My Turn: Digital tools help our garden center flourish

For the Monitor
Published: 12/15/2021 6:00:41 AM
Modified: 12/15/2021 6:00:06 AM

If you have driven through Rochester since 1928, you’ve probably seen our florist, garden center and landscaping business on Wakefield Street. A staple of the community for generations, the business has been owned by our family since 1971.

Since then, we survived the dot-com boom in the 90s that saw the rise of online florists like 1-800 Flowers, the Great Recession and COVID-19. And we did it with the support of our community and enough knowledge of digital tools to keep us competitive. However, Congress is on the verge of upending the digital economy, which could make using digital tools harder and more expensive for small businesses.

Competing with a handful of local florists to get customers in the store was always our biggest challenge. We advertised in the phone book, ran radio ads and did anything to get people interested. When national floral retailers began selling direct to consumers and customers could order flowers and gifts online and have them delivered, we were in real trouble.

We had to figure out how to compete with the ease and convenience of online ordering and deliveries. We had two choices: join a national network and the hefty fees and commissions that go along with it or change the way we “always did things” and embrace e-commerce. We chose e-commerce.

We launched our own customer e-commerce website, offering our own unique products to our local customers. We continued by using inexpensive Google ads that we could geo-target to the surrounding areas. It was hugely successful in driving people to our website, and with Google Analytics, we could see which ads were working and how much traffic came from each one.

Today, nearly 30% of sales come directly from our online ads. Social media has also been invaluable. I can’t tell you how many times someone has walked into our store and told me they saw one of our holiday promotions on Facebook or Instagram. And Google My Business allows potential customers to see our reviews, store hours and directions right at the top of the search results page.

When the pandemic struck and folks huddled in their homes, digital tools and e-commerce became even more critical. We beefed up our website to handle the increased traffic, increased our ad spending and as a result, online orders and deliveries skyrocketed.

Digital tools have proven their worth. But some members of Congress just don’t get it. They don’t understand that forcing large companies to split apart will have drastic consequences for small businesses. Advertising with Google works so well and is so affordable because Google is so big and has ample data to power innovative ad targeting. If Google is broken up, these services might not be as effective or affordable.

Like most small businesses, we operate on tiny margins. We cannot afford increased ad costs, especially if the results are going to be less effective.

Congress says they want to protect smaller businesses and aid “competition.” But Congress needs to realize that large technology companies have been reliable partners in helping us grow and succeed and enable our independent florist to compete in a crowded marketplace. Congress must fully understand the digital economy and how it benefits small businesses before imposing regulations that could hurt small businesses.

(Molly Meulenbroek is part owner of Studley Flower Gardens in Rochester and a member of the Connected Commerce Council.)

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