KATIE ELZER PLEASE PICK UP A RED COURTESY PHONE.
KATIE ELZER PLEASE PICK UP A RED COURTESY PHONE.
Not what you want to hear at the airport 971 miles from home.
I found a courtesy phone.
“I uh have a message saying ‘Please call your parents.'”
REALLY NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR AT THE AIRPORT 971 MILES FROM HOME.
This was (thinks back to my halloween costume when I dressed up as Tigress Woods – before Tiger’s, uh, life situations came to life and back when I was still a golf fanatic) sometime in the year 2000 when cell phones weren’t what they were right now and we mostly still communicated via phones attached to the wall.
I called my parents. Here’s an abbreviated account of what happened next.
First: My parents told me that my friend who was supposed to also fly to Orlando for a little spring break trip to Disney World courtesy of my parents’ Disney Vacation Club points called THEM and said they would not be flying to Florida that morning because they had to stay home because their father had a stroke and said friend didn’t deem that enough of an emergency to call in the middle of the night and wake us all up so that maybe I didn’t fly to Orlando, and instead waited until something like the reasonable hour of 7am, by which time I was in a plane somewhere over Kentucky. (We later had a talk about what constitutes and emergency and how I would totes rather have jumped in a car and driven 62 miles to the hospital to be with them because THAT IS WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR AND I LOVE YOU, YOU DOOFUS. And, thankfully, we had many more years with their father.)
In the year 2000, I was 21 with a massively untreated anxiety disorder, and everything that brings with it. So you might imagine what a freaked out 21 year old girl did on the Disney Magical Express to the hotel: Cried. A lot.
Second: My mom, always up for adventure, was able to find a reasonable flight and came down for what we now call our “emergency vacation.” She’s the best mom.
Because our plans were cancelled, we did whatever we wanted, which was spontaneous and glorious. “Whatever we wanted” consisted of playing mini golf while wearing Tigger ears, riding the Jungle Cruise 4 times, and treating ourselves to a fancy dinner at The Flying Fish restaurant.
Thinking back to the year 2000, THE desert of the moment was chocolate lava cake. In fact, 2000 was probably peak lava cake time.
Much like I have specific memories attached to specific songs (this one always takes me back to the old green bridge over the White River on 86th street in Indianapolis), lava cake takes me back to Disney World.
Even when I’m eating it at Arby’s.
Just kidding. I don’t eat lava cake at Arby’s. I eat curly fries, duh.
But it HAS spent time on their menu, starting in 2016.
Ditto with Chili’s, Domino’s, and other fast casual type restaurants.
It’s still, today, on fancy schmancy restaurant menus, too.
In fact, I had a version of it two weeks ago during a delicious dinner the Longwood Program treated participants at our Digital Knowledge for Nonprofit Leaders to.
Lava Cake has gone from something different and special to something known, comforting, and for some, “old news.”
Lava Cake is now “the regular kind.”
Trader Joe’s Dreams
Most Mondays I drop Bogart off at daycamp (Champagne problems) and go to Trader Joe’s. I don’t enjoy chopping and I’ve figured out how to make vegetable soup with no chopping entirely with ingredients from Trader Joes*.
My favorite part of the morning is seeing the plants they have for sale in the entryway.
Here’s what I found this week:
Forsythia branches forced into bloom.
Calla lilies in gift pots.
Jasmine in bud, presented as a Valentine plant.
Cyclamen by the dozens.
Begonias — flower-forward and leaf-forward — offered as houseplants.
Have your cake and eat it too
A few weeks ago I was on Zoom with one of our longtime clients. I’ve helped them sell bulbs and plants online since 2017 and we have never sold out of Cyclamen.
Until this year. (Mostly. There’s one variety left.)
We did not drastically change our marketing tactics.
My theory is that our client was benefitting from what I’m calling the “TraderJoesification” of Cyclamen.
The grocery store florist section is traditional and convenient.
The farmers market flower booth is special, local, and worthy of a special trip to the market.
The independent florist is for specific occasions.
1800Flowers.com is for emergencies when you have 2 minutes to order flowers.
Trader Joe’s is for the weekly shop for consumers ages 25-44 with an average income of $80,000/year that likes fine foods and such but isn’t making eff you money. In other words, a pretty sweet demographic if you sell plants.
“But Katie, look at those prices! We cannot hope to compete! They are ruining our business.”
