Nursery Customers From Hell


We’ve been going to Sunset Nursery since we bought our house fifteen years ago. The staff has always been polite and helpful and they have a diverse selection of plants. On a whim, Kelly took a look at their overwhelmingly positive Yelp reviews. But some of the Yelpers prove how hard it must be to work in a nursery and deal with a public that can charitably be described as disconnected with the natural world.  Take this Yelper:

I’ve driven by this place soooo many times and really needed some advice on a dear plant of ours. We’ve had it for 5 years and it suffered trauma from our kitty pushing it off the ledge and it’s been stuck at 1 inch tall for years now.

When I arrived with The Gringo (we got the clipping from Dos Gringos in DC) a woman laughed at it and said I should just get a new plant.

What a meanie.

I told her no, I want this plant to grow and she asked if I had been giving it nutrients. D’OH! I didn’t know that was something I was supposed to do. Well, it’s been maybe a month and a half now and The Gringo has grown to about 3.5 inches and is sprouting out.

YAY! It’s alive!

The man behind the counter was much nicer and saw the potential…but The Gringo still needs some therapy because of the mean woman. We’ll work on that though.

Speaking of nutrients, this next comment proves just how good that staff is at Sunset Nursery–they suggest getting a soil test. A bad nursery would never pass up the chance to sell fertilizer. This Yelp commenter doesn’t appreciate this:

Upon entering the office area and asking for some help (I was the only person in the nursery), a large man sitting behind the desk pointed me to a old Asian woman who proceeded to laugh me and my wife off.  She let us know how little we knew, suggested that before we even CONSIDER landscaping that we spend a month paying professors to analyze our soil, and over the course of a 20 minute rambling conversation scared us away from ever wanting to do any landscaping at all.  I am struggling to remember if she was even slightly encouraging about a single topic, but honestly, I don’t think she was.  From a business perspective, I could not have imagined a worse sell.

I am kicking myself, because I tried them once before a year prior (without my wife), and had the EXACT same result.  I even had the same two workers providing the (non)advice. Apparantly, I blocked out it – that one is on me.. . . If you don’t think you can grow plants in Los Angeles, check out the neighbors in your hood.  EVERYONE grows a garden, all it takes is time.  And in the end, I was able to achieve great results!

I’ve always wanted my own staff of academics so, personally, I’m looking forward to spending a month “paying professors to analyze our soil.” As to “EVERYONE” growing a garden in Los Angeles, I suspect this Yelper is referring to the mowed weeds and Home Depot topiary that accounts for most of the residential landscaping in this city?

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  1. I’m afraid it’s not just nurseries, it’s pretty much all over.
    My sons run a very successful internet-based company (i.e. no direct contact with customers) and they have lost all faith in the niceness and intelligence of humans everywhere. I have to admit that it’s pretty funny listening to them tell stories about what their customers say, but day after day of that would be too much for me to deal with.

  2. Ok,
    I’m attracted to reading the post because its gonna make fun of people, what does that say about me. Ha ha ha, anyways retail and service to the public is a weird science. Most people I come across are nice, but there is a percentage of not so nice ones. All you can do is rise above the pettiness.
    By the way, love the poster illustration, want one for my front hall, if I had a front hall. Keep up the good work

  3. Listen, bottom line, if you work at a business, your potential customers should NEVER walk out of your place feeling like you think they’re stupid or uneducated in your field of expertise (even if they are). You don’t laugh at them, you meet them at their experience level and work from there. When I worked at Griffith Observatory, I got all manner of people coming up asking some great astronomical questions, and some downright and incredibly stupid ones (my favorite: why the telescope was not open on cloudy nights). My job was not to blind them with science, but to get them excited about astronomy, no matter where they were starting. I met them at their level and worked from there. Same goes for teaching about gardening, IMO. Methinks the soil-sample lady could have been kinder, probably.

