Carson Arthur is recognized as one of Canada’s TV gardening experts. In 2019, after years of developing the concept, he launched Carson’s Garden + Market in Prince Edward County.
Drawing on his own expertise and passion, Carson wanted to provide people with something different from the typical garden centre. Carson’s Market caters to clientele looking to improve their life through urban gardening and clean living. It stocks all the items that Carson loves to use in his own home, for those who want to treat themselves to something new or special.
Feature products include rare and heirloom flowers, and herbs and plants for fine culinary pursuits. These are all produced onsite and are chemical and GMO free. The Market also stocks tools, gardening décor, books, seeds, planters, pots, birding equipment, and other backyard and home decor products. In addition, there are local sauces, honey, art, olive oils and other food products related to healthy and clean living.
Pandemic drives need to compete on own terms
Carson soon discovered that having established a personal brand as an expert green thumb on television was no guarantee of success in retail. He faced the challenge of connecting with consumers in a way that would elevate the Market from trying to compete on a purely transactional level with big box stores and other online rivals.
The pandemic, which began barely a year after the Market launched, made it all the more urgent to stand out from the crowd online. Carson knew he had to create and deliver a unique and engaging digital experience, as COVID-19 protocols limited the bricks-and-mortar operation.
“The question was how do I continue to run this business and still generate profits, still make myself relevant?” he said. “I needed to turn my digital presence into something that would still contribute to creating that unique customer experience instead of just being about putting a product in a box for delivery.”
Given that much of the inventory is perishable, it’s also not the kind of business that can easily refund and then restock a returned item from an unhappy online customer.
DMS helps create a winning online formula
Then Carson learned about Digital Main Street (DMS) through his local chamber of commerce. DMS is a government-funded program specifically designed to support small customer-facing businesses across Ontario with grants, training, hands-on help and various resources. He qualified for a $2,500 DMS Digital Transformation Grant and took advantage of the program’s free educational resources and expert information on online marketing and advertising.
This gave Carson the assistance he needed to build a stronger social media presence that took greater advantage of his personal brand, and to build a more engaging web experience that better mirrored the Market’s unique in-store experience.
“We have been able to create a new online shopping and class-booking website that allows our customers to explore and shop from home and still feel like they are getting the same kind of preferential treatment as they would by engaging directly with a gardening expert,” he said.
Taking the time to develop a truly customized online experience is critical to stand out, Carson added. He sees too many small businesses failing to do so in their eagerness during the pandemic to launch an e-commerce platform as quickly as possible.
Revenues triple original projections
“The greatest mistake that I have seen other businesses make is to focus on adopting a cookie-cutter platform that is just focused on making a sale,” Carson said. “In the long-term, that will hurt a business. It’s much better to take advantage of experts like those at DMS who will help you understand what makes your business unique and develop an online presence that conveys that and puts the emphasis on customer service. I feel that customer service is really starting to disappear in the online marketplace.”
Carson and his team have seen the benefits of taking a customer-centric approach for themselves. In its first three years in business, the Market has tripled its original revenue projections. Customer demand also has the Market looking to expand its permanent classroom space.
“Our online sales during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns were a key component to the overall success of the business, placing us in a great position to continue to build on our momentum,” Carson said. “And with our classes, anyone in the world can now take part and engage with me as if we are together in person.”
Carson’s story is just one example of how small businesses across Ontario have taken advantage of the Digital Main Street Ontario Initiative.
For more information, go to www.digitalmainstreet.ca