Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cold Nights, Friendly Vermonters

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Just past 7 PM here on the hill at Vermont Flower Farm. Gail just brought Karl the wonder dog in from his post supper relief. It was a short trip outside and a hasty retreat up the steps and back beside the wood stove. For the 99th time since yesterday morning I have heard Gail say "Boy is it cold!" If you heard her speak the words, you'd agree without challenge. You have no choice but to agree when the thermometer reads 13.9 degrees below zero and there's a light wind blowing. As pretty as the stars and the moon are shinning from above, no amount of beauty will keep anyone out there for long.

Today I had to take Alex to Burlington and when we finished the business part of the day we did a few things he liked. We started at Barnes and Noble where I was looking for a special garden book. Alex scanned for H.P. Lovecraft books, decided against a new Star Wars Jedi v. The Sith book and bought a cook book on North African cooking. He loves cookbooks and is especially fond of things from around the world so this was a find for him.

Then we stopped at our favorite Cheese Traders on Williston Road where we picked up two loaves of Challah bread from Stewart's Bakery (yes, Vermont!), some fresh buffalo mozzarella from the farm in Woodstock, some honey mustard and a few odds and ends. We sat in the truck and had a little buffet of goodies and watched people coming and going to the store. This is a routine the two of us have and although it's never the same menu, it's always fun. Good business people know their customers and know what they like and I think the Cheese Traders folks have this figured out.

We decided to squeeze in a trip to Church Street to visit Quarterstaff Games which is Alex's favorite gaming store. This is located at 152 Church Street on the second floor, just a few steps from the corner of Church and Main. He made a purchase only after working through the Made in China label which bothers him immensely. Just the same it was a good purchase and a complicated role playing board game that he is already learning.

Our trip back to the Burlington Square parking garage was a treat as the wind off as-yet unfrozen Lake Champlain was about all either of us could handle. All the while we were out and about, I watched people and how they were shopping.

Really good businesses study their customer base and can describe who their typical customer is and what they purchase or what they ask for. To be good at this, you have to understand people and be able to describe them. I believe I am beginning to get good at this.

For Christmas I received a number of books from Gail and Alex. I reported on one nice book last night on The Vermont Gardener. It was Dan Snow's In The Company of Stone, and it's a must-read for any gardener But two books that are about people and specifically Vermonters are Vermont People by Peter Miller and Sweet Days and Beyond by Burr Morse.

Miller and Morse know a Vermonter when they see one and their writing gives great example of their skill at this. Each book is entirely different from the next but they are both great gifts and fine reading any time of year. My business point for anyone contemplating any business venture, horticultural or otherwise, is to know your customers, listen to them and talk with them. Make no assumptions about appearance, the car they drive or the dog that barks in the back seat. Knowing people and displaying this knowledge brings people back time and again. It's an issue of trust and an assurance that you know what you are talking about. In the case of a nursery business, repeat customers means all these things including your obvious knowledge of what you grow and sell.

So as you continue to work on your business plan and you get to the "How do we market?" section, give attention to the people you think will be your customers. The reward to understanding people will be in the cash drawer at the end of the day but it will also be in the friendships that you seed and the warm greetings that you will harvest for years to come.

Writing from the now -15.1 degree mountain above Peacham Pond where looking out at the snow is just fine when you're sitting by the wood stove.

George Africa

The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

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