Stand out from the Crowd

The HTA Marketing Forum took place at Horticulture House, Chilton, on 17 October and aimed to give delegates and insight into the advances in marketing to help them ‘Stand Out from the Crowd’.

Opening the day was Caroline Owen, Managing Director, Scotsdales Garden Centre and Chair of the HTA Commercial Committee, who discussed how throughout her career has always enjoyed the marketing side of the businesses and has been amazed by the advancement over the years. The customer experience has become the most important part of the business now, not just the quality of the products that are sold. With garden centres challenging department stores when it comes to the Christmas experience, it is important to not let that slip and continue the trend throughout the year.  Caroline also discussed how door-drop marketing is still as powerful as ever, but coupons of 10% are no longer enough, with the majority of businesses offering a discount of 20/25%. Internet based businesses are capitalising on this as much as store front businesses are. It was also discussed how social media is a great way to help drive traffic into stores, especially when it comes to instore events such as Christmas launches and gin tasting evenings.


Anthony Earl, Insights Coordinator from POPAI UK & Ireland, then discussed how to enhance the customer experience. Reports of retail death are greatly exaggerated, as despite 69% saying they shop online to avoid queues, only 3% of Britons say they no longer shop in store and 64% of people still enjoy browsing in store. It is important to remember the shopper is not always the end consumer. Anthony also discussed how store navigation is important; do you want customers browsing as much of the store as possible, to drive them to key displays and promotions, or let them find what they need as quickly as possible to reduce frustration? Standard shopping behaviour is to go in the door, turn right and then browse in an anticlockwise direction. As this is a favourite route it can create congestion on the right of the store. Can you create a display table to the left of the entrance to draw traffic away from their default route? When looking at strategies for layout, big data will tell you what the customer bought, but not why they bought them.  You need to understand shopper missions to be able to get a better insight into this.

Anthony then discussed how in the omni channel world, the shopping journey often starts beyond the store visit, and may well continue afterwards. 53% of shoppers still say they prefer buying instore to make the final decision when making a purchase. When it comes to grocery sales, 52% decide how much to buy in the store, 39% decide on a brand choice in the store, and 28% will decide to buy a category they hadn’t planned to. Point of sale promotion can be used to disrupt the shopper and break the subconscious browsing experience. It can be used for brand development and showcasing new products, allowing them try new products, remind them and reassure them of long standing products. Digital displays can help to bring products to life and showcase them far better than 2d promotions.

Discussing how to use innovative customer counting technology to drive profitability was Colin Warnock, Managing Director of HTA Security Partner B2BSG Solutions Ltd. Colin discussed how customer counting can report on when customers are entering the store, what they browse, and then when they leave the store. Reports on this can then be pulled on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis and can be integrated with ePos systems to look at sales conversions, measure return rates and visit duration, easily asses impact of different marketing campaigns and for chain retailers – can compare different trends between stores. Data is analysed through consumers carrying a smart phone – as no personal data is access through this, GDPR is not affected.

Through this data you can see how loyal your customer is, when they are coming back and how often. Although this will not tell you exactly what is working, you will be able to see trends and then relate this to things that have changed in store to see what has been working and what isn’t.

Looking at customer counting data, you can also analyse when your store is most busy/quiet and use this information to aid adjustments in opening hours and staffing levels.

Dwell sensors in key areas can help to alert staff on when/where to engage with a customer. This can be great for the customer experience, but also for security measures. Help buttons in certain departments allow customers to request assistance. Wi-Fi based messaging via radios, smart devices and pagers.

Graham Thomas, Eight Days A Week Print Solutions, has been able to see through his own experiences that garden centres have worked hard to ensure they have stayed as a destination shopping experience, but unfortunately the marketing has not keep up with this. Digital marketing was seen as the way to keep up to date with marketing trends, but because of the amount of digital advertising customers receive on a day to day basis, it is easy for communications to be missed. Print is still a form that a lot of customers want to be targeted though, especially when they contain coupons for them to use. Graham did highlight however the importance of making sure all your communications, be it print or digital, all have the same brand and messaging to ensure the same customer experience throughout.

Print gives the smaller companies the opportunity to compete with the bigger companies if done properly. ePOS systems can be a great way of seeing ROI when it comes to print campaigns easily. Can you print a welcome pack to new houses in your local businesses area, and give them a guide on how to raise their garden or look after their new lawn? If you know of housing with no gardens, give them a guide on how they can maximise on houseplants or a balcony. Rise to the challenge by testing and measuring. Ensure you have a good print partner who will help you maximise on costs and use their knowledge to delivery the best product possible. Finally, Graham urged people to think about what are the best products for your needs now? Don’t just stick to what has worked best for you in the past.

Talking about the ‘Plant a Pot’ campaign and using a call to action to ‘Make a Difference’ was Carol Wright, UK Marketing Manager, Hozelock. The campaign urged consumers to purchase pots, plants and composts to facilitate the action of making a difference in saving bees. This was centred around the fact that consumers now want experiences, not just things. Whilst garden centres are great at creating the Winter Wonderland experience, you need to be able to create this same draw all year round.

