Friday, April 24, 2009

Are you one of these difficult garden center customers?

Guest post today from Jenny Bennett, a writer, editor, hiker, and not-too-serious gardener. Jenny has an entrancing blog, Endless streams and forests, on hiking and history, that you can find in the non-garden section of my blogroll. At one time Jenny worked in a garden center on Boston's North Shore and met some unusual customers. Do any of them sound like you?

Most of the time, the customers walked in with smiles on their faces, for they were happy to be in the world of plants. And that was a benefit of working at the garden center. It was certainly better than selling duct tape or plumbing supplies. But then, for every nine or ten contented visitors, there would be a cranky sort or (perhaps even worse) someone who was both eccentric and indecisive.

Here is a list of some of our favorite garden center specimens.

-- Nervous house seller: Would load up with whatever shrubs happened to be in bloom, even if it meant putting a rose of sharon under a pine tree. (Actually, I sympathize with this, being about to put my own house on the market.)

-- Seeker of “miniature” plants: Would look at an ornamental pear or a hemlock, then ask, “Is it available in miniature?”

-- Seeker of “frozen in time” plants: Didn’t mind that the plant was six feet tall, but wanted it to stay that height.

-- Unrealistic window box filler: Had large empty window box in full shade: “I’d like it to be a riot of color.”

-- Time-consuming window box demander: “I need to fill six window boxes, and I want you to show me something trailing for the front, spreading for the middle, and tall for the back. In yellow and red.”

-- The knowledge tester: Liked to point at something specialized, such as one of the 20 varieties of groundcover juniper, and ask for full details of siting and care, then move on to another plant, and another: push button, hear salesperson speak.

-- The “yoo hoo” ladies: Invariably elderly. Would go out to the roses or the hydrangeas and then cry out for assistance in loud bell-like tones: “Yoo hoo!”  Some of the guys who worked there took to calling out “Yoo hoo!” to each other in a remarkable falsetto.

-- Adventurous buyer: Wanted to look at the blue spruces even in the midst of a furious thunderstorm.

-- Fussy car owner: Required the interior of their vehicle to be completely encased in plastic sheeting when purchasing a couple of container items.

-- Soul-chilling customer: After being shown many plants, would say, “Nothing here interests me.”  (I could swear the plants wilted in the presence of these words.)

-- Cash register confuser: On Mother’s Day weekend, with a long line of people waiting amidst a great tangle of carts, would decide they wanted to put back the Japanese holly and get a spirea instead.

(The following two are particular, very special individuals rather than types.)

-- The bunny lady: Extremely wealthy, but dressed shabbily and drove a wreck.  Carried her pet bunny in a straw basket, but worried aloud to us that a swooping hawk might carry it off. (There were, in fact, a lot of red-tailed hawks in the area.) Would pick out dozens of her favorite oriental lilies and then keep them on hold for weeks at the garden center. Always came in just before closing on hot, tiring days.

-- The imperious country-club man: One of my all-time favorites—the 60-ish gentleman in the blue blazer who marched up to me and barked: “Show me the lilacs!  Chop-chop!”


Unknown said...

Too funny!

Michelle said...

I can safely say that I do not now (but perhaps once upon a time) fall into any of the categories! No more sprucing up for sale, yippee!

Victoria Williams said...

Hilarious!! I work in a deli and you can imagine the sorts of customers we get. But it makes me a better one when I'm being waited upon.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I'm following this post. Are you saying that it's rude to bark "Chop chop!" at sales associates? Because I would think you would appreciate knowing the customer was in a hurry.

FYI, I'm guilty of "frozen in time" plant shopping. I know it's wishful thinking, but the gratification is instant, while paying for your mistake is somewhere off in the hazy future.

tina said...

I am for sure the adventurous buyer and 'frozen in time' buyer on some plants. Aren't we all at times? Please tell me I'm not the only one!:))

"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane said...

I'll cop to being Suggestion Box: Frequent customer who mistakenly thinks she is part of the management team. "You know, if you carried more white lavender you could sell a lot of it. I've been all over town looking for it, and everyone says it's so popular...."

Pomona Belvedere said...

Humans do come in amazing varieties and subspecies. A case of frozen-in-time gardening was a friend of mine, planning to put fruit trees in her garden. I pointed out to her that she might be sorry about that in a few years' time, as they would take it over and start shading it.

"Do you think they'll grow?" she said worriedly.
"That's what trees do," I gently replied.

Have I made the same error myself? Do it all the time.

And I loved the chop-chop gentleman. But if he'd been in colonial India, wouldn't he have to be about 90?

Jenny said...

It's interesting that the "frozen-in-time" customer is getting a lot of response! At the garden center we used to sell live Norway spruces at Christmastime that people could keep in the house for a week with decorations, then take outside and plant (actually a dicey proposition, but that's another issue!). It so happened that there was a row of mature Norway spruces across the street, about 40 or 50 feet tall. I used to point them out to people: "That's what it's going to grow into," and they would be utterly shocked, even though the tag had the same information on it!

