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Sweet Strawberry Social

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					                   FUN WAYS TO BRING IN CUSTOMERS AND SALES
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Sweet Strawberry Social
Shortcake, shakes and so many other surprises at Portland Nursery.

TAKE IT FROM PORTLAND NURSERY: change           you will lose the edge,” says Store Director
is good. This summer’s annual Strawberry        William McClenathan. “We had lost the
Social drew close to 10,000 customers dur-      edge, and that’s why I was so pleased with
ing each of the two weekends it ran, prov-      what the staff did this year. They found
ing a little advertising ingenuity and good     that edge again, and that’s what it takes.”
promotion pays off.                               To keep things moving forward, Mc-
  Another year without any sign of in-          Clenathan says it’s important to look at
creased sales, and the social would have        everything you do and be willing to ad-
been an expo of the past for the Portland,      mit when something’s not working. “If you
OR, retailer’s Division Street store. But for   can’t do that, then you are stuck to really
this, the 12th year of the event, the garden    being status quo,” he says.
                                                                                                                       GARDEN CHIC | NOVEMBER 2006




center’s zealous staff took an outside-the-       This year, for the first time in many years,
box approach to coordinating the celebra-       the Strawberry Social made enough money
tion, pulling off one of the best Strawberry    to cover its overhead costs - about $12,000.
Socials in their history.                       A couple hundred dollars were even left
                                                                                                W R I T T EN BY
  “Whether in life or in business, anything     over for a staff party.                         DI A N E
you do repetitively, you run the risk that        The Strawberry Social’s phenomenal            P I L K I NGTON


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                                                                                                      before the event          Advertising. What really made the
                                                                                                      begins. The he-         difference this year, McClenathan says,
                                                                                                      lium-filled fruit        was the amount of advertising the gar-
                                                                                                      beckons custom-         den center did. Their intense promo-
                                                                                                      ers to come from        tional campaign made the event the
                                                                                                      miles away.             talk of the town and successfully drew
                                                                                                        When attendees        in large crowds.
                                                                                                      arrive at the event,      Portland Nursery placed ads in sev-
                                                                                                      they are greeted        eral large newspapers, including The
                                                                                                      with strawberry         Oregonian, Lake Oswego Review, The Van-
                                                                                                      paraphernalia           couver Sun, The Mercury News, Standard-
                                                                                                      everywhere. Two         Examiner and Willamette Week - a hip,
                                                                                                      men on Portland         urban paper popular with Gen-Xers.
                                                                                                      Nursery’s produc-         In total, they spent $2,700 on advertis-
                                                                                                      tion crew make          ing, which ran the entire two weeks of
                                   comeback was an unexpected delight,         most of the decorations, and build ta-         the event.
                                   and plans for an even better event next     bles and signs for the expo as well.             “It’s so hard in this industry right
                                   year are already in the works.                Staff members decorate the garden            now because of it changing from those
                                     Portland Nursery’s Division Street        center inside and out with their themed        avid gardeners to this younger set of
                                   store started the social because they       creations, such as wooden plaques cut          gardeners,” McClenathan says. “Most
                                   wanted to do something that gave back       and painted to look like strawberries          nurseries are scrambling, trying to fig-
                                   to the community and their customers.       and strawberry banners.                        ure out what they need to do to bring in
                                     For two weekends in June, from 9            “Because of the success of this year,        that younger group.”
                                   a.m. to 4 p.m., the garden center invites   I’m actually going to do some planting           Portland Nursery included coupons in
                                   people to come out and enjoy music,         of really cool baskets of strawberries,        all of its advertisements, except in the
                                   clowns, food, seminars, cooking dem-        and I found these arches that you can          Willamette Week. The editor of the paper
                                   onstrations, shopping and mingling in       plant over top of,” McClenathan says.          let the garden center know beforehand
                                   the middle of its nursery yard.             “I thought that would be just kicking to       that their readers - 20- to 30-year-olds -
                                     Decorations. Flying high in the sky       walk through archways of strawberries          don’t pick up the weekly newsprint for
                                   is the Strawberry Social’s 10-foot-tall     hanging down from 10 feet up.”                 the coupons. So the garden center cre-
                                   strawberry balloon. Several staff mem-        After each year’s social is over, the dec-   ated an ad specifically for the paper that
                                   bers have fun putting up the floating        orations, tables and signs are stored away     attracted an overwhelming number of
                                   strawberry each day, starting the week      in the basement of the garden center.          Gen-Xers to the social. Many had never
GARDEN CHIC | NOVEMBER 2006




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  “It would be kicking to walk through archways of
           strawberries hanging down from 10 feet up.”