No they’re not. Here’s why.
Nobody reading this newsletter can compete on price. We’re not Amazon. Throw price out the window.
What Trader Joe’s is doing is the difficult work of introducing plants and plant parts (in the case of forced branches) to consumers in a way that makes those plants “the regular kind” and not the “what the heck is that no thank you” kind.
Because Trader Joe’s has forced forsythia branches for sale, we don’t have to convince customers to buy them.
Because Trader Joe’s is positioning potted Jasmine as a houseplant, we don’t have to.
It’s the same principle as bookstores with “BookTok” tables or “In Theaters” tables.
Someone ELSE, something ELSE that our customers engage with more frequently than they engage with us has created credibility and comfort around OUR products.
Now we get to sell them.
It’s great to participate in trends and to introduce something new to customers.
Customers are people, though, and most people are hardwired to seek the familiar.
It’s why lava cake is still on the menu all these years later and petunias are still a plant of choice for hanging baskets.
Lava Cake Your Business
Here’s where I’m going when it comes our businesses: look around to see what “the regular kind” means for your customers and then act on it.
A Shrub and. . .: Are you a garden center selling forsythia? Great! Make an “As seen at Trader Joe’s” display.
Liked this? Grow this!
Paying for anything: Writing checks is over. Recurring payments, online payment gateways, and electronic transfers are “the regular kind.” So are ApplePay, PayPal, ShopPay. If I don’t have to get up out of my chair/bed/airplane seat to buy from you, I’m much more likely to do so. Cash only is also OUT. Gotta have digital options or lose sales. (Don’t switch to digital payments only for in-person services, though, because that is exclusionary for people that aren’t tech savvy or have limited resources.)
What you can do:
- Add online payment options
- Sign up for on-the-go payment options (square is popular) if you’re a speaker selling books at talks.
Alerting re: New Collection/ New Items/ Limited Drop: If your products and services are limited and in high demand (think: summer camp for kids, bespoke/handmade pottery, rare plants), it’s time to offer customers the options to be notified via SMS (text message) when more of whatever it is you offer is live and available for purchase.
Email is too slow for super limited offerings. Customers will get frustrated if they miss out and they will soon be begging you for an SMS option. SMS is fast becoming “the regular kind.”
Seasonal Services: If you offer recurring services such as seasonal container gardening (whether as drop in inserts or custom creations), position them as subscriptions or auto-delivery. People are familiar with that terminology. It will help them wrap their brains around what you’re selling. They get their toilet paper auto delivered. Plants are more fun.
The key to growth and survival in the green industry over the next 5 years or so will be to recognize what “the regular kind” is in all facets of business and act on that knowledge in a timely enough way to keep our customers happy & engaged.
SMS: The Next Regular Kind
When will I stop blowing the SMS horn? When it has reached lava cake status as a customer service tool and I can move on to the next dessert.
Meantime, Proven Winners and I are offering two free SMS webinars for the green industry.
(The description says it’s for IGCs but it will be useful to anyone in the green industry.)
Each newsletter always has a mix of fun and functional links.
The Regular Kind
Is a concept from Seth Godin. Listen to his podcast episode here.
Gerald Simcoe endorses The Digital Mindset
The book I’ve been telling everyone to read. Gerald, a painter and hybridizer/grower of snowdrops told me he’s reading it and it’s fantastically helpful. Check it out.
*No Chop Vegetable Soup
Buy all of these things, put them in a big pot, and cook until tender. 1 bag chopped brussels sprouts, 2 cartons Mirepoix, 1 box of chopped butternut squash, 2 32-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, one bag each of frozen peas, fire roasted corn, and cut green beans (if desired) 1 package of stew beef, 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained, 1 carton of bone broth, 2 cartons of beef broth, 5 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika (has to be somoked).
Current Favorite SMS service for brick & mortar businesses
The absolute funniest post I’ve seen on instagram in a long time.
Reminder: The Garden of Words is closed on all US Federal holidays.
Need help? We are currently booking website builds to start onboarding March 1, email marketing programs to start onboarding April 1, and SMS projects to start anytime. If you need our help before you open for spring, this is it, and availability help with email marketing is EXTREMELY limited. If you need help with any of this grab a call slot here. We’ll have time after April 1, but you probably won’t.
What do you predict will be the next lava cake for the green industry? Write back and tell me.