Play into pop culture to create new ways of interacting with your customers

By Maria Zampini for gardencenter magazine.com  July 21, 2014

Besides writing, I also lecture across the country to trade and consumer audiences. One of my recent topics was “Fifty Shades of Plant Profits.” If the title sounds familiar that’s because it was a take-off of the popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” books.

The blockbuster trilogy debuted in March of 2012 and was one of the fastest selling series ever. More than two years later they are still in the top 150 Best-Selling Books list by USA Today, and its publisher Random House experienced a 75 percent increase in operating earnings due to this trio. These books grabbed and held readers attention; they bought not one but three books (a multiple sale)! As production of the movie adaptation looms, no doubt it will enjoy an upswing and capture more fans.

I think pop culture phenomena, like these books, are a consumer hot button that garden centers could utilize to increase sales. Let’s play off of whatever is at the height of popularity. Let me share some wild and crazy ways we could potentially capitalize on pop culture name recognition.

Consider the international TV hit on PBS, “Downton Abbey.” It’s set in England in the early 1900’s. I envision David Austin Roses set out and hosting an English tea party, and even preparing and serving rose petal ice cream from “Eat Your Roses… Pansies, Lavender and 49 other Delicious Edible Flowers” by Denise Schreiber. If it’s June, it can be a part of National Rose Month. Help customers establish a cutting, English or cottage garden. No doubt the fictional Crawley family has their own greenhouse, so you can partner with a local building supply company to demonstrate how easy it can be to build your own mini version for year-round gardening pleasure.

If Edwardian England isn’t your cup of tea, then what about the AMC show “Mad Men,” set in the 1960’s? The characters on the show love to drink so play off of the hit book, “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks” by Amy Stewart. It is all about plants which are cocktail-friendly.

Collaborate with a local restaurant or bar; you provide the horticulturist and they supply the mixologist and together you show which plants and how to grow them along with creating libations derived from or enhanced by plants! In fact, Territorial Seed Company now has a line of “Drunken Botanist” plants!

Not a mixed drink lover? Tie in selling hops and do a beer-making class. Reach out to a local brewery for their expertise and cross promote each other’s businesses. Offer “retro” prices on tried and true plants.

Last but not least, let’s circle back to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” If you’ve read the books, then you know they’re a bit racy. If you’ve not read them, it’s a love story revolving around sex, bondage and dominance. Shocking, I know, but women loved the books.

And that relates to plants how? Develop a promotion around “Fifty Shades of Plants” and feature espaliered trees — plants that are both naughty (they love to be tied up) and nice (they behave beautifully in the garden).

You could display a wide range of espaliered items that range from grapevines, kiwis and other fruits to ornamentals and evergreens. If featuring fruits you can sell the “sexy, healthy and good for you benefits.” You can do pruning seminars to show how to make plant “behave,” and more.

Consumers are already enthralled by these pop culture phenomena, so make it your attention grabber, too. It’s something they won’t expect and that they certainly won’t find at the big box stores.


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