Customer Education: How Plant Care Classes Can Increase Account Retention

Holding plant care classes could be one way of creating value with your client, as well as stimulating good will and enthusiasm for plants in the community.

One of our problems as interiorscapers is keeping customers. That means not only providing them with competitive costs and beautiful plants but also having them see you as more than just one of several vendors by giving them something extra for their money and making them feel important. Everyone likes to feel important, right?

We all know how many questions people ask us in accounts. They have questions about the plants in their office, questions about their plants at home, and questions about everything from avocados to yew hedges. So we know they’re interested. If you find three or four people always wanting to talk about plants, they’re ready for a plant class, my friend!

First thing, of course, is to run the proposal past the contact or other appropriate management personnel. Stress to them that there is no extra charge and that this is a free service which you, their plant company, provides to customers.

Where and when could be a minor issue if they don’t want to use regular office hours for this education piece. Lunch time might be good and right after work is usually doable as well. As for where, the office break room or a conference room is the most obvious place for the class but there are other possibilities. Community centers, botanical gardens, parks, local garden stores, even some restaurants might be good options. You’ll just want to make sure it’s a place where it won’t matter if you get a little dirt on the floor.

Once you get the go-ahead from the client, you can start talking about the class with the office people. Print up some simple flyers for the bulletin board and to pass around. Don’t forget the executive and management areas. You can even use the flyers to show to folks in other accounts to see if they’d be interested in the idea.

On the flyers you might want to tell people to bring a pair of scissors and a duster or cloth. Be sure they know that they’ll be getting their hands dirty. You can also invite people to bring in plants from home to talk about or for problem diagnosis.

Who from your organization will teach the class? It could be anyone. You might first think a supervisor or whoever regularly does training would be suited for this task, but there are other choices too. Perhaps it might be most beneficial to choose the tech on the account or someone in your group who has some special plant knowledge, like landscaping or the local orchid society. Whoever it is, hopefully it’s someone who is good at speaking, explaining, and has that “passion for plants” that other people pick up on.

What will the class cover? The explanation of house plant care in the simplest way possible, within the limits of your 60 or 90 minute meeting, is a good template to start with. One way is to condense your training program down to about 45 minutes; you want to leave plenty of time for questions and discussions.

The relevant topics could be something like this:

  1. Watering (determining soil moisture, deciding on water amount, watering methods)
  2. Light (how light affects water usage and growth, meaning of “high,” medium,” and “low” light)
  3. Soil (particles and spaces, effect on plants, soil mixes)
  4. Pests and pathogens (appearance, how to identify, how to treat)
  5. Grooming and maintenance (cleaning, trimming, fertilizing, repotting)
  6. Which plants are best for beginners and easiest to find

Watering

It’s important to use hands-on demonstrations. People will be much more interested than simply sitting and listening or viewing pictures. A good demonstration for explaining soil moisture is to give everyone a cup of dry soil, a cup of water, and a tablespoon; they add water to the cup a spoonful at a time, mix thoroughly, then pick up some soil, feel it, squeeze it between fingers, observe the changing properties of the soil.

Light

In talking about light, everyone can get up and move around to different spots, using a piece of paper to test shadows. (You know, holding your hand 12” above plain paper while observing the appearance of the shadow).

Soil

When it comes to talking about soil, you can have your students examine several containers of different soil types and additives (soil-less mix, conventional commercial MG-type mix, cactus mix, perlite, etc.) making sure they get their fingers in to feel the differences.

Pests and Pathogens

What a perfect time to show live samples! Transported carefully in bags to avoid infection, of course. You can show not only what the bad guys look like, but what kind of damage they do. Be careful with the chemicals. You can mention them, but it’s best to demonstrate spraying with soap and water.

Grooming

To talk about grooming, what’s better than using one or more of the office plants? Show them what you do and how they can do it at home. Then hand out small plants for each person to practice on and take home.

Plants for Beginners

If each plant you hand out is a different variety, this will cover your introduction to the best beginner plants. You can give each of them a different soil moisture level, so they have a bit of practice in applying what you’ve been talking about. You can finish by handing out a simple list of the beginner plants, including their light and moisture requirements.

If there’s enough interest, each of these topics can easily be expanded into its own hour-long class for a later time.

Holding plant care classes for your customers will cost you in terms of instructor’s time and gift plants if you choose to use them. But I don’t think it takes much imagination to see the rewards in terms of good will, heightened interest, and ultimately, client retention.

Marlie Graves, known as The Ficus Wrangler, has been keeping plants beautiful, training techs and relating to clients at half a dozen companies for 30 years. She studied creative writing and psychology in college and went on to start an independent film company with her first husband. She decided to focus on plants full time after completing the NYBG Horticulture School interior landscaping course. Marlie is retired, operates "The Ficus Wrangler" YouTube channel, contributes regularly to several houseplant forums, and is working on a plantcare book based on professional methods.

NewPro Containers

Join the Community