Tell Me A Story - Part 1

Tell Me A Story - Part 1

by Robert Hendrickson

To understand the message in this article I need you to stop reading and watch Johnnie Walker "The Man Who Walked Around The World. This is a Watch the six minute video then come back and continue reading what I'm about to say. Ok? Good.

Ok... you're back. Pretty cool, right? Asking you to watch the video wasn't about the product. It was about the story behind the product. Now think of the stories you could tell about your company's history. Not about the stuff you sell, which seems to be the hero in most garden center ads, but the story behind the company that provides the products you have to sell.

Where does your story begin? Do you remember the exact day, maybe even the exact moment you began your horticulture journey that turned into the life you’re now living? I do.

My previous life took place in a run-down, two bedroom Illinois farmhouse with 14 people, an outhouse that was always full and a well that was always empty. And a dream… a dream to become rock-n-roll star of course.  We did alright. Just enough success to keep trying. After a few years of concert dates around Illinois, the band moved to Denver. Soon after my rock-n-roll life ended just around the time the dream was about to come true.

While our band’s agent was telling us how lucky we were to be the opening act on a ZZ Top tour, I realized I knew three types of people in the music business… famous, arrested or dead. Something told me it was time for a change.

Thru the smoky haze in the agent's office I told the band I was leaving . When they asked why, I said I didn’t like the odds. The next day I dropped off my guitar and amps at a Denver pawn shop and headed back to the same Illinois farmhouse to become…  a farmer.  I soon realized I didn’t have a clue how deep to plant chickens or how many acres of zucchini was required to feed a family of two.  Maybe the best way to learn how to make this self-sufficient lifestyle work, and receive a discount on the stuff I needed, was to go to work at some place that sold plants. The next day I walked into this tiny garden center behind my parents house and asked if they needed any help. The interview was quick… no drug test and just one question… “Can you start tomorrow?”  My one word answer... "Yes."


The life we live today is the result of a series of connected actions, each one impacting the next like dominos on a run, moving us toward the present. And along that journey there’s often that one moment that changes everything. Mine was when I said "Yes" at a small garden center in Illinois. That one word began a fifteen year, in the trenches retail garden center adventure, then ten years as a one person consulting business followed by another fifteen years managing The Garden Center Group. It's been a journey I wouldn't have changed in any way.

What about you? Think back, a week, a month, a year or lots of years. Do you remember that one moment when you made your horticulture decision? Are you happy with your decision? You should be. You chose a career that makes a difference in people's lives. We sell things that bring smiles and fun to people of every age, in any generation and any demographic. For the price of one Starbucks tea, a person can buy enough plants to supply an entire neighborhood with tomatoes.

Best of all, we sell things that make the world a more beautiful place to live.

But lately there’s been some in the industry who feel we’ll lost our way, that people running garden centers just don’t get it. We’re out of touch, out of sync, out of step, especially with the next generation of shoppers. They seem to believe the things that made us successful in the past will no longer work.
But I don’t buy the fear mongering that's taking place from people who are supposed to be helping the industry. What I'm hearing and reading from consultants, associations, their research firms, trade show speakers, magazine articles and industry enewsletters, is that people not running garden centers seem to think they have all the answers and everyone else should be afraid to get out of bed because of not being prepared for the future. I'm really tired of hearing all the rhetoric of  "you have to change or die" coming from all sides of the industry.

I found this paragraph in the book Storybranding by Jim Signorelli...

"Time and time again we see forecasts that say... "We must change our identity or we're going to perish."
More often than not, the only thing that needs to change is an improved sense of who we really are."
I like what Jim has to say. It’s understanding and being confident in who you really are, the strengths that built your company, how the things you sell improve people’s lives... that’s what will make a difference in today and the future for our industry. An improved sense of who we really are and the bold confidence that garden centers matter to people.

I'm not saying companies shouldn't always strive to get better at what they do. But when people who don't run garden centers use scare tactics saying the only hope for survival is to change who you are... change your identity and image... I think you should take a deep breath and reflect on what got you, your company and our industry to where we are today. There's a big difference between being "aware" and being "afraid". No one performs their best when they're afraid. Here's a more positive approach... be the best at who you are... be the best real you, you can be... not someone other people think you should be.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the coolest garden centers in the country, companies run by owners who aren’t afraid of the future and believe as I do that a simple eight word phrase holds the key…

"Our future is in the stories we tell."

I believe stories… the right stories… like the video you just watched...can impact people regardless of their generation, demographics or personal perception of what gardening… real gardening… is all about. When I discuss this with companies that trust me to help them make the right decisions, two questions always come up…

Why stories and why stories now? These are fair questions.

We'll address both next time. (See Part 2 of "Tell Me a Story)


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