been to the garden center before.         cal issues. One of her most popular
  Portland Nursery’s mainstream           talks is about opossums and their nu-
newspaper      advertisements     were    tritional habits. She lets the kids pet
equally well-received. Thousands of       her opossum while she talks about it,
coupons were redeemed from them,          giving them a hands-on connection
helping to determine the success of       and an active interest in learning.
the social. Redeemable for 15 percent       Mishkin, a street performer, doesn’t
off customers’ entire purchases both      wear makeup with his costume. He
weekends, the coupons drove sales         comes to the Strawberry Social as
into the thousands of dollars.            himself - a crazy balloon maker and
  Entertainment. Musical guests are       juggler extraordinaire.
a major attraction at the Strawberry        Demonstrations and seminars. It’s
Social. As an added bonus for the         hard for guests to pass up the cook-
garden center, most of the hired mu-      ing presentations at the Strawberry
sicians advertise the gig themselves,     Social. Chefs from local culinary
drawing fans who may otherwise            schools demonstrate recipes that call
have not attended the expo.               for berries. When they’re finished,
  This year, six artists played at dif-   they share the delicious creations
ferent times under a tent in the nurs-    with attendees.
ery yard. Musicians submitted CDs           The seminars are held in a tent in
as part of the audition process, and      the vegetable area. Between 20 to 25
the garden center’s assistant manager     chairs are set up for each.
chose the acts.                             The chefs are responsible for bring-
  As entertainment for kids, Eartha       ing their own cooking equipment. By
the Ecological Clown and Joe Mish-        law, the garden center provides them
kin are big hits at the social.           with potable water from the city.
  Eartha engages children with ani-         Additional seminars, covering topics
mals, such as her pet opossum and         ranging from water conservation to
cockatoo. She also does face painting     trimming trees and hardy palms, are
and gives demonstrations on ecologi-      set up throughout the social, wherev-




                                                                                         GARDEN CHIC | NOVEMBER 2006




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                                           “I think it was Einstein who said, ‘Intuition doesn’t come to an unprepared mind,’
                                                  and I don’t think success comes to an unprepared function. You really have to
                                               plan, plan, plan, and then, when you’re all done, plan some more.”

                                                                              fresh strawberry milkshakes right in         where they can make it better; what
                                                                              front of them with a 1940s malt ma-          worked, what didn’t; and what they
                                                                              chine. Next year, strawberry pie will be     would like to do next year.
                                                                              added to the menu.                             “I think it was Einstein who said, ‘In-
                                                                                The garden center hires a vendor to        tuition doesn’t come to an unprepared
                                                                              come in with a food-service trailer.         mind,’ and I don’t think success comes
                                                                              They sell drinks, Polish sausage, hot        to an unprepared function,” McClena-
                                                                              dogs and snacks.                             than says. “You really have to plan,
                                                                                Portland Nursery is thinking of serv-      plan, plan, and then, when you’re all
                                                                              ing wine at future socials, depending if     done, plan some more.”
                                                                              they get their license to serve alcohol.       It was decided at the first meeting for
                                                                                They’re also required, by law, to ob-      the 2007 event that a produce farmer’s
                                                                              tain a temporary restaurant license          market, including fresh strawberries,
                                                                              during the social since food is served       would make a great addition. It was
                                                                              to the public. They apply for the license    something they used to do but stopped
                                                                              four months ahead, and on the first day       several years back.
                                   er there is space. Sometimes they’re in    of the event, inspectors from the city         In January, the coordinators’ meetings
                                   the perennials area, other times they’re   come out to the garden center to check       will start again in final preparation for
                                   in the “long house,” an old greenhouse     the food operation.                          the social. There’s much to consider, but
                                   that houses shade plants.                    By law, they’re required to have spe-      by the end of February, they will have
                                     Vendors. Community organizations         cific types of bleach water, and potable      everything lined up and ready to go.
                                   are invited to participate in the expo.    water must be available. There has to be       When all is planned, and all is said
                                   Groups such as Oregon State Universi-      a concrete or hard surface in the food-      and done, it comes down to the staff,
                                   ty’s Extension Service Master Gardener     service area, it can’t be grass or gravel.   McClenathan says. “You can be the best
                                   Program, the Portland Rose Society,        Anyone serving food is required to           leader in the world, and unless you
                                   and Friends of Trees disseminate infor-    wear food handler gloves.                    have wonderful people to lead, you are
                                   mation from under a community tent           Planning. Coordinating the event re-       going to fail,” he says. “You’ve got to
                                   in the nursery yard.                       quires cooperation of the whole staff.       have that support from your staff and
                                     Portland Nursery’s vendors also set      Meetings for next year’s Strawberry          your management team, and they have
                                   up shop around the area. Their pres-       Social have already begun. The first         got to be excited about it.” ■
                                   ence is significant, as it allows custom-   planning        ses-
                                   ers to meet with them, discuss their       sion for next year
                                   products and buy the items directly        happens a couple
                                   from them.                                 days after this
                                     Food and drinks. As expected with        year’s event ends.
                                   an expo of its name, delectable straw-       McClenathan
                                   berry treats are one of the main attrac-   meets with the re-
                                   tions at the Strawberry Social. Guests     ceiving manager,
GARDEN CHIC | NOVEMBER 2006




                                   purchase food from a mini restaurant       color buyer, store
                                   inside a 40’x20’ warehouse.                buyer and man-
                                     Fresh strawberry shortcake and straw-    ager and yard
                                   berries dipped in chocolate are served     buyer and man-
                                   up by garden center staff. Customers       ager to discuss
                                   enjoy watching employees make their        how things went;


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