Vertical Watch: Lawn and Garden Yellow Pages

Vertical sites carved out from broader Yellow Pages categories are one of those things that make tons of sense  although the only surefire winners at this point seem to be the lawyer sites. What most of these sites have in common is the passionate interest of their founders. The business hypothesis is these categories are under-served by Yellow Pages (and newspapers) and get just a fraction of the traffic and ads they'd get with a stronger focus.

One vertical is HappyHours.com, the brainchild of Stephen Gilberg, a liquor industry marketer well known for local theme parties and the like (“Spirits of Mexico,” etc.). Gilberg's site, and its accompanying e-newsletter, serves up information on booze and drink specialties, the locations that serve them and the industry's marketing trends. It includes a burgeoning city guide concept.

Another developing vertical is Lawn and Garden Yellow Pages, which was started out of a similar passion by plant business veteran Steve Cissel. The LGYP site has more than 500 categories and 10,000 plant images. In addition to the nuance of its categories (“perennials” not “plants”), Lawn and Garden YP enables users to look up plants and find them locally.

With all of Lawn and Garden YP's attention to detail, Cissel hopes to boost lookups well beyond what a typical Yellow Pages achieves with just 11 lawn and garden categories. But even this limited exposure generates 296 million lookups a year throughout the industry  ranking it No. 7 among YP print categories (per YPA 2005 data).

Cissel's game plan is to merge content and commerce by partnering with content producers, such as newspapers and local garden magazines. Some of these may be on a private-label basis.

“All the research says that consumers are searching on the Web first, and then going into the stores to buy. The Lawn and Garden segment is no different,” says Cissel. “But the commerce part lacks visibility due to a lack of data structure. We bring structure and relationships to the marketplace. We're trying to put this category on the radar for publishers and advertisers.”

Cissel also intends to collaborate with major garden centers. There are 20,000 garden centers in the U.S. Traditionally, these have minimized their Yellow Pages investment. But most want to extend their reach on the Internet.

The site's big news is that it has just landed Master Nursery Garden Centers, which is one of the largest cooperatives in the industry. The co-op will participate by providing relevant listing information for each of its 800 independent garden center members. The co-op will also offer members the option to enhance their listings at group rates.

(Disclosure: LGYP and Happy Hours both work with the author.)

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