How Hillier's garden centres grow

Garden centre business Hillier has spent 155 years building the expertise at the heart of its marketing strategy. For an organisation which prides itself on its knowledge about plants and gardens, credentials don’t come much stronger than 74 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show.

That Hillier, a family-run business which operates 16 garden centres stretching from Eastbourne to Bath, holds the Chelsea record is worth far more than real gold to the brand. In the article, Shelley talks about this and their wider marketing strategy. 

“Chelsea is all about brand awareness and PR for us,” says head of marketing Shelley Turner. “It’s a significant investment, not just in monetary terms but the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into it. It’s a year-round project.”

Hillier hasn’t reached the landmark of 155 years in business by resting on its laurels, however, and its achievements at the world’s most prestigious flower show dovetail with its wider marketing strategy. 

“What makes Hillier stand out is that horticulture is still at the heart of the business,” says Turner. “Customers arrive through the plant area where we have what we call ‘plant for purpose’. If you are looking for a shady garden, a sunny spot, if you want plants that are best to attract bees or butterflies, it’s really easy to find what you’re looking for.”

“The customer journey is central. As well as having knowledgeable staff on hand, most of the centres have dedicated advice huts where people can sit down to talk to someone about plants, trees and designs.”

Positioning the brand as the go-to place for advice permeates the business. “Whether it’s in centre, somebody sending a message on social media or emailing head office, customers will always get a full response and the advice they are asking for,” says Turner. 

Regular customers in Hillier’s loyalty scheme, the gardening club, receive a monthly email newsletter and quarterly magazine, of which the latter particularly appeals to the older demographic with about 30 per cent of people opting in to mail but out of email marketing. Both are expertise rather than offer-led.

“A lot of people keep hold of our magazine,” says Turner. 

“We get questions about magazines from two or three years ago. And we’ve got such beautiful imagery so print works very well for us.”

Hillier, which has just bought four centres including Cheddar in Somerset and Lechlade in Gloucestershire from rival Wyevale, has stayed ahead of the competition by investing in its restaurants, offering afternoon teas and seasonal menus, as well as events to drive footfall. 

“Events give people a reason to not shop online but come out and have an experience,” says Turner. “We now hold various workshops, talks and evening events such as cooking classes in our garden centres. Christmas wreath making is the most popular.”

Here at Bray Leino CX, we work with Hillier on their website. But whether it’s online, in print or in store, the messaging is consistent. “It’s important customers get that integrated experience right the way through. For example, if July is the ‘month of roses’ you will get a consistent experience from visiting the website and seeing lots of articles about roses to walking into the centre and seeing a display of roses.”

Whether you’re keen to understand if your marketing basics are still fit for purpose, or to make sure that your customer journey is seamless and joined up, get in touch. We’d love to chat with you. 

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