Education is one of the best ways to encourage and help foster your customers’ success. Loma Vista Nursery in Ottawa, Kan., has fine-tuned its education programs throughout the years and established itself as trusted experts in the green industry.
Loma Vista maintains a wholesale operation as well as a landscape distribution center. Much of the company’s educational programs are hosted through its distribution center, but it’s certainly a model that could be successful for any wholesale grower willing to invest the time.
“Several years ago we determined as a staff that we wanted to distinguish the staff of Loma Vista Nursery as experts in the industry, and education is one of the ways we do that,” says Lyndsi Oestmann, vice president at Loma Vista. “Education can solidify the relationship with the customer. It’s an excellent way to partner with your customer.”
Loma Vista’s customer outreach and education include newsletters, a blog, events, industry association involvement and membership, and a reference guide.
Newsletters are customized to a particular market. One may go to independent garden centers, while another may go to landscape architects and yet another to landscape contractors.
“We gear the newsletters specifically to the needs of the customer segment, featuring different products and tips,” Oestmann says. “For instance, when we’re catering to the landscape architect, our goal is to let them know they can look to us on a local and regional level when spec’ing plant material.”
For the IGC, Loma Vista sends a newsletter weekly during the peak season, then monthly when the gardening season begins to wane.
Events make up a large part of Loma Vista’s education programs, and they’ve proven to be quite successful, according to Oestmann. The nursery receives positive feedback from current and prospective customers throughout the year for the topics covered and the experts making presentations at the events.
There are specialized events for landscape architects, landscape contractors, retailers and municipalities. Loma Vista’s annual field day is open to all customers and suppliers, but this year the company tried a new approach and hosted a municipality field day at the farm. Representatives from each municipality in the metropolitan area was invited to see how Loma Vista propagates plants, learn more about the company’s approach to plant health, and its methods in plant selection.
“We want to make sure the municipalities can see how much nursery product is grown here at our farm, and how we can be a source for them. When working with municipalities, there are a lot of processes and people involved,” she says.
Loma Vista hosted a talk by Nancy Buley, director of communications at J. Frank Schmidt & Son in Boring, Ore. One of Buley’s presentations was for city employees and staff that manage large properties.
Events for landscape architects include a tour of the growing operation, so attendees learn how plants are produced at the nursery, which is helpful for a better understanding of how those plants will function and survive once they get to the job site, Oestmann says. Besides hosting events for landscape architects, Loma Vista also hired a staff member who works only with that customer segment.
“It’s a relatively new position – just under two years on staff. They develop those relationships with landscape architects, explain what’s going on from a production standpoint and help inform them about what’s going on in the market,” she says.
This year’s events at Loma Vista have also provided attendees with details on new plants to the market; specific solutions to challenges in the area’s heavy clay soils; hardscape demos; container gardening; new plants and the niches they serve; tree healthcare; and business management, to name a few.
“We’ve been so fortunate to do the educational events for our customers because our staff has such a solid knowledge base,” she adds.
The company’s latest outreach product is its Reference Guide, which includes hundreds of images and descriptions of plants that do well in the Midwest.
Next summer – a date has not yet been set – Loma Vista will be a stop on the Western Nursery and Landscape Association bus tour (www.wnla.org).