What do our customers really want?

What do our customers really want?

Identifying and understanding the reasons why our customers buy from us is vital information that we need in order to present our products and plants in the most appealing manner, though it is not always as straightforward as it may appear.

Last spring I was involved with setting up and running a customer focus group along with a team from Kernock Park Plants looking at the marketing of the new and innovative range of Proven Winners seasonal plants. The evening was arranged in a garden centre in the South West of England to an invited 
audience of ladies in the 25-45 age group, which was the target group for the plants being presented.

The object of the exercise was fairly standard in looking at perceived values of different plants and how a combination of merchandising and signage could affect the purchasing motives of the group. 

Most of the conclusions were fairly predictable in that fi rst and foremost they wanted to buy a good quality plant and one that would grow easily with guaranteed success.

It was also clear that the merchandising style played the most important role in assisting them to make a decision. The most important points that would encourage them to purchase were identifi ed as UK provenance, value to bees and wildlife and that the plants would represent good value (although this did not necessarily translate as being the cheapest on offer).

In terms of signage, most attendees wanted more signposts in the garden centre telling them where to go and what to buy. Most of the group were put off by images which looked ‘too perfect’ and preferred more green in the picture. Lifestyle shots which showed how the plants would look in a real-life situation were also considered of value.

One of the more unexpected facts that emerged was that the group as a whole, and in particular the younger element, actually saw an annual plant that died naturally at the end of the year as being a benefi t over a perennial that lived year after year!

The reasons for this were three-fold in that it gave them the option of changing their colour scheme from one year to the next, if they made a mistake it wouldn’t be a long term one and also they were much more likely to grow them in pots meaning they were portable should they decide to move house.

It was also emphasised that the group had a great deal of confi dence in their local garden centre and trusted them to supply the best value and quality on offer. Overall they compared their local garden centre to a delicatessen rather than a supermarket in terms of help, advice etc. therefore the brands that were on offer was not necessarily important in their purchasing decision. They trusted the garden centre as experts to have already selected the best products for them to purchase.

It was pointed out however that in larger garden centres where possibly less personal assistance is on hand, then branding may well increase purchasing confidence.

In order to extract the relevant information though, it is necessary to present the products in a way which does not lead them into giving the information that 
they think they should be giving and there are many ways in which this can be achieved through exercises and games which take the focus away from the main objectives.

Engaging our customers in this way can not only provide us with benefi cial information helping us to present our plants and products in a more successful and appealing manner but makes the customers feel special, valued and a part of the organisation. With the plethora of social media tools available to us there is no reason why similar exercises could not be run on our websites, facebook pages etc.