<b>Trees, ornamental & bedding plant:</b> Class is in session

Features - Supplement

How educational programs can help you score points with customers.

April 23, 2010

Coordinating or co-sponsoring compelling educational programs at local nurseries can yield multiple benefits to landscapers, not the least of which is establishing and gaining trust among customers who attend the classes.Trees by Touliatos offers 30 kinds of Crape Myrtles, 40 cultivars of Japanese Maples, hundreds of aquatic plants – and the whole nine when it comes to horticulture services.

Full-bore nursery? Check. Year-round, complete landscape consultation, design and installation? Got it. Water garden supplies? A collection that’s second to none. Retail “goodies”? Uh huh. Nature Center/arboretum? Well … yeah.

Indeed, the Memphis, Tenn., company started by Plato and Sarah Touliatos in 1962 markets the proverbial “all that and more,” including a now two-decades-plus commitment to educational seminars on the premises.

The curriculum has run the gamut over the past two decades, from plant care to water gardening installation and maintenance. Through six sessions a year, the management of Trees by Touliatos has parlayed the classes into a two-fold benefit. First, attendees “graduate” knowing a lot more about the subjects at hand. Maybe more importantly, said Greg Touliatos, who took over the company’s chief decision-making position when dad Plato retired last year, the education programs serve as the foundational link to more business for the company.

“The dynamics of retail business have changed, especially in recent years,” Touliatos says. “Chain stores have made it tougher. And the shopping process has changed, too, especially now that people have so many online options. The classes are a tool we use to counter what the chains have to offer – or specifically what they don’t have to offer. They have little or no expertise, so the educational programs have served to put us in a commanding position.”

The company has focused courses on landscaping and gardening challenges customers routinely face. This year, they are adding classes for kids. It’s a math thing.

The switch in focus is not only a bid to keep the seminars fresh; it’s a “math thing.”

“Every kid has at least one and often two parents accompanying them to class,” he says. “That’s an hour or so Mom and Dad will spend looking at the various products and services we have to offer while the children get to have fun learning about something new.”

Still, he says, any company can – and probably should – consider adding an education element to its mix. “My only advice would be to start small, with maybe an open house, something fairly low key at first,” he says. “Set your sights low, so you overachieve, and then build, year by year on the foundation. I will say this: The education program has been a definite positive for us.”

The author is editor of Garden Center. Send him an e-mail him at yyoungblood@gie.net.