I wanted to talk about some of the things that we are doing to keep business going during these rough economic times. Over at Fishing for Customers Blog. Chuck McKay has 7 areas to focus on. Yesterday he was focusing on revenue and customer service. The last paragraph is what interested me. “Listen to what your customers are telling you. Watch how they're behaving. Consider what it feels like to be your customer in this economy. What would you do in their situation?”

Interesting comment from Jodie at Glenwild Garden in northern New Jersey. “Interestingly, we’ve had what seems to be a great year, until you look at the numbers. What I mean is, we’ve had great responses from people, more new customers from farther away, lot’s of traffic, etc.–however, sales are down. People just aren’t laying out the money the way they used to. Me either, and I’m a good little consumer, sad to say.” This is exactly our experience here this year.

Listening to the customer involves getting out of the office. I am making sure to not let the bills, ordering,etc. get in the way of walking the nursery and working with the customer. By being out there I have discovered all sorts of areas where we can increase our selection, and others that we are going to let go. My fertilizer sales are up because of listening to the customer and bringing in what they want.

Here is what I think happens. After being in business for so long we start to think we know what it is people want. We hang amongst ourselves at trade shows looking for the answers. Over at Garden Rant Amy is at the IGC (Independent garden center show) reporting that “ ...everybody in the garden center industry is trying to read the tea leaves about how to appeal to two mysterious groups: women and Gen X/Y.”

While I agree that females are a garden centers largest customer base, it's actually the crowd 40 and over that make up our biggest customer segment. Why worry about how to appeal to gen x and y when the “baby boomers” are out their right now walking the nursery. Amazingly there are some things that Gen x and y want that generation “baby boomer's” want, too.

Rather than wondering what our customers want based on generational differences I think our customers group around ideas. “Organic gardening” appeals to gen x and baby boomer's. The same with “specialty fertilizers” like bat guano, or alfalfa meal. They are purchased by a cross section of generations. Succulents seem to be enjoyed by old and young alike.

Talk to your customers, look at them not based on their generation, but on their “global” views? Once we know what our customers are “into” we can make sure we have plenty of “it”. Trying to figure our entire generations and their buying habits is too difficult. Instead people group in tribes, whether they know it or not. The "organic gardening tribe”, "native plant enthusiast tribe", "vegetable and fruit growing tribe", "perennial enthusiasts tribe", etc. Once you figure out what tribes are spending the most with you you can focus on them, regardless of which generation they are in.