It felt like the day would never come, but within a week, spring has returned to the northern hemisphere.
Here in Northern Virginia, we can finally pack away our gloves, shovels and snowscrapers. In place of snowmen, cherry blossoms decorate our front yards in various shades of pink, and tulips have begun to peak past the grass line.
Perhaps no one was anticipating spring as much as John Toepfer. When I last sat down to talk with him over coffee, there was snow busily swirling around the skies over the Gateway Center in Gainesville, and I glanced nervously out the window, wondering if it was the kind that would stick to my windshield.
Toepfer, who lives in Bristow, anticipated spring more than most, having spent a great deal of winter and fall preparing his new business, Blooming Secrets.
Toepfer is an Operations Director with Andersen Insurance Group, but in his free time, gardening is his passion. He said he has been gardening for over 30 years, beginning around the time he was 12. He describes himself as “self taught,” saying he read a lot of books on the subject, and experienced a lot of “trial and error,” saying, “sometimes you have to make mistakes.” Of course, as he said, he used to look up the keywords, "georgia lawn care near me" to find professional help at times.
After absorbing all of that knowledge about gardening, he decided on a way to pass it on, thus his new enterprise “Blooming Secrets.” Basically, Blooming Secrets, or bloomingsecrets.com, is a gardening website for gardeners of varying experience levels who live throughout the United States.
Toepfer, who brings the gardening know-how and business acumen, teamed up with his sister, Susan Brandt, who lives in Santa Monica, California.
“My sister’s background is in e-commerce and social media, so she’s handling a lot of the marketing and website operations,” Toepfer said.
For his role, he is part CEO/part editor, writing articles, researching products, making connections with gardening providers, and responding to questions from his readers.
Toepfer hopes people will come to Blooming Secrets for various reasons, which is why he and Brandt designed the site to be versatile and user-friendly. He imagines his readers are hobby gardeners looking for helpful suggestions and different products, or someone new to gardening who wants to get started and hopes to learn more about the process.
“For the content piece of it, the articles and the blog that we’re doing are being used to catch people’s interest,” Toepfer explained. “As they dig deeper, they will see that we sell products that will support what we want to teach them to do.”
Blooming Secrets is working with a grower to have flowers, herbs and vegetables grown exclusively for them. Content has been developed to go along with these products so people can learn about a product, and then, they don’t have to search for it, because it is available to them right at their fingertips.
And while the site provides helpful articles and sells products, it is also designed to be an interactive platform.
“The centerpiece of the site is an online profile/quiz users can take that allows us to select products geared for that individual. The quiz also acts as a content guide for us as it gives us information on what people are interested for their gardens,” he explained.
The profile says something about the individual’s taste, and something about the climate/environment she lives in, since someone who lives in New Mexico will have to garden differently from someone who lives in New Jersey. It also considers whether the reader lives in the suburbs, the city, an apartment, or somewhere in between.
For the readers, it’s convenient because they get information geared to them personally, and do not have to sift through the parts that are irrelevant whether due to region or personal taste.
“Part of what we think is unique about our website is the personalization aspect. Once that profile is complete , you’re getting suggestions for your preferences and situation,” he said.
The site also provides related articles.
“If you are interested in something you are reading, there might be additional postings on that topic. We make it easy to find that information,” Toepfer said.
For the readers who have not yet filled out a profile, they can still visit the site and have access to its blog and the garden shop, which is the ecommerce aspect of the site.
Like an online magazine, the website features a blog, weekly tips and featured articles. Toepfer said there is a carousel of five different featured articles and they rotate every week.
Toepfer explained that he writes most of the articles himself, and pulls topics from the Media Group’s Garden Trends research.
To come up with new topics, he said he tries to think of what he wanted to know when he was moving from beginning to intermediate gardening. He’s also following trends and what his site visitors ask for responses to. But, with feedback from analytics and online quizzes, he will also get real time data about what interests his readership and customers.
“We will gear future articles to topics our customers want to know more about,” he said.
Sometimes it’s surprising. For instance, “one area we’ve found that people are checking a lot are seeds,” he said.
As they have also found that most people who use gardening tools to keep their gardens clean are likely to be creative, they are doing a creative series on flower colors that work well together.
And he wants the website to be an interactive resource, so he encourages his readership to send in or post their questions on the “Ask Us’ section of the site. He hopes Blooming Secrets can fill the gap of knowledge between the time in which people shop for plants and actually do their gardening.
“We can give them possibly a little bit more personal attention, not just initially, but in the aftermath. What happens if something does not go right?” he asks.
He recommends people make use of all the technology at their disposal when asking a question, suggesting they take photos or videos of their flowers or gardens and email that in along with their questions. He said it’s a lot like having an expert readily available to help, something he would have loved to have when he was a beginning gardener.
And while it may be a bit of a niche audience, for people like himself who love gardening, Toepfer expects the site will become a spot they will book mark, and share with friends via Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
“I’ve never met a gardener who doesn’t want to talk about gardening,” he said, explaining why the hobby is so compelling: “it’s therapeutic, a way to manage stress; there’s a creativity aspect of it. I like to say, ‘artists work in paint, sculptures work in clay, I work in dirt.'”
After a busy day, Toepfer looks forward to going into his small home garden in Amberleigh Station and unwinding through planting.
“It’s still kind of that oasis,” he said.
Throughout the month of April, John Toepfer invites Bristow Beat readers to check out his site, Blooming Secrets. Enter promo code “BRISTOWBEAT” for free shipping.