Keeping The Customer Informed During Work Progress

Some years ago, I was commissioned to design & build a garden at Chelsea for one of the major ‘sheds’, with a further brief to set up a completed construction of a ‘complete pond kit’ (comprising liner, pump, hose and instruction video) at a show at Woburn Abbey by 09.00 the following day. Working with their Sales Director, we could not leave the Chelsea site until midnight, and I was unable to complete the build by the time the event was opened to the public – a sculpted hand dug hole in the ground being the only inkling of the feature. I decided to leave the spoil by the excavation, and lay the (boxed) ingredients around the site, much as anyone attempting to fit a garden pond would have done.

This was under cover, in a large marquee, and we set up a television with a loop video and set out a dozen or so chairs for the ‘audience’, so they could hear the instructions and see the actual product – including the hole, right in front of them!

The result was one of the most successful displays ever, with many people taking photographs of the ‘stages’ and I talked to dozens of prospective purchasers who were fascinated by the process. Surprisingly, they had almost no idea how to build a pond (with shelves and a sump pit in the bottom, with a level area around the top etc.) I could then talk about pumps, filtration, stocking, planting, water quality – as much information as they required.

Needless to say, the ‘shed’ sold out of boxed pond kits and they sent out for additional supply by the afternoon!

This ‘happy accident’  led me to reassess my thoughts when dealing with the general public, in many different ways. I have always written method statements when tendering, but from then onwards, have endeavoured to explain the various stages of a project, so that the client has  clear and informed knowledge of site progress. They then feel involved in their project, able to pass on to their friends all of the intricacies of the construction.

This anecdote may prove useful if you are seeking new ways to engage with the public. Whether you are in charge of a garden open to the public, a designer or contractor working on a site open to public view, consider the impact on your image, and the marketing opportunities that may arise from offering an insight into the ‘inner workings’ of your trade – even giving their own  ‘hints and tips’ to friends and neighbours.

For example, a large garden, especially those run by The National Trust or English Heritage, open to the public for many days each year, will have a working area; potting sheds, compost bays, pot stores, composting regimes etc, all of which are everyday experiences for those working in the gardens, but a new world of interest to the paying public. Consider setting aside some days when you know the area is tidy, and there is nothing dangerous happening in the ‘yard’ and instead of erecting ‘No Entry’ signs, invite visitors to look at chosen areas of interest, even having a member of staff on hand to answer questions. Why not go one stage further and arrange for fifteen minute pre-booked Q & A sessions with a senior gardener? Open a diary/book, and make appointments with a specialist staff member. All of these are excellent  public relations!

Garden Designers, instead of showing completed examples of work or a photograph album, create a stage by stage build up manual of the various elements of your craft. Begin with the rough survey, warts and all, on to the completed site plans, next phase of rough layout – right through to the finished product. An album with genuine examples will reinforce your talents. Your prospective clients will have a much better idea of what you do, and better appreciate why they need your skilled input in their garden.

Landscape Contractors may have the opportunity to work with a product manufacturer and/or supplier to set up a workshop on a Sunday morning (avoid Saturdays – too much shopping/sport on tv) for a couple of hours to create a hard landscaped feature or features, as simple or complex as you like. A stand at a major store, free of charge, with a couple of weeks of advertising beforehand should bring in plenty of enquiries. At the very least you will have gained free publicity and more importantly, proved that you are more than able to teach your subject to a discerning audience and gained the respect of both the manufacturer and supplier.

The results of these public awareness days will continue to be felt long after the event. The public have long memories, and business cards handed out, lessons in design application and ‘behind the scenes’ days will remain with them for a long time. As with all of these opportunities, never underestimate the benefits to your personal confidence and staff morale.

These marketing opportunities – which is what they really are – are yours for the creating.

But they are far more than that. They become part of your personal portfolio, and every chance to be photographed imparting your knowledge to others will always increase your standing with your clients and employers. They are worth many times the value of pictures of completed works, as they are truly your achievements.