Regarding chop-chop, I got curious and did a quick web search. It goes back to China in the 1830s! (I don't know if the gentleman had ever been to India, though he acted as though he thought he was a rajah.)

Anonymous said...

I can so relate and I'm working at a garden center tomorrow. I've been filling in for the two years on as needed dad by dad basis but use to do it full time. I relived every single one of the cases above.

Some people are root inspectors. Some leave plants all over the nursery or a cart full and never return. Others tell you how dry everything is. Some want you to pick the best one. And then there are those who would like you to be by there side constantly.

My favorite couple last year---a man and wife. The wife loved me but the husband did not. She and I went through every combination possible for her situation at any given time and he---hated every minute of it. He gave me that look like....enough already.

Jenny said...

Couples were always interesting in the garden center. Sometimes they would play a sort of "good cop bad cop" routine: "Tell me more about this interesting plant" followed by "You gotta be kidding--this costs $200?" Other times it was: He--"I'm going out to the manly plants like the trees, and the wife can look atthe foofy flowers," or She--"I love to pick out dozens of plants and make him plant them."

Anonymous said...

I guess the nursery business is just like most retail jobs, you get all kinds. lol :)

Unknown said...

Happily, I'm not one of those types of customers. I tend to be friends with the people who own the garden centres I frequent, and to avoid those that I'm not fond of. UNhappily, I have encountered such people in my travels. All but the bunny lady, though I recognize the type. My dearly beloved has this whack-job of an aunt-by-marriage who fits the profile rather well.

EB said...

Lovely post. Yes, guilty - I've done the adventurous thing, I don't notice weather when I'm in full garden mode; also done the - can't remember what it was called but asking for lots of information. It didnt' seem like lots to me, but it was clearly regarded as such!

There's a terribly sad bit in Graham Thomas's autobiography. He's decided he must sell the middle house he lived in, which had a garden he loved very much and had poured his plants, heart and labour into. A couple come round to look - and say nothing, at all, until She says to Him, "If you've seen enough, shall we go?"

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Oh my!! I don't think I am one of those customers...I HOPE! Pretty funny.

Jeanne said...

I worked for 3 years at Martin Viette Nurseries on Long Island. The stories I tell from the times when I answered the phones and directed customer questions usually have gardeners rolling on the floor laughing. I will never forget the lady who called, puzzled that her impatiens died. She also wanted to scold us for selling her something with "ugly white worms in the pot." When questioned, she said she cut off all the "ugly white worms". She cut off the plants' roots! I'm telling's always an adventure when you work with the general public. Thanks for the memories.

Jenny said...

That's pretty amazing about the "ugly white worms"... I can recall a few similar stunners. I think the worst concerned ignorance about watering, and people who came in after a drought wanting their money back because the plant died, and it turned out they had hardly watered at all, especially trees. But I was always bothered more by cranky attitudes than by ignorance. One important thing I learned there: people who are unhappy with themselves are determined to make the rest of the world unhappy too.

Fern @ Life on the Balcony said...

LOL. I think some of my clients have been shopping at your garden center! Do you guys ever have the "Insta-gardeners?" The people who want their garden to look like it has been there for years but then balk at the prices of 48inch boxed trees?

Jenny said...

Fern-- oh yes, definitely! It's just another of the many forms of insta-gratification! So hard to get people to imagine the genuine enjoyment gained from watching plants and gardens grow steadily but gradually over a period of years.

Unknown said...

well, luckily I don't think I fall into any of these categories, but I think I would like to end any request to my husband from now on with "chop, chop" This was hilarious!

mr_subjunctive said...

I've been working full-time in a garden center for almost two years now, and I've dealt with all the types of customers described except for the "yoo-hoo" ladies. Don't recall any of them.

On the other hand, I can think of one particularly annoying variant of the knowledge tester: the customer who asks you about plants for 45 minutes and then leaves without buying anything, because they were planning all along to get them from a big box store, where they're cheaper. Obviously I don't know which particular customers have done this, but I know who's picking my brain and then leaving without buying anything.

Oh! And I've also had customers who thought it was no big deal to ask for free cuttings of stuff. Um, no. Buy the plant and take your own cuttings, or we'll take the cuttings and sell them to you, but taking stuff without paying for it is stealing. Dummy.

Jenny said...

Sarah--Let us know how that new strategy works out! : )

Mr. Subjunctive--I'm sure you are right about this buying strategy of using info from independent establishments to buy at big box stores. I suspect it applies to areas other than garden centers, too. On another subject, I have to ask: are you always in a subjunctive mood?

mr_subjunctive said...

Not always, no. But I am often enough that if I were always in a subjunctive mood, I don't think most people who know me would notice the difference.

Jenny said...

And if they were to notice the difference, so be it. : )

Anonymous said...

So true, sad but too real. I work at a small independent retail nursery.

What about the customers that come in with plants from the big box store and 99cent stores, wants to know what it is and how to take care of it? They usually complain/explain that they rarely buy anything at the independent stores because the prices are higher.

Guess it doesn't occur to them that educated people with useful knowledge cost more or that stocking locally grown, appropriately adapted plants cost more than mass produced, super fertilized plants.