Don’t Do Cool, Just Be It

Don’t Do Cool, Just Be It

Listening to the radio in my car recently there was an interview with the illusionists Penn and Teller that struck something of a chord with me. The presenter was curious as to why they had remained such a ‘cool’ act despite having been together for very nearly forty years.

The answer they gave was,”We don’t do cool, we stick with interesting....and that way we are cool!”

As James Wong keeps trying to tell us....if you have to tell people that something is cool then it most probably isn’t!

Instantly my mind flashed back to years ago (and I mean years ago!) when I first started out demonstrating plants and products on garden centres. In those days, hanging baskets were the order of the day and there were no all-singing, all-dancing moisture retaining, four month feed composts available. There was however a wonderful product called Satur-aid marketed by Gem Gardening which could be mixed in with composts. Left to its own devices it simply sat on the shelf unless it was actively sold. We devised a simple demonstration which involved drying compost out until it was almost dust-like. This was then used to fill a plant pot stood on a beer glass which was then watered. Obviously the water drained straight through into the glass below, simulating a dry hanging basket. Then we mixed a little Satur-aid with the same compost and poured it through a second pot of dried out compost. This time, very little water appeared in the glass. To emphasise the point we would then tip out the first pot illustrating that the compost was still bone dry and fluttered around like dust whilst the second held together like a mud pie. Holding it high in the air I would squeeze it hard, forcing water to stream down my arm. Naturally, a stand of Satur-aid would sell out in a day mainly because it captured peoples imagination, it was something new to them and, most of all it was interesting. Of course our composts now come complete with in-built water retention and a four month feed etc.

This adds to the convenience and the value of our products but, I can’t help feeling that some of the interest has gone. Although I would never advocate we should take retrograde steps, with a little thought and imagination we can still add that element of interest to innumerable products and projects around our centres.

One of the successes of our Grow Your Own demonstrations this season has been talking about the Three Sisters method of growing Corn, Beans and Squash together. People are fascinated by the way that they all assist each other by providing support, nutrition, retaining moisture and, at the same time, cutting down the maintenance needed and providing three crops from one small space. Topped off with mystical tales of American Indians having devised this system centuries ago because they not only grow well together but complement each other in the pot. Corn is almost a complete food but short of just a couple of amino acids (lysine and tryptophan for the real geeks!) which the body needs to make proteins and niacin. These just happen to be provided by the beans and, all mixed together, they make a wonderful Butternut Squash soup. Linking these three packets of seeds with a 1.5m² raised bed and the growing media to fill it can create a fairly healthy unit sale.

It’s a great story which customers can’t resist and gives them both an interest and a successful result. Our garden centres are dripping with interesting stories that could be told and used as sales aids rather than simply supplying information.

I can’t help thinking that Penn and Teller would not be nearly so popular or cool if they simply talked or gave out information about how they can levitate people or catch bullets in their mouths rather than demonstrating it.