Commerce blog | Omnichannel
7 Tips from Gardening Companies to Help Your Online Presence Blossom
April 18, 2017
What's a homeowner with a black thumb to do when she is determined to spruce up her front yard? Head to the Internet, of course, in search of the best local purveyor of plants. So that's what I did. A plea for help on our town's Facebook page reaped the names of several local nurseries, a few of which I hadn't even heard of. Unfortunately, the websites and social channels of these companies resemble my yard: full of potential but not much else. Nonetheless, between them and several other garden websites, I was able to harvest some tips on how small—and not-so-small—businesses can cultivate a stronger online presence.
First stop, Scott's Landscaping & Nursery. Perfectly serviceable home page—granted the comma splice on the header image bugs me, but I recognise I'm persnickety that way. The inclusion on the About page of a photo showing the eponymous Scott mowing a lawn when he was a teenager adds a personal touch, reminding us that this is a family business. (Idea to steal #1 Humanise your company as much as possible; people prefer working with and buying from other people, not faceless entities.)
This is a comma splice, by the way: using a comma to connect independent clauses.
A link on the home page, "See What Scott's Doing to Help Beautify Your Property," attracted my attention. "What's in it for me?" is the primary question all marketing must address, and this link promises to do so. It leads to a page titled "Bulbs for Beauty," informing me that the latest bulbs will be arriving around Labor Day weekend (the U.S. equivalent to the Spring Bank Holiday) and suggesting what I should plant for a deer-resistant garden, autumn blooms, etc. Another link offers to take me to a page full of details about planting bulbs, but alas, the link is broken.
No matter; what I really want to know is what I should plant to make my sad front yard a little happier now. While the site tells me all about Scott's landscape and maintenance services, equipment rentals, and the like, in terms of advice I have to settle for a list of somewhat deer-resistant plants and, on its Design Services page, the note that "our nursery staff is available to answer planting design questions you might have. Bring in a photo or a Plan View drawn to scale and our landscape designer will come up with a free planting design for you, if at all possible. Make sure to indicate North on your Plan View." Now, that could be a real unique selling proposition for Scott's—a great way to win the custom and loyalty of garden novices. But it shouldn't be buried on the design services page. Sure, Scott's can include it there, but it should play up this feature on the home and Nursery Stock pages too, as well as on the Facebook page. Facebook, by the way, seems to be the only social presence Scott's has. Given how lovely its photos are, not having an Instagram account seems a missed opportunity.
Next up: Fieldstone Nursery. The first screen of its home page features a close-up of flowers (I wish I could tell you what kind) and the message "A Special Place Worth Finding" and beneath that "where the unusual is usual." The introductory copy below that is just as warm and inviting, and it promises free advice: "Fieldstone Nursery can help you with all your needs—from which annuals to put in your front porch hanger to helping you pick which 15-foot tree you'd like to plant in your front yard." Fieldstone gets me!
Pretty, inviting, and simple: everything I want in a garden.
The rest of the site is light on info. There's a page with a few sentences about which plants are available when, another page regarding Fieldstone's landscape design services, a photo gallery. The site also makes sure to mention that in addition to its nursery, Fieldstone has a stand at the local farmers' market and the town's weekly flea market. (Idea to steal #2: Get out there. Participate in local events and markets when possible. For one thing, it can bring you additional sales. For another, it can promote your business to people who might not seek you out or hear of you otherwise.)
The third nursery recommended doesn't even have a website, though it does have a Facebook page. That's a big miss. Web pages aren't just for selling—neither of the other sites I visited so far are commerce-enabled. Given how inexpensive creating and maintaining a website is, there's really no reason not to have one. All the photos and info you craft for your Facebook page could and should appear on your website too.
The next business on my list, Meadowbrook Gardens, has a basic-looking site, but it provides useful info nonetheless: The owners have all sorts of relevant licencing and accreditations, and the page titled "Aftercare" provides hints about watering, pruning, and the like. But in addition to tips for people who have already purchased, why not offer advice for those looking to buy: If I'm allergic to bees, what plants should I avoid? What if I am lazy and want something very low-maintenance? This is the info that would establish the company's credibility and signify that it offers a personal touch, but so far I'm not finding it.
