Think outside the (big) box – Sell yourself, not just your plants!

By Gabrielle Stannus

At the recent NGIA Growing Edge conference in Hobart, restaurant critic turned pig farmer Matthew Evans spoke of how of his early experience cooking in a Canberra culinary institution taught him the importance of quality over quantity 1 . Needing to satisfy the appetites of over one hundred customers at each service, Evans quickly found that shortcuts were the order of the day, with dishes featuring ingredients such as “refreshed” oysters, lime (cordial) sauce and packet mixes. Yes food was served on time, and with a fancy French name. However, the quality left a lot to be desired .

Fast forward several years and Evans has now ensconced himself on Fat Pig Farm in southern Tasmania. Needless to say his former Canberra employer is no longer open. These days, Evans is kept busy farming quality produce for his on-site restaurant and operating a cookery school, smaller-scale operations that allow him to share his passion for good food whilst retaining time for his family. Everything except olive oil and wheat is grown on-site, allowing Evans to maintain tight control over the quality of meals served, and thereby maximising the customer experience.

Evan’s interest in quality produce led him to develop his show “The Gourmet Farmer”. Initially Evans wanted to tell the story of people who sold food that tastes better at the farm gate, i.e. where it is produced. However, when pitching his show story to SBS, Evans found that the station producers were more interested in hearing about those people’s stories through his own story. Hence, the show became a vehicle about his journey as a grower and restaurateur on Fat Pig Farm.

By selling his own story, Evans has shared his point of difference with existing and potential customers and has hence grown his business. NGIA growers and retailers can learn from Evans’ experience. Rather than competing with the big boxes on price (quantity), let your potential customers know what makes you different (quality).

Dr Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Tasmania, says that 'competing on price is often not the right approach because customers can now jump online and source the lowest-priced products' 2. It is virtually impossible to compete with the big-boxes on price as their ability to purchase in large volumes means they have lower margins. So what can you do differently?

Share your story! Evans says every product has an interesting story and every business has its own personality. People like to deal with and buy from people and businesses they can connect with and relate to.

People purchasing your plants and horticultural supplies want to know that the items they purchase from you are going to work. Tell them the story behind your business, i.e. the plants and the people behind them. What do you know about your plants that the competition may not? This helps to build trust in the quality of your product.

There are many ways to share your story. Displaying posters and distributing flyers are old school but still worthy vehicles. Why not conduct workshops at your nursery? Charge a small fee to recoup your costs but also to show your customers your time is valuable. Websites are great but can be a little static unless you regularly refresh content or publish a blog.

Facebook is perhaps the most valuable social medium for developing a relationship with your customers as it lets them in on the conversation. They can ask questions and share their stories too. A word of warning, do not give too much free advice here. You want these people to actually come into your nursery to make a purchase!

At the point of sale, more and more businesses are using QR (Quick Response) codes, usually on plant labels and shelf talkers. Using a QR reader on their mobile phone, customers can scan these codes to learn more about the plant they are purchasing and how to care for them once planted.

A sense of humour woven into your story can also work wonders. Tim Pickles from Tim’s Garden Centre in Sydney’s has no qualms when it comes using a comic approach to promote his business. Tim’s “Pig” has his say on current news and events from the safety of his soapbox at the front of his nursery. Tim himself has shared more than just a quote to get people talking, stripping to his “birthday suit” on national television to promote World Nude Gardening Day.

If using humour, be careful not to turn potential customers off. Tim is able to use a light-hearted approach to share his story as he does it knowing that his qualified horticultural staff know their plants. Share your story wisely. Be yourself but also put yourself into the shoes of your audience. Would you buy plants from yourself?

Good luck!


Fat Pig Farm:
Tim’s Garden Centre:


1. Evans, Matthew 2018, ‘Welcome to Tasmania – Selling the story of the grower’, presentation delivered to the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) ‘Growing Edge’ conference, Hobart, Tasmania, 20 February 2018

2. Grimmer, L 2017, ‘Keeping our city centres and vital retail strips vibrant’, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, viewed 18 March 2018,