2013 Revolutionary 100 Garden Centers: The Northeast Region
Take a look at why these garden centers made the 2013 list.
January 8, 2013
Owner: Nancy DuBrule-Clemente
City/Town: Northford, Conn.
Size: Retail: 1 acres
Sales: 0 - $999,999
Years In Business: 29
Number Of Permanent Locations: 1
Number Of Pop-up Locations: 0
How do you partner with local businesses on customer outreach?
We work with an irrigation specialist who understands our way of planting and caring for plants (right plant in the right place, low water usage). He constantly sends customers to us, and we refer to him. We partner with a great deli across the street. They serve food when we host groups such as garden clubs or groups coming for garden walks. We put all of our newsletters, flyers about events, etc., out at the deli for their customers to see. Our bank allows us to put promotional literature out, which we do on a regular basis.
We partner with a local store with two locations called Consign and Design. They lend us garden furniture and display pieces to use and sell for them, and we put our greenery and fresh items in their store to make it more beautiful, all tagged with a pretty Natureworks label. Their furniture creates wonderful gathering spaces in our store. We send customers to each other.
We are the go-to source for many of the gardening articles in both local and statewide papers. Twice this year the Shore Publishing local paper called and wrote an article about topics (Meadow gardening and Fairy Gardening) we were going to be having an upcoming workshop on. We supplied them with information for a full article in the print and online papers, and in return, the articles brought many new faces to us! We have had articles in The Hartford Courant, New Haven Register, Town Times and many more publications. I write two cover articles a year for Connecticut Gardener magazine in exchange for advertising. We are referred by the businesses we use for Natureworks (tree service, organic lawn care person). We let artists do watercolor classes in our gardens. Ellen Hoverkamp, an artist who collaborated on a book with Ken Druse, came to Natureworks and did botanical scanning for us. Then, Ken Druse bought plants from us!
What makes your garden center Revolutionary?
We are 100 percent organic and always have been since our beginnings in 1983. Our employees are passionate about organic gardening methods and love to teach others. We focus on education in all that we do. I wrote and self-published a book on Succession of Bloom in Connecticut, and our garden center and landscape/design business has always offered unusual perennials, flowering shrubs and all sorts of colorful plants for every month of the growing season. That is our trademark. People say they can always tell if it's a Natureworks garden.
We have a very active Facebook presence and post something fun daily. I write a blog called the Daily DuBrule, which attracts a lot of readers. It was inspired by Jenny Gunderson of My Garden Nursery who did 365 days of Heucheras. I thought I'd try it because I love to write. Occasionally I miss a day, but I've done 219 days so far this year. We do a really popular weekly eMail filled with photos and have an excellent opening rate compared to the rest of the industry, with more than 3800 people on the list. We are working closely with a consultant who has streamlined our books.
We belong to a Benchmark program with over 50 others to compare how we are doing and to brainstorm. We recently completed our P.O.S. installation, and it is really helping us to streamline our business. Our consultant taught us how to realistically price our products based on our actual costs and overhead. It was quite eye opening. We totally changed the way we price things and are making money. We have a much better handle on how to run the finances because of the work we have been doing for the past four years with our consultant.
I send my employees to the IGC Show, New England Grows and many other educational and training seminars. We are always learning. We started a High Five program to reward our employees this year, and that has been great. They get a $5 gift certificate from Good to Go Deli across the street, and the deli loves us! The High Five winners are nominated by other employees. It's a simple and inexpensive thing, but the look on employees faces when I hand them a High Five and post the reason why on the refrigerator is priceless. The employees love all the positive changes we are making, and it has made us a much better team. We are all really proud of Natureworks.
We did a major rearranging of our nursery yard that has made a huge difference in the way we look. We started being very strict with just-in-time buying this year. We completely changed our cash flow, so we could not only pay our bills on time but were able to get early payment disounts from many vendors. We attend and have booths at many off-site events, such as Eco Fairs, Earth Day Festivals, Flower Shows, etc., in order to interface with the public and let them know about Natureworks and all we do.
We offer free garden walks every Saturday morning from April until Halloween that are very well attended. We also do many Thursday evening garden walks and workshops. We also have many guest speakers throughout the season for free. We have gardening book authors, school teachers who raise and teach about swallowtail butterflies, a famous organic herbalist and more as guests. This year we started Grow Organic Kids and had many workshops (some free, some we charged for) about sowing seeds, I Spy in the Garden, etc. This has brought in many new families, which we love.
This year we had our first all-ages Fairy Festival and it was a great hit. We decided to charge for it, and we were overbooked! The parents and grandparents that came with the children all had a wonderful bonding experience. It was truly magical. We are doing a Flower Fairies of the Autumn mini festival soon. We are riding the trend.
We brought in Gro Vert Living Wall systems, planted some, had a workshop and sold them, starting at our winter flower show. We also planted a living wooden pallet, which has been up against our greenhouse all season. We have a workshop called Anything But the Pot and planted tables, chairs, a colander, a jewelry box and a lot more. It makes our place really fun.
We do fun things all the time, get silly in the store and on the internet and generally make our customers feel happy and comfortable. We also share many of our own personal stories. It feels like a family. We took advantage of Small Business Saturday promoted by American Express on black Friday. We partnered with a local homemade donut shop and gave out free donuts and coffee. We are always looking for new trends and continuing to position ourselves as the organic experts.