try. But those “new customer only” discounts can have another effect—when existing customers wonder where their loyalty discount is. Give new customers a reason to make the change but show your current customers some love as well.
Remember, the real bottom line is building relationships that last longer than a percentage off for a limited time. Go ahead and give a discount but think of fresh ways to show your customers that you care. Tickets to industry events, invitations to customer appreciation days, “VIP” tours of your operation, or just a relaxed one-on-one lunch can prove the priority you place on customer relationships is more than just talk.
By investing some time and heart into cultivating long-lasting relationships, you can retain your current customers and recruit new ones, too. At ICL, we understand the challenges and the rewards this industry holds. We want to see your business thrive, from your customer base to the crops you grow.