This is where the ‘Plant a Pot’ campaign came into fruition as a way to help create displays and inspire customers to help save bees. The call to action was based around getting customers to pledge to plant a pot, purchase a related product, and then that every plant needs to be watered.

This contributed to the ‘feel good’ factor of making people think they were making contribution to a worthy cause. No matter who your consumer is, they will likely care about the environment in some way. Blue Planet II had 14 million viewers, just think about the reaction of plastics following on from the episode.

The Plant a Pot arch is a key visual driver to an area that can be used as visual merchandising for all products you want to promote relating to the campaign – plants, pots, honey hand cream, honey candles, bee hotel, books, pot feet, watering products etc.
These displays tell a story, are engaging and interactive, and can be easily integrated into the digital world.

Giving an insight and education about how to gain traction from trade press was George Bullivant, Managing Director, Garden Forum. George highlighted the importance of knowing who your customer is when looking at press releases. Is it the end consumer, or the retailer who needs to sell your products? Think about if you need to create two releases to target different audiences.  

By building your presence in the media, you are building your image and authority. This can have a great effect on your staff as well as your sales. All the stories that you have published on trade press may have a bigger presence than you think. For example, if you have a story published on Garden Forum it also goes onto Twitter, LinkedIn, and then indexed by Google and can appear in search terms. By creating inbound links such as this it helps to increase SEO value.

It is important to remember that the press will publish what their readers will like to read. Primarily people are nosey, and they want to know what people are doing, business change and gossip. It is free, so costs nothing to you! The disadvantage of sending press releases for publishing are that the publisher will keep editorial control, so may cut it and add bits in to keep it contextual. There is also the issue of awkward news, generally given to them about you by other people. If this happens, approach the publisher and try and make it work for you or correct the truth.

When writing a press release ensure that it is kept short and sweet. Think about who it was written for, and what it says about the company. George gave three rules; Be clear who you are writing for​, be absolutely clear who you are writing for​ and then will they read it. Add a good image, break up with sub headings, have a maximum of four points, keep it short and avoid PR speak such as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘leading’.

Giving us a visual break during the day was Sarah Manning, Visual Merchandiser, giving an insight into the art of visual merchandising. Sarah explained how visual merchandising works around key visual principles such as symmetry, alternation, utilising height and creating visual focus points.

Sarah also discussed creating theatre within windows. Take inspiration from some of the bigger London stores and do what you can with this. Create impact and interest, colour stories, and themes that a customer can easily shop. What elements do you have structurally in your garden centre that you could use as part of your visual merchandising? Hanging and background graphics can help create a more prominent theme.

As much as visual merchandising is often only embraced at Christmas, it can also be done throughout the year with products such as Houseplants. Know your target consumer profile and find products that would appeal to them. Create examples of a one stop for consumers to shop – plants, food, pots, accessories.

Whatever is in your shop window should be the lead in display for you, so consumers can find the products easily. This can be a permanent feature or just a hot spot table. These should change every 2-4 weeks. Can be based around promotions or seasonal events.

Make sure your merchandising is accessible. You may not think about it but leave an inch between products so that they can easily be picked up by consumers. If you have products that are in packaging or don’t look good on a shelf, dress it and showcase it so that your consumers know how these products can look.

Giving a ‘How to’ session on vlogging was Robbie Cummings, HornbyWhitefoot PR, who mentioned how the benefits of vlogging include increasing trust, providing added value, standing out from the crowd, showcasing strengths and awareness, maximising visual content and giving your business a voice. He then gave eight key points to consider:

  1. Remember that its not all about you – focus on, help and feature other people for better engagement and more views. Collaborate.
  2. You don’t need all the gear – Just make the most of what you have. Camera, mic and tripod.
  3. Don’t be afraid of being niche – Aim for an engaged following not viral content.
  4. Attention to detail – YouTube offers back office tools for looking at ROI, and although it takes time, think about adding subtitles to your videos.
  5. Take your viewers on a journey – Subscribers will follow.
  6. Making the video is just one step – You have to spend time replying to comments, enquiries and leads, looking at analytics, planning/research/ writing the next video, promoting on online and offline channels.
  7. Spend time watching videos – Take inspiration from others, find your niche, and connect and collaborate with others.
  8. Have fun! Don’t worry about the frequency of your posts, let your audience guide you, and don’t get disheartened by poor performing videos or negative comments.

The next ‘How to’ session was from Simone Bonnett, The Social Media Managers, discussing how to engage and activate an audience on social media.

On Facebook the algorithms are sparked by engagement between people; Created content that elicits a reaction and triggers engagement between users in comments and shared in messenger. It is also important to remember that Facebook is no longer just a social media platform, but a collection of apps that connect you and the consumer in different ways.

