By Richard Helling

We often hear surprising things when talking with clients and potential clients, often involving insights into the green industry.   One such instance happened recently when we were meeting with a garden center client. Just in passing, he mentioned that he had great sales of Christmas trees at that location, but he had pretty serious trouble a couple of years before because of a seemingly innocent change in his delivery policy.

He had noticed, quite accurately, that his Christmas trees were more expensive than just about any other place in town. They were more expensive because he had factored free delivery and free set-up into the list price of the trees on his lot. Worried that he would lose business because his trees were more expensive, he eliminated the free delivery and set-up to reduce cost and instead offered those services for an additional fee.

In his words, “The response was staggering.” Virtually every customer wanted to speak with him personally because his business had always delivered and set-up the Christmas trees for free and they just couldn’t understand why he was now charging for the service. Naturally, the customers couldn’t remember how much they paid for their tree last year, but they absolutely remembered that there was free delivery and set-up. Even after explaining that there was virtually no cost difference between the two, he still had to deal with irritated customers who just couldn’t understand why he had removed the free delivery and set-up. Naturally, free delivery and set-up made a healthy come back the following Christmas season.

There are several interesting insights that we took away from this encounter. First and foremost, never underestimate the power of “free”. Even if it’s already factored into the price, customers love feeling like they are getting something extra for no additional cost. This could cover just about every aspect of every business from a buy one get one free sale to free planting of any tree above a certain dollar value to a free lawn cut if you pay for a specific number of cuts in advance.

The other insight we gained from this amusing story is to never underestimate the value of tradition. Customers like continuity and predictability. If they liked how you cut their lawn last week, then cut it the same way this week. If they like the way you fertilized their yard last month, make sure you do it the same way this month. It may sound odd and very rudimentary, but loyal customers are the cornerstone of every successful business in every industry in every area.

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