Marketing for a small landscaper can sometimes feel “like you’re shooting into a black hole,” says Dorene Schuster with Greenleaf Landscaping & Gardens, Greenleaf, Wisconsin, a 2015 Landscaper of the Year finalist. Because of this, Dorene, who owns Greenleaf along with her husband, Ken Schuster, says the couple is not afraid of experimenting.
The 45-year-old company, centered in a growing rural area surrounded by the communities of Green Bay, Appleton and De Pere, has tried it all, Dorene says. They’ve found that door hangers and “welcome neighbor” packages don’t work. Yellow Page ads, once an exercise in making sure your ad was as big as your competitors’, are thankfully a thing of the past. “They were expensive,” Ken says.
What does work for the $1.3 million company are high-touch activities, some of them focused on the garden center the Schusters opened about nine years ago to complement their landscaping installations:
- Each summer, Greenleaf plays host to a Sunset Garden Party, which draws about 300 people, with clients invited free of charge. Several vendors set up shop in their parking lot, the local parish sells brats, a band plays and guests are invited to roam – wine glass in hand – the garden center’s gift shop, lawn sculptures, water features and plant inventory. Throughout the year, the company holds events such as planting parties and holiday wreath making, designed to get people through the doors.
- “Local home and garden shows are one of our better outreaches,” Ken says. And it’s more than just being present in a 10-by-20 booth. The couple has a mission: to introduce something new at each show, based on their research throughout the year. They also pass out “Kenbucks” – featuring Ken’s picture – that offer $5 off on a garden center purchase.
- Two activities position Dorene as a local go-to landscaping expert. First, she leads seminars at the home and garden shows, discussing a how-to topic or the latest landscaping trends. Each attendee comes away with a packet of valuable information, and of course, how they can get in touch with Greenleaf Landscaping. Winter is full of activity, even though the crews aren’t out planting or placing hardscaping. Dorene uses the downtime to pen a series of landscaping columns for the local newspaper, which will run through the warmer months. “I’ll examine what’s the best time to plant, new plants people should look at and outdoor trends such as firetables,” Dorene says.
But above all else, the Schusters place word-of-mouth from satisfied clients as their most significant marketing strategy. “We always want to have high-quality projects and not cut any corners,” Ken says. “If we notice something isn’t quite right, we want to take care of it.”
“And we want to do all projects as if they are on our own property,” adds Dorene.