Instagram algorithms are likely to work the same as Facebook as they’re owned by the same people. Those who were using Facebook in the past are just as likely to be using
Instagram now. On Instagram the algorithms are set to make what you have been looking in the past likely to appear in your timeline in the future. This means you need to have a relationship with the consumer for your content to be displayed.

Twitter algorithms are once again based on what a user has engaged with in the past. With Tweet only having a life of 20 minutes, it is vital that you are actively on twitter tweeting, retweeting and commenting.

Simone also highlighted that users want to view videos natively. Videos hosted on the platform rather than linked have a 186% higher engagement rate and are shared 1000% more. If you don’t have the time or resource to create full length videos, create micro ones. Micro videos still earn higher engagement than still images. You can also consider using Facebook and Instagram live. Live social media broadcasts are watched 3x longer than videos.

Don’t underestimate the importance of User Generated Content. User generated content is uniquely shareable as it is its own social capital. Whether it is images/videos/reviews of your brand, get your consumers to create it for you, and encourage them through using the likes of giveaways.

Finally Simone said to remember that social media is an interaction, not a broadcast medium. Use topical news, from holidays to film and TV releases, to engage with your audience on a conversational level. You can create social media content relevant to specific topical events and moments, but use this wisely and not all the time. What is becoming rapidly apparently is that businesses will be either be investing more time or more money on social media.

Josie McGhee, HTA Marketing Executive, followed on from this discussing how to use Facebook advertising effectively. Facebook is the most widely used social media for adults, and ‘Keen Gardeners’ are also most likely to use Facebook as a social media.

Facebook advertising gives you the ability to target your consumers by age, gender, location, and then also demographic targeting such as interests and behaviours (this can be including and excluding). The Facebook pixel enables you to track conversions through to your website, so worth getting added in.

Lookalike audiences can enable you to create and audience of people who are similar to those who are already interacting with your page or website based on likes interests and demographics.

Boosting posts can be a great way to create more customer engagement and increase brand awareness on a small budget.

Talking about some more real life examples of marketing campaigns was Emma Glue, Trade Marketing Manager for Farplants, discussing their Small Plants for Small Spaces campaign. Market research showed them that the average garden size is 14m2, reducing to 12m2 for those aged 22-44. Gardening knowledge is also a barrier to sales with many not feeling confident on what to buy. The Small Plants for Small Spaces was then developed as the perfect way to sell small hardy plants. It was developed with over 200 plant varieties and as part of the campaign they created bold POS and packaging and user friendly icons for plant care. This was then given to garden centres to use within their own displays, and by using POS or creating displays it helped with incremental sales.

Following on from this success they partnered with The Little Botanical as a premium houseplant range that was launched to run alongside any current houseplant offering, and the WebShop.  It was important to them that the WebShop was mobile friendly, secured stock in real time, and was accessible 24/7.

Videos have also been very successful for Farplants, giving insight into work involved and plant variety information.

The day was then rounded up by Annabelle Padwick, creator of Life at No. 27. As a child, Annabelle used to enter agricultural competitions all the time, but at 21 a simple labyrinthitis illness changed her life forever. For her it resulted in severe anxiety and the inability to leave her house without an overwhelming sense of fear.  

Through her own drive for change, Annabelle started growing vegetables at home. With support from her local garden centre, she was able to start growing in containers, and growing her first marrow gave her the confidence that she needed to start believing in herself again. She then got an allotment from the council, and this allotment was the start of ‘Life at No. 27’. It has now developed into more than just an allotment, it is now a blog, a website and the start of much more for Annabelle.

Annabelle highlighted the importance of remembering that all of your customers are their own people, and you don’t know what their story is. Approach every customer thinking that the service they provide may have more of an affect than you realise.

Connect with your audience. Can you answer the questions below?

  • Who is you community?
  • How old are they?
  • What do they do as jobs?
  • Their lifestyle?
  • Their own passions?
  • Local gardening groups?
  • Charities?
  • Social Enterprises?

If not, think about those questions and whether the answers will help you to connect with them on a more personal level.

For Annabelle, the next stage of Life at No. 27 is to develop it into a social enterprise. With approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing mental health illnesses each year, there is strong evidence highlighting the mental and physical health benefits of gardening and Grow Your Own, including improved confidence, communication, concentration and ultimately self-belief.

The initiative will be launched at allotments in Oxfordshire in 2019 with the aim to launch nationwide in 2021. Based alongside Annabelle’s own background and her research carried out alongside UK leading psychiatrists and psychotherapists over the last 12 months the programme will provide two therapy options including community allotments and a buddy scheme. Find out more at

Annabelle is also launching National Growing for Wellbeing Week from 3-9 June 2019. This week will be a celebration of the magic that growing your own produce can do for your wellbeing. More information on this will once again be on the Life at No. 27 website over the coming months.

The HTA would like to thank sponsors B2BSG Solutions Ltd, Floramedia and HortWeek for all their support in making the event the success that it is and we hope that all who came along found the day to be useful, informative and inspirational.


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