Springs Grassroots Campaign

Share this content: Inc. plans this week to inaugurate a crucial grassroots marketing campaign for spring, a season that brings out the most experienced gardening shoppers and accounts for nearly 60 percent of the retailer's annual business.

The two-month roadshow puts a tangible face on the online gardening brand in six U.S. cities through community and media events, radio promotions, sweepstakes and cause-marketing elements.

In all, expects to benefit from repeat business and garner an additional 200,000 customers this time of year, said Nancy Mahoney, director of brand development at the Austin, TX-based company.

"We are reaching out to a whole customer base we haven't seen before," Mahoney said. "At the same time, we're going to major markets where we've already made inroads." sells gardening supplies and tools, plants and seeds, furniture and gift certificates. It has attracted nearly 1 million members in the four years that it's been up. E-commerce sales, a 1-800 number and on-site advertising yielded 1999 fiscal revenues of $5.4 million. Losses during that period were $19.1 million.

The new campaign is an extension of the company's TV, radio and print push that began in January and follows the recent launches of a print catalog and the Garden Escape magazine. It rolls out in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Atlanta and Washington -- cities where most of's customers reside.

Handled by Los Angeles-based entertainment and promotion company RPMC, this mobile marketing effort is intentionally colorful, friendly to environmental issues and a tad flamboyant.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of its efforts is the transport. A fleet of 1940s-era pick-up trucks -- painted a vivid green in the colors -- will travel through the targeted markets.

These trucks will carry flowerbeds, oversized gardening props, interactive computer kiosks and prizes. This caravan will also turn into a huge greenhouse for conversations on gardening issues between enthusiasts and specialists.

Building legitimacy by allying with green causes is key for Take The White House Millennium Council's Millennium Green effort, for instance. has been awarded the privilege of planting the millionth tree this year.

Similarly, one of the public-event prizes in each city is a green-tinged, triple whammy for the lucky winner: a free trip to the 2001 Chelsea Garden Show in London, a tour of that city and a chance to attend the Prince's Trust Dinner hosted by the Prince of Wales.

The grassroots effort makes no bones that it is out to acquire and retain customers.

So, while the trucks attract new business, Sunday garden parties are intended to retain the loyalty of existing customers, gardening specialists, civic leaders, local media, garden clubs and environmental groups.

Promotions on local radio stations will drive traffic to garden party venues at parks, botanical gardens or estates. Listeners have to visit the Web site to register for invitations and a chance to win a Front Door Facelift prize.

On a less exclusive level, the retailer has scheduled Friday and Saturday public events at highly trafficked venues like malls, piers and marketplaces. Again, this increases personal interaction between online brand and consumer.

Gardening products as a category have simply blossomed in the past four years. According to Eileen Isola,'s director of public relations, the total category nationwide was estimated at $47 billion four years ago. Today, it's about $82 billion.

As things stand, the gardening industry is highly fragmented and regional in nature. There's not a Home Depot in that category, though regional chains like Jackson Perkins or Foster & Gallagher are among the few big names.

The base of gardening customers still remains skewed toward women. In the industry's case, 52 percent of all gardeners are women. At, almost 70 percent of all users are women.

Interestingly, the entire grassroots tour is in metropolitan areas where tarmac rules, not lawn.

"This is where a majority of the real customers lie," Mahoney said. "These are cities where there are strong Internet connections and also the cross-over between gardening customers who are wired and also gardening enthusiasts."

It's not just the lawn crowd that targets, Isola said. The retailer has positioned itself as a resource for green thumbs and container gardeners alike.

"Gardening is a big hip new trend," said Isola, "so it doesn't matter if you have a yard. You can have a balcony; you can have a deck with plants in it, and I think that's one of the messages we want to get to people."

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