If you sell plants or seeds online or through a catalog, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Garden Watchdog. The huge online database lists 7,602 mailorder gardening companies, with 72,638 reviews by 37,457 customers. Top-rated businesses are singled out for recognition as a Garden Watchdog Top 30 Company.
I recently scanned reviews of Garden Watchdog Top 30 companies to discover what they had in common. Naturally, you’d expect any Top 30 company to offer a wide selection of plants or seeds, a major reason why people order online or via catalog. Of course, you’d expect them to deliver quickly and accurately, with plants in good shape. The Top 30 did all that and more. Indeed, three themes emerged that set the Top 30 companies apart from the pack:
Surprise and Delight. Reviews of Top 30 companies were filled with examples of how they went above and beyond the expected to make their customers feel important, and the shopping experience memorable. Just a few examples:
-A customer of Oakes Daylilies posted a comment on Garden Watchdog about receiving a small, sad looking plant, but they never contacted the company about it. Oakes noticed the post, figured out who the customer was, and took it upon themselves to correct the situation. Three days later, a replacement plant arrived on the customer’s doorstep, completely by surprise. What an impact that made!
-When placing an order, a Select Seeds customer inquired about a particular seed that had been discontinued. She was thrilled to discover it included as a bonus when she received her order.
-A Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds customer who lives in a remote area of Brazil was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the company, checking to make sure that his order had been delivered successfully.
Helpful Communication. Providing above-average information also helps set Top 30 companies apart. Not only does this include quick responses to questions, but it also means anticipating customers’ needs. Some examples:
-Seed packages from Onalee’s Home-Grown Seeds show a photo of the seedling so you don’t mistake emerging plants for weeds.
–Brushwood Nursery was one of several companies commended for emailing the customer when their order shipped. You’d think this would be standard practice, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
-Here’s a pretty impressive post from a GardensOyVey.com customer: “I received several professional and attractive pages of detailed instructions (which are delightfully easy to follow) along with some very interesting and helpful information about planting in general. I’ve been a Master Gardener for about ten years and yet this basic, common-sense information was new to me. They have given me ideas that will improve my day-to-day gardening for the rest of my days.” How nice is that?
Turn Problems Into Opportunities. No business does everything right 100% of the time, and selling live plants has its own challenges. The key is how problems are handled when they do occur. Some great examples:
-A Summer Hill Seeds customer complained of poor germination rates for a particular variety, both on Garden Watchdog and by email to the company.“Less than an hour later, I got a phone call from the nicest lady,” reported the customer. “She asked some helpful questions about how I had planted my seeds and agreed that I knew how to grow the plants in question. She is not only giving me a refund but a gift certificate so I can try them again with no cost. I will order from them again because they stand by their products.” A nice turnaround!
-Answering complaints posted online takes some finesse. Check out responses from Lazy S’S Farm and Nursery on Garden Watchdog for some examples that are fair, factual and well-phrased.
–Annie’s Annuals actually finds opportunities to increase sales when sending replacement plants. Before shipment, they inform the customer that their boxes can accommodate four plants, and offer to ship three additional ones along with the replacement for just the cost of the plants – no shipping charge. Customers love it!
Achieving “Top 30” status requires mastering the basics plus going above and beyond. Not every company excels in exactly the same way, but every Top 30 company offers countless examples of how to stand out among the crowd and cultivate devoted customers.