    • I agree with HotFlashHomestead…
      any occupation you work, of course, you generally know a little more than the customer….some people go at others like they want to prove they are smarter than the customer…ok that is kind of a given going in since the person is coming to you with questions, for assistance, for information….or maybe go at it the other way, and try to teach someone something – no matter how simple or common sense you feel it is (at some point in your life, you probably didnt know the answer either). to give someone that is to give them strength. so tired of going to “professionals” and have them act like i am an idiot….of course, i dont know what they know – that is why i am asking them. very discouraging in many cases.

      also, both these examples note that the woman laughed at them….maybe it is just a way she says things – but maybe she can learn something too…how to handle people a little more empathetically.

      and yes the public is difficult….but we can all choose to be a little more gentle to each other – on both sides.

  4. “Paying professors to analyze your soil” is actually a pretty good idea if you’re going to grow anything you intend to eat. But I don’t have to tell anyone here that. Hopefully the cheapskates don’t live on top of a high concentration of heavy metals.

  5. I don’t know, I tend to judge the quality of a nursery by how crusty/squinty/leathery/smart-ass the really knowledgable staff are. I tend to think they must be all four to be TRULY trustworthy in the dirt department. Of course, that may say more about ME than the staff at a nursery.

  6. I agree: I came for information not to be insulted.

    Some people dispense information with more grace than others do. Abundant experience does not excuse the lack of customer service skills.

    I have asked some really weird,ignorant questions. People have asked some weird questions.

    The poster is cool.

  7. Oh, this post is funny! I love looking at Yelp for my favorite places and reading the reviews that bag all over them…Not because I like my favorite places to lose business (I don’t) but because it reveals a lot about human behavior…A yelp science experiment, as it were.
    That last paragraph about the Home Depot topiaries is hilarious and spot on. Classic! (And very much my current neighborhood. Actually saw a lady planting Morning Glory seeds and restrained the urge to brain her with her own trowel…)

    • You know, we didn’t. But they have tons of great reviews already. Their overall rating is excellent.

  8. I’ve been in retail for a billion and one years. I genuinely love helping people who truly want to be helped. I will adjust my vocabulary to what I sense is their level, but I can only judge their level by their own comments. I can’t see inside their heads. So, if in my effort to educate them, they come away feeling like I was trying to demonstrate what I know for their benefit, well, that’s what I was trying to do. Whether or not they take that as insulting is their own issue. If they come to me for the answer, am I supposed to give them a dumb one just to ease their own sense of self-worth? If my answer is true, and goes against their expectations, I will try to deliver it with tact and dignity. But if they really don’t want that answer, there’s not enough sugar in the world to make it go down. It all comes down to a mutual ability to admit that none of us know everything, but if we share what we do know, maybe we’ll get somewhere. Asker and answerer – don’t be arrogant.

  9. Actually it sort of sounds like a nursery employee from hell. Just sayin’.

    I like the first yelper. I get attached to plants too.

    Now, enquiring minds want to know: what’s wrong with planting morning glory seeds? I like morning glories.

    • Re: Morning glories. Here in SoCal, and probably in other warm places, they are our equivalent of kudzu. That said, I just planted some. 🙂 These are supposed to be well behaved, topping out at 6 ft. We’ll see.

  10. Ugh! Why was this published? This is one of those rants that I didn’t need to read first thing in the morning.

    • I have to add my name to the chorus. I love this site, but posts like this remind me of the kind of guys and gals who work at punky bike shops. If you go in using the preferred technical terminology (e.g. rim, not wheel; cog, not gear) you get respect, if not, you get judged.

      This post also reminds me of the one about the guy who hired professionals to cut down a dead tree in his yard and stirred up a hive of angry bees. In that post, as in this one, Mr. Homegrown just assumed that the guy was an idiot who should have known better, but the actual story was more complicated. In the end, it seems he was conscientious, well-informed, and unlucky.

      So two points. We should be careful not to let our own expertise lead us to assume that others are inexpert.

      Second, we should assume that people who are ill-informed are probably still doing the best they know how. Most people who are ignorant are not willfully ignorant. They deserve patience and kindness from those who would educate them, not ridicule.

    • Hey Nate, I apologize if my tone has been a bit off lately. Periodically my posts fall onto the imperious side of the spectrum and that’s always a mistake–a common error a how-to author and blogger can fall into–as well as the punk bike shop types you mentioned.

      Also, my auto accident has greatly curtailed my physical activities. And when I’m not running I’m ill tempered. I’m hoping to be back on the positive side soon.

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