Anticipating Common Questions: A Real Win-Win

Apr 17, 2014 6 Comments

In the last posting, I talked about retail being theater and how we are all players on the stage. Garden retailers have a challenge to help their customers succeed the first time. I call it a “challenge” because so many garden shoppers lack knowledge and confidence, they fear failure.  I say “the first time” because with so many alternative uses of their time and money, consumers are in no mood to spend a lifetime mastering what we sometimes take for granted.

Garden retailers have an opportunity to build loyalty and trust in the customer’s mind when they come to your store, buy what you suggest, do what you say, succeed beyond their expectations and love you for it. The newer garden customers want the end result they see on TV or on social media, but without the trial and error they saw absorbing their parents’ lives.

Few homeowners want a concrete lawn and plastic flowers and are increasingly paying others to “Do It For Me,” (or Do Some of It For Me), because they don’t know what to do and don’t see the value in a 5-10 year learning curve.

That’s where garden retail teams come in, even if you are only one small step ahead of that customer approaching you as you look up and smile.

Even though you may not feel confident, you probably know more than you think and a lot more than many customers. It is a matter of confidence. Confidence to greet, engage, listen, validate and then decide if their question is something you can handle – no guessing or making it up – or something you should ask a veteran team member for help on (and give you a chance to learn for the next shopper).

What Do I Need To Know This Week?

But we can spend years in gardening and still not know everything, so how does a newer employee stand a chance? Owners and managers need to focus on the few specific questions that the customer might ask each week (a technique we call “The Year’s Top 50 questions”). The 80:20 principle applies here! Right now you can predict the top 10 questions from customers this week; “Can we plant tomatoes yet?”, “When do I feed my lawn?”, “Should I prune shrubs that have flowered?” and so on. Much of this information has a short window, few ask about crab grass control In June.

Predicting this week’s main questions, addressing the problems and projects that drive customers to your store, encourages team members to engage customers, rather than putting all the load on the shoulders of a few “experts.” It also shows employees that they are not expected to carry a whole year’s information at any moment, making them more self-confident, while passing off the deeper or oddball requests to the veterans. The customers get the impression (it IS theater after all) that ALL the team knows its stuff and trusts their words more – probably increasing the average ticket in the process.


Weekly meetings should outline the expected questions, “retiring” some and introducing others as the season progresses. Daily huddles or one-on-one coaching will prepare even the most nervous “newby” (assuming they were a correct hire in the first place) to help a customer succeed. Each week employees are encouraged to add new sure-bets to the list such as “Don’t you have Impatiens anymore?”.

Some managers add the top 5 questions of the week to the daily calendar or scheduling log-on, some use PK or Product Knowledge training to emphasize customers’ top projects or requests. Others make it the core of their morning huddle; “We have frost forecast all week, let’s talk about our crop covers”.

Help me “Like” Shopping Your Store

However they are conveyed, sharing a few focused questions with the team can be a major win-win, giving much needed self-confidence to employees, trustworthy answers to the shopper and a higher rate of success for the homeowner. What’s not to like?

Coming up next time: Listening!

  1. Tina Bemis
    Apr 17, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Timely, as usual. What a great way to help me overcome the hurdle of training the new guys. 5 questions at a time. THX.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 21, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Thank you Tina! Good selling when spring finally arrives in MA, early season signs are good with average sale per customer up significantly in most warm-climate areas.

  2. John Crook
    Apr 18, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Wonderful article, Ian. Here’s what we are going to do. In every weekly staff meeting we will ask what the most commonly asked questions were the past week, along with what they think it will be for the coming week. We will post those along with the answers. We will file those for next year so we can stay a step ahead next year, always revising according to weather, etc.

    The other thing we do is give each staff member a looseleaf binder with a copy of all of our garden tip flyers. These are indexed with tabs to make it easy to find a topic. This gives everyone easy access to nearly all the answers they need, direct from our own garden tip flyers.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Apr 21, 2014 at 8:27 am

      Thanks John; filing this year’s most frequent questions is a great idea and can be the basis of next year’s orientation and training. Let us know how it goes and happy spring selling in ID!

  3. Harold Dambly
    May 1, 2014 at 5:24 am

    What a great way have the entire staff engaged and ready to serve the customer to turn this cold, wet and dreary east coast spring around.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      May 1, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Thanks Harold, hope it helps when the weather finally breaks for you because average sale is well up across the country where the weather is good. Fingers crossed for your weekend in NJ!

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