Emotionally charged business

BY ROD McDONALD

My wife and I were leaving a coffee shop here in Regina one afternoon. We ran into a woman and her son. The son was in his 30s. I recognized her as a regular customer of mine for many years.

We started to chat. It was a sunny day, and she told us she was a single mother many years ago. She had no way of setting up a real Christmas tree, so she and her son came to the garden centre. He chose the tree even though he was only five. We did the fresh cut, put the stand on and delivered it to their apartment. The tree was so much bigger than her little boy. 

As she told the story she got emotional remembering that Christmas from many years ago. “Without the delivery and setup, we could never have had a tree like that one,” she said. Lovely words. Her son got excited. “This is the guy who brought over the tree? I loved it when you set up my tree!”

Because of that delivery she became a regular shopper. 

I get that. Sales are often based upon emotion and not logic. Each time my family visits our local ice cream stand, and I order a maple walnut sundae, I get teased. Maple walnut was my dad’s favourite, not mine, and I order it now and again, to remember him. Not the logical side of my brain but I have never claimed to be Spock.

As human beings we can stand on the mountain top and shout that we are logical. As businesspeople we can claim we always have our eye on the bottom line and yet … count the decisions that we make each and every day. How many were made for reasons other than pure logic? 

Logic is not always the same for each of us. Logic is a floating crap game. I had a couple from Oregon visit my garden centre. They had a Christmas tree farm and wanted to retire, with no buyer in sight. They were selling off their inventory, all of it, and they were selling cheap. “Would you like to buy some trees from us,” they asked?

One part of logic should have said “yes” as the quality was good and the price was even better. Yet I did not. They were surprised. I told them that if I bought from them this year, “How do I return to my regular growers next year without appearing cap in hand?” 

That is an example of long-term logic versus short term, ‘easy money’ logic. Over the years, I have observed many different operators and their styles. Those owners who had the long-term view as their focus, always did better than those who moved around from deal to deal. One greenhouse operator in our locale jumped from bargains to specials to clearance prices on a regular basis. There is always a long story and a short story. The short story is that after 10 years, always thinking he was the ultimate in shakers and movers, he went bankrupt owing a million dollars. I remind myself of how he ran his business each time I get offered ‘easy money.’ I always put single quotes around those two words, ‘easy money.’ ‘Easy money’ is a myth, as is the tooth fairy. 

How many times has a customer asked if we had a rose “just like the one in my grandmother’s yard?” In the prairies, that old-fashioned red rose that grew in grandma’s garden was probably a ‘Hansa’ rose. Not a great rose. There are many better ones on the market today; but how do you disrespect something that Grandma grew? We learn to walk a fine line explaining that we have something that Grandma would be growing today if she were still with us. If we choose our words wisely, we will make the sale, and the ‘Emily Carr’ we sold will become their new favourite. Again, we are dealing with emotion and that emotion runs close to the surface.

When I listen to Leonard Cohen sing ‘Suzanne’ I am transported back in time to when I was 15 and the world was new and incredibly exciting. It was also a time in my life when I had many more answers than questions. That is pure remembrance and emotion. The same thing happens when Gordon Lightfoot sings ‘Early Morning Rain’ or Neil Young performs ‘Helpless.’ It appears my youth was spent listening to Canadian folksingers. 

My point, and rest assured I always have a point, it just takes awhile for me to get there, is that the more we tap into emotional selling, the more successful we can be in our careers. Each of us have our emotional trigger points. What they are vary, of course, but they are there.

Customers love it when you remember their names and what it is they grow. Asking Bernie about his peonies endeared me to him. Asking any customer what they are planting is always a great way to solidify loyalty. This does not happen at Home Depot.

Sales increase under shade cloth. No one knows why but my guess is that we relax when we walk under shade cloth. If we are relaxed we are more open to making a purchase. Shade cloth is a great idea for more than horticultural reasons.

When selling higher-end products or landscape services, if you can touch people in a non-threatening manner, it increases sales. Non-threatening is defined as being between the elbow and the shoulder and gently is the operative word. I am not very good at this part of selling. Working the crowd is where I excel, but the touch and hug stuff … my Scottish roots begin to show.

My friend, Nicky Makris, owns a café. He is a legend in our city for working the crowd. He goes from table to table chatting to his customers and his place is always packed. 

One of Nicky’s staff members told me that if someone comes in with a snarky attitude, Nicky can calm them down within a minute, “and if he can’t get them to smile, then they are real jerks!” Working the crowd is a skill set and a valuable one. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and appreciated. Nicky provides an emotional experience for his customers and in the garden centre/landscaping business, we need to do the same.

Appealing to people’s nostalgia increases sales. My friend Chris, who owned English Bay Bagels on Denman Street in Vancouver, sold phenomenal numbers of cinnamon rolls made with baking powder instead of yeast. That type of cinnamon roll is what my mother made for me as a child, and I loved them. Chris sold hundreds of them, every day, to people just like myself. We need to ask: What can we sell that appeals to the nostalgia in the gardener?

I was planting flowers for my wealthiest customer. He came out of the house and asked the name of a flower. It was celosia something that we don’t plant very often. He really liked it and told me so. Each year, after that, I ensured he had lots of celosia planted in his flower beds. He was quite pleased I planted that flower. Perhaps it was the flower his mom always planted when he was a boy? 

Once we accept that emotion plays an equally important part along with logic, in sales, then we can find our road to success. 

Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.

Landscape Trades,
November 2018