Thanks to Amy for surveying you all about what you want from your local garden center, including: "Social Networking: IGCs should be blogging, doing Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters, YouTube
videos, etc." But let's dig deeper coz that's my particular interest. (Full disclosure: it's how I'm paying the bills these days.)
Calling all Writers and Publishers
First, I'm happy to announce the launch of the brand-new blog of the family-run Boston-area garden center company Mahoney's. To make it useful, lively and frequently updated, they've hired not just me but Layanee DeMerchant as their local blogger, and a bunch of their own in-house experts are contributing posts, too. (Sara here is the first up.)
PLUS, with dozens of awesome gardening experts there in New England, Mahoneys is inviting them to become contributors as Special Guest Bloggers. Here's what they're looking for:
- New England garden writers. And so far we've gotten commitments from Carol Stocker, the Boston Globe's top garden writer; book and mag writers Tovah Martin and Karan Davis Cutler; and Dominique Browning former editor-in-chief of House and Garden Mag. Writers will be paid for their guest posts.
- Other New England experts – like people at the U.Mass Extension Service, and at great public gardens like Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, Tower Hill, and Blithewold.
- Publishers and authors of gardening books that are relevant to New England gardeners are invited to send us excerpts of their books, or specially written guest posts promoting their book. And how about a copy to give away to a lucky reader? We've already heard from the web-savvy publisher Cool Springs Press, volunteering special guest bloggers for the cause.
So, drop me an email if you're interested in being a part of this fun new venture. (susan[at]sustainable-gardening.com).
What Customers Want their Garden Centers to Tell Them
How about I just lay out what I think they should be telling their customers, and subject my advice to your scrutiny? A consultant's nightmare? We'll see.
On a garden center's website I think these essential bits of information are super-useful, and will create reader/customer loyalty to the site – and the company.
- Specials – because as loyal as they may be to supporting local, family-owned businesses, customers still really want to save money.
- Arrivals of new plants in the store.
- Upcoming events of interest to gardeners in the region (whether in-store or local tours, Master Gardener events, etc)
- Blurbs about "What's new on our blog"
- A meaty resources section full of gardening how-to's.
Okay, what else?
Now about garden center blogs. Without naming names, we've all seen them stuffed with long, academic plant profiles with not a single photo of the plant being profiled. We've seen them looking (and I'm being kind here) really outdated. We've all seen them being updated, oh, once a month – usually because the business owner himself is the blogger. And oh, we've seen them simply fail to accomplish anything.
So what WOULD you like to see on your garden center's blog? Here's what I'd like to see: good writing, photography, and gardening advice. Profiles of local public gardens and gardeners, nearby Master Gardener projects. Write-ups of workshops and talks by the garden center's own experts or others in the region. Whatever is useful as hell.
Finally, there's Facebook and Twitter. Facebook especially is proving to be a terrific medium for keeping in touch with customers, and even a way for them to ask questions of the business. (A couple of companies making good use of Facebook are Williams and Homestead.) Twitter, too, though extremely annoying to some, is the preferred medium for many younger customers, so needs to be used, at least minimally. I think garden centers should update Facebook and Twitter about events, specials and their new blog posts, but I wouldn't expect them to be chatting and updating all day. But do you think they should?
As you've been reading here (repeatedly, sorry!), the Ladies of GardenRant will be telling garden centers what you think next week at their big kahuna indie garden center show in Chicago, so speak up now or forever hold your peace.