Great Ideas From VP

Horticultural products website launched in late 2007, which in hindsight was not the best time to start up a business.

Yet the company has been thriving ever since, thanks to plenty of online innovation. Its vice president Chris Hansen shared the merchant’s story at the MCM Live conference in New York on May 4.

Hansen, who was with plants cataloger Wayside Gardens for 10 years, cofounded with president Mary Walters. It took them six months to choose a name for the company, using Google to find the tops words in gardening searches, he noted. “We then knew we wanted ‘garden plants’ in the URL.”

The company targets beginning to intermediate gardeners, typically age 35 to 55, and it aims to offer “Walmart pricing with Neiman Marcus service,” Hansen said. “People are scared to buy plants online,” he noted. “We want to take away the fear factor.”

Hansen detailed several of’s strategies in his keynote presentation. Here are six of his top tips.

1) Tap into testimonials. uses a lot of customer testimonials on its site, Hansen said, “and we haven’t even begun to maximize them.”

The merchant includes the customer names and where they live so folks residing in the same growing region can see how a plant will perform in their garden. GreatGardenPlants plans to start including customer testimonials on the product pages, Hansen said.

2) Use Google for product development. Not only did the founders uses Google to find’s name, they also let the search engine dictate the product mix, Hansen said.

Google and keyword search tools will help indicated what’s popular in your market. “Before you launch a new product line, see what Google’s telling you,” he advised.

3) Never underestimate the power of pictures. Catalogers know that a 1/8-in. crop can make all the difference with a photo, Hansen said. “Pictures are so important—make sure you are using the best!”

It’s a good idea to use people in some photos, because they make the photo stand out and they help show the scale of a plant, Hansen said. GreatGardenPlants will also use a ruler to show the width of a plant’s leaf in photos, he added.

You should also test images, making a note of the date and time you changed it on your site, he noted. For instance, recently changed a photo for an item that wasn’t performing well and saw a 600% increase in sales.

4) Constantly refine your copy. Even though Hansen is quick to point out “nobody reads—they look at pictures,” he spends a lot of time refining the site’s copy, editing for search, checking bullets, pricing.

Never assume the user will understand something, he added: “You think it’s simple, but you have to dumb it down” for many shoppers.

5) Engage shoppers with email., which emails customers five times a week during the growing season, keeps it interesting with features such as “Problem-solving Mystery Plant” and a video of the week.

In the Mystery Plant contest, readers try to identify a plant from a photo and email their guess to GreatGardenPlants; the first five correct answers win $25.

Hansen receives 500 to 700 email guesses in his inbox with each contest, and he has a template set up to respond to everyone. Participants who guessed correctly but were not among the first five receive a consolation discount of $7 off.

Those who guessed incorrectly also receive an email, saying, “Sorry, you weren’t a winner—here’s the correct plant,” with a link to the plant’s product page on (Always link to a plant that you sell, Hansen said.)

6) Understand the value of video. started doing videos two years ago and now has 50 videos, which have had more than 420,000 views.

But videos don’t need to be anything fancy, Hansen stressed. He explained a recent “drive-by” video that he shot with a Flip camera of some gorgeous hydrangeas growing in a bank parking lot.

Video is the merchant’s top sales generator, Hansen said. How does he know they work? Including a coupon code for, say, 10% off, at the end of the clip enables to track sales for videos.

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