Meadowbrook does have a valuable post on its Facebook page, however. Sharing an article about how Lyme Disease, which is spread by deer ticks, is expected to be on the uptick (snort) this year, the company notes that it offers a tick-spraying service. (Idea to steal #3: Keep an eye out for events and news relevant to your business and market, and when appropriate, use them as hooks for promoting your offering. Be sure to steer away from latching onto tragedies or controversial events, however.)
The Green Spot is the first local nursery to have a social presence on something in addition to Facebook. Unfortunately its Google+ page is nothing more than a placeholder. It does have several dozen Pinterest boards, however. The corporate website itself is bright without being busy. The presence of several "Shop" buttons leads me to believe the site is commerce-enabled. It's not. The buttons (those that have live links, anyway) merely take you to a page showing what you could buy if you were at The Green Spot's shop. That is a huge no-no. Instead The Green Spot could have labeled those buttons something like "See More."
"Shop" buttons should be used only if one can actually make a purchase within a few clicks. Otherwise, don't use them. Nope. Don't do it.
Now, the online presence of these companies is perfectly serviceable. Each company's website and Facebook page provides the essentials—location, hours of operation, testimonials, photo galleries, and the like. But nothing distinguishes each company much from the others. So how could they make their online presence stand out from the competition?
True, we need to bear in mind that these are small and local businesses, without the deep pockets of larger companies. But it's just as important to bear in mind that though small, these local businesses are indeed competing not only with other local players but with big-box stores, regional and national cataloguers, and online sellers as well. Thanks to the internet, just about everything is now "local."
With that in mind, here are a few additional features used by larger gardening businesses that smaller organisations could easily and inexpensively adopt too to help level the field. And merchants of products outside the gardening sector can adapt them as well.
Idea to steal #4: Include an online gardening calendar. The website of national garden supplier Burpee offers gardening to-dos on a monthly basis for each particular zone of the USA (apparently I should be starting my tomatoes and peppers right around now), with links to relevant products. Local businesses have an advantage here in that they can concentrate only on their immediate area, which reduces the amount of content they'd have to produce. A calendar of this sort could live on the site year-round, year after year, and its presence would provide additional content for search engines to crawl, helping with SEO. What's more, this idea can be used for different markets. If you sell kitchenware, consider a calendar of recipes using seasonal ingredient; books, a calendar of the month's hottest new releases; crafts, seasonal project ideas; office supplies, monthly tips and checklists to ensure an organised workplace. You get the idea.
Idea to steal #5: Invite customers and prospects to ask questions. That's what Gardener's Supply Company does on the landing page of its website's "Advice" section. It provides an email form and promises to respond within 24 hours. This won't work if you lack the resources to get back to queries within a reasonable time frame, of course. But if you can, try it. Another option is to host regular Q&A sessions on Facebook (as Thompson & Morgan does) or on Twitter. The questions and your subsequent answers might also provide you with additional content for your site and even ways to grow or improve your business overall. If the majority of your questions are from potential customers asking how to repot plants, for example, you might consider holding an in-shop class on the topic; if you receive requests about a particular product category or brand, perhaps you should explore adding it to your merchandise range.
Inviting consumers to ask questions creates a two-way, one-on-one conversation—a boon for any merchant.
Idea to steal #6: Create a video library. Thompson & Morgan hosts more than two dozen videos on its website, showing how to do everything from planting strawberries to pruning blueberry bushes. This sort of content can live on your site for years and can provide content for a YouTube channel as well. If you sell anything that requires instruction, whether it's flat-pack furniture or toys, you can create relevant video instruction. Even if the product itself is easy to use (say, hair straighteners), you can create videos showing clever ways to make the most of it (such as quick hairstyles one can create using said hair straighteners).
Idea to steal #7: Share those photos. Gardens are highly visual, and every garden site visited included a wealth of photos. Share that wealth—not just on your site but on social channels, including the most visual of them all, Instagram. Interestingly, very few of the companies I visited, even the larger players, had an Instagram presence. Wyevale Garden Centres is an exception, and its images are highly shareable, which means followers who share them will be doing some of your marketing work for you.
The image of the dog on Wyevale Garden Centres' Instagram page has 72 likes—not all of them from me.
And if your product isn't as photogenic as flowers, surely your store, your office, or your staff is. Still not convinced? I'll leave you with this image from the Instagram feed of Office Depot, which proves that even office supplies can take a good picture.
Easter bunny or Easter mouse? Oh, who cares?