By Tracy Shevlin
John Toepfer and Susan Brandt are the brother and sister team behind Blooming Secrets.com. Toepfer is a gardening expert and Brandt, a marketing guru. By combining their expertise in the Blooming Secrets, they help all levels of gardeners succeed. Inspired by an unlikely source, Brandt explains that subscription sites in the fashion industry created a workable business model for their gardening business.
Prince William Living caught up with Brandt to discuss their novel approach to a gardening business.
PWL: While most people would associate gardening stores with a physical location, can you explain how Blooming Secrets works as an online format?
Brandt: When new customers log onto BloomingSecrets.com, they can take a short quiz to help determine their needs as well as their likes and dislikes. The quiz is easy and uses pictures to help people identify the plants and flowers they like and what environment they have. We use their answers to develop personalized selections for them based on their physical space, location, and level of experience gardening. We also have a free membership forum where customers can ask specific questions and share their garden photos. For example, in the forum, they might ask what else would grow with the Amaryllis in their garden.
We provide customers the personalized service of a traditional store but the convenience of being able to do it all online. The top two reasons that people don’t garden are that they don’t know how to get started or they don’t think that they have time. By using our personalized suggestions, people have fun, feel more successful and achieve better results for their efforts.
PWL: How does being an online vendor impact what you do as a gardening business owner?
Brandt: Being an online vendor allows us to draw customers from all over the country. As merchants, we need to keep abreast of national trends in gardening as well as those local to our area. Among national trends are scatter gardens, specialized gardens to attract bees and butterflies and edibles.
While some customers have traditional gardens, there is also a trend toward small space gardening, within many national trends, even edibles. People can grow several herbs or types of lettuce in a single container. There are also new products in edibles, such as “urban grow kits.” They include everything needed to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, including soil and organic seeds, and they are designed to be grown in small spaces.
Interestingly, the trends are not just geographic. Other demographics have an effect on our business as well. One example would be the preferences millennials customer have for bold colors and their fondness for growing plants that their parents did not grow.
Also, because we are an online vendor, all of our marketing is online, whether it is maintaining our blog, using social media or placing ads or advertising on Google. Facebook plays an important role in our marketing. On Facebook we have over 28,000 followers. We post our own content but also share related articles on our page. We also maintain a store site on Amazon.
PWL: Can you explain more about how online advertising works?
Brandt: Depending on the methods you use, you can advertise online and pay on a cost per thousand (CPM) or pay per click. We also utilize retargeting, so if you have visited our page on Facebook, you might see our advertisement on another site that has advertising (such as a media site).
PWL: Can you tell us more about your relationship with Amazon?
Brandt: About six months after we started our site, Amazon approached us about putting our products on its site. It was very nice to be noticed by such a large organization. Amazon gets a percentage of our sales, but like other marketing decisions, we evaluate the return for cost. It works for us for several reasons.
First, as an additional marketing channel, it provides us exposure to a large number of targeted buyers. Many customers feel safer purchasing online with Amazon. They know and trust Amazon. Secondly, we are able to fulfil the orders ourselves, which allows us quality control. Plants are perishable, and we wouldn’t like to sacrifice quality for quantity.
PWL: Being an online retailer rather than a store front operation, how does Blooming Secrets manage to stay connected to the community?
Brandt: We stay connected to the community through our blog and membership forum. In our forum, we interact with customers and learn about their personal gardens. People can upload photos and ask questions as well.
Additionally, we donate a portion of each sale to several organizations that share some of our core values. We are serious in our commitment to helping others appreciate the many benefits of nature conservancy and gardening. As part of each transaction, we let our customers to choose which organizations they would like to support from the following organizations: National Park Foundation, National Gardening Association, American Horticultural Society, Audubon, National Garden Clubs and the Nature Conservancy.
For additional information on personalized gardening, visit bloomingsecrets.com.
Tracy Shevlin ([email protected]) is a native Virginian and long-time Manassas area resident. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she is also an office manager. Follow her on twitter @nvalady1.