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Know your garden center customers

Create a focus group... and be in their shoes

garden center strategic marketing

Professionally run focus groups can be many things... eye-opening, incredibly valuable, brand focusing, possibly showing the potential for new services and offerings... and expensive to host. Every garden center, nursery or landscape business should hold a focus group every other year... at least. However, if your budget does not allow you to hire a professional marketing firm to conduct a focus group, do the next best thing... host one yourself.

Gather some friends of friends, current customers, and non-customers of your garden center. You’re looking for a good mix of people in your target audience (age group, spending range and location). It's best if they are not too personally attached to the business or employees. It's even better if they don't know the business that is hosting the focus group (just a generic idea)... the less attachment the better. Set aside at least a half-day and find a room that everyone can be comfortable in - preferably off-site.

Below are some quick guidelines and tips in running a successful focus group session.

Develop a plan. What are you looking to get out of the session? Develop questions that will help you see if your garden center brand is apparent to the group, without leading them. Also, see what they are looking for in a garden center? What places do they frequently shop, and why? What do they like about these places and what could be better (people are usually more passionate in saying what they don't like about a place, more so than what they do like).

Have someone run the group that is not too emotionally attached to you. People pick up on emotions and will hold back some comments if they feel you will be hurt or angry.

Have only one person in the room that is from "your side", hosting the focus group. If you have more than one person, people tend to not be as comfortable in their answers. It's OK to have others behind a one-way mirror looking on. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

Keep the group size manageable (about 8-14 people). Ask a few more than you really want. There are usually one or two people that decide not to attend.

Make them comfortable. Provide some food and drinks. The more comfortable they are the more they will open up. Caffeine is a good idea.

Get the group started with some easy questions. Give them time to warm up and get the “jitters” out of the room.

Ask open-ended questions; never make comments... especially emotional comments. Listen deeply and develop new questions instead of providing your own answers.

Don't let one person in the group dominate the session. It's natural for some people to step up and take the lead while others will sit in the background. Get the non-speakers to open up by asking them what they think.

Do not dismiss any answer as being non-important. However, do not let people rant too long on one topic. It's OK to repeat an answer that someone passionately gives, but do not agree with them or make your own comment. If you repeat to them their comment, they understand that you heard them, which usually satisfies their need to voice their opinion.

Tape your session. It's hard to keep detailed notes and you will want to share the session with your strategic marketing partners and design team.

Stick to your outline. Time can go by very fast and although tangents will contain some great information, you need to have some control over them. If a focus group participant starts off on a long tangent, that you feel is not important, stop it quickly by telling the group that it's a good idea and write it down. Then, get back on track by telling the group that if there is enough time we will talk more about this at the end of the session and move on to your next question.

Give them something in return. A gift certificate to a nice restaurant... but not your garden center. Again, you want to be disconnected from your store, so the group will be more open and honest.

Of course there are many more techniques and issues that will help to make your focus group more enlightening. However, this is a good way to get started. Remember, if you don't know how your garden center customers feel about your brand, you can’t adjust it to be more appealing to them.

If you need any help in conducting focus groups, CONTACT US today.

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