by Courtney Llewellyn

The Western Nursery & Landscape Association hosted the third of its “Virtual Happy Hour” sessions on Thursday, April 23, led by the association’s executive director Sarah Bibens and Western Manager Callie Kirkegaard. The online session is an easy way to network with others in the industry from home.

On-hand to share what they’ve been learning and doing to adjust to business in the time of COVID-19 were Sue Markgraf of GreenMark Public Relations, Neal Glatt of, and Mark Ostendorf, an earth industry professional in Kansas City, among others. The topic that took of the lion’s share of the hour-long happy hour was connectivity.

“The innovation and creativity in our industry is intriguing to me,” Markgraf said. “Everybody’s doing things a little differently, but doing what’s best for them. And this is a really good time to get in touch with your customers.”

Social media is the best way to do that when you can’t speak with garden center, greenhouse or farmers market customers face to face. The most popular sites and apps continue to be Facebook and Instagram, but it’s important they are updated regularly.

“Transparency is important,” Ostendorf noted. “Let people know what you’re doing. But you also need to follow what people are saying and posting, and you gotta be able to interact.” This means sharing not only what you’re growing and selling but also your social distancing guidelines, your disinfection and safety protocols, how you’re delivering your goods – and if you’re open, what your hours are.

Glatt mentioned one business doing FaceTime shopping, which lets customers see the plants they want to purchase before they even arrive at the garden center. “There are no barriers anymore,” he said. “Everybody has time and wants to connect with somebody right now.”

Kirkegaard suggested using this time to be efficient – set up your online ordering platform, your website and your social media accounts. “I’m also curious to see how these practices persist [after stay-at-home orders end],” she said. “I know curbside pick-up has been very convenient, as have some of the virtual tools.”