I understand that you operate a wholesale business, and it would be difficult to reconcile the costs of ensuring your premises were suited to the general public. The provision of toilet facilities, extra safety factors and employing sales staff would not guarantee sufficient additional income. The ability to be able to close the gates for a few hours each week to run errands and collect/deliver plants is important, as you have to fit in other business factors besides selling your produce. In common with hundreds of small firms – sole operators, you are limited in your ability to maintain standards and promote additional sales.
First of all, you need to analyse your existing customer base. Identify the numbers and sizes of each firm – landscape, local authority, garden designers, maintenance businesses, etc – include their current sales record, say, over the past three years, noting how recently they have visited and made a purchase. Note too, the value of their custom, and create a Top Twenty Customer Chart based on sales. Once you have produced that record, you can track their sales progress, moving up and down the chart. This information will be completely bespoke to your business and your customers transaction with you, enabling you to see precisely where, when and what you sell to these individual customers.
If possible, create three Top Twenties; Total sales value, number of visits and average spend. This should enable you to see where your sales are going – one large order placed two years ago may skew your records if you simply look at sales value alone. A high number of visits resulting in a modest sales figure may or may not indicate a valuable customer, unless you can relate the figures to the size of the firm.
Next, you should produce a plant stock list. I appreciate that many nurseries do not have the time or energy to produce a yearly catalogue, but it is important that you are able to provide would be customers with your latest produce schedule. This may take the form of a simple list that you can email as required – ensure that it is up to date, as there is nothing more annoying to a potential customer to place an order only to be informed that the plants are no longer available.
This simple reactive marketing will be of limited value, as you are servicing existing customers only. You need to be looking at becoming more proactive in seeking to expand your client base, and in order to succeed, you should to reach out to those potential customers who have not used your services in the past.
Begin your market research by listing all local landscapers, garden businesses and garden designers, creating your own data base via telephone directories, Trade Associations and on-line facilities, targeting those companies that you feel you would like to sell to. Don’t forget local Parish magazines, as they also contain details of smaller firms who may otherwise be overlooked.
Once you have your target list, send them an introductory letter, highlighting your chosen specialities or perhaps requesting that they send you their personal favourites. Ask too, if you can supply them with prices for any planting projects they may have in the pipeline.
If you are able to provide such a service, why not offer to overwinter or maintain their plant selection until they are ready to use the stock. Could you offer a delivery service, perhaps even batches at a time, direct to site? Obviously, this facility will be charged for, but relatively few contractors have the space or facilities to hold and maintain plant stock, and by becoming a team player in the process of a contract, you will not only sell plants, but also your time and expertise.
At certain times of the year, send out a list, perhaps with photographs, either by mail or email, showing your current stock under the heading of ‘Looking Good Now!’ So many contractors who are not plantspeople require a visual impact for their planting schemes, and if they are able to supply a batch of plants in full flower or colour to their customers, the quality of the planting plan is not your concern – you are simply selling your most attractive stock whilst it is still ‘showy’.
Similarly, a schedule of proposed seasonal stock, e.g. hedging plants, either bare root or container grown could be send out, requesting orders or possible orders to be made known as early as possible so that you can provide the plant material in a timely manner.
What you are aiming to build up is a two way relationship, with frequent contact between yourself and your customers. You may extend your services to include buying in stock that you would not normally hold – offering a plant sourcing element to your offer, as well as providing your own stock. A One Stop Shop for plant seekers. I appreciate that this may incur costs you do not want, but an element of common sense and good business practice should ensure that you are not paying external suppliers until you have been paid.
Become as valued to your customers as they are to you!