Diversifying Your Garden Center Business
They're garden centers first, but one retailer’s post office and another’s newly built farmer’s market are reeling in customers the two wouldn’t otherwise have. Is there an opportunity for you?
May 3, 2011
Waiting in line at the post office is truly a test of one’s patience, particularly around the holidays and especially if all you’re trying to do is buy a book of stamps. But for those in the know in Mill Creek, Wash., the post office outpost at My Garden Nursery is a well-kept secret that offers easy access to postal needs, as well as the opportunity to pick up a plant or two for the garden.
“Our customers love our post office,” says Jenny Gunderson, a co-owner of My Garden Nursery. “They’ll purposely tell me at the register that they couldn’t get out of here without getting this one thing. They’ll say, ‘You got me again.’”
My Garden Goes Postal
Gunderson and Bill Raynolds, the other co-owner, didn’t take over My Garden Nursery because they’re postal experts. Gunderson, for one, has spent more than 30 years in the horticulture industry, and her area of expertise is garden center retail.
But after she and Raynolds connected with the previous owner of My Garden Nursery who originally established the post office, they were convinced having one would bring in additional traffic during off-peak times.
“Before we became owners, there had been a theft of about $15,000 worth of stamps and the post office went away for some time,” Gunderson says. “We had to go through the process of bringing it back. It was just a treasure for the people in the neighborhood.”
Gunderson and Raynolds didn’t promote the fact My Garden Nursery has a post office until this year because they wanted to make sure their post office customers weren’t just visiting to pick up stamps or mail packages, but also to shop for plants and supplies for the garden. After all, if the post office gets too big, Gunderson and Raynolds would be challenged with adding more staff.
”We have to think about that a lot,” Gunderson says. “When does having a post office turn into a bad thing?”
Fortunately, because My Garden Nursery tracks all sales through its point-of-sale system, its co-owners have discovered many of its post office customers are also garden center customers.
”At the very beginning, I created a sign that says: If you enjoy My Garden’s non-profit post office – which at the beginning we were – then please support us by purchasing plants, gifts, etc. Customers used to tell us how they spent all this money at the post office. That doesn’t help us at all because we can’t mark anything up at the post office – it’s post office prices. And they come by and pick up all the money.”
My Garden Nursery has one full-time employee, Molly Hutchins, who manages the post office. Other employees pitch in during the post office’s busy seasons, including around the holidays when My Garden Nursery merchandises smaller, easy-to-pick-up items around the post office.
“We do timely things,” Gunderson says. “We have our seed-starting section along that road to the back. There are also houseplants and color customers pass by. We definitely plan the area to the post office.”
Complementing The Business
The Gale’s Garden Center location in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, doesn’t have a post office on site, but its owners made an interesting move of their own last winter when they built a facility on the existing property to be leased to entrepreneurs as a full-time farmer’s market. The two young brothers who run Sun Plum Market actually have a relationship with Gale’s that dates back four years, when they first sold fruits and vegetables under a tent outside the garden center.
“It started out the first three years as an experiment,” says Tom Krupa, a manager who’s been with Gale’s for 35 years. “We had a tent in the parking lot from May until September to find out how it would fly. It was an immediate success.”
After the second year, Gale’s owners Jerry Silver and Sam Donzelli determined they wanted a more permanent structure for the farmer’s market. So they had a facility built adjacent to the garden center and on the corner of their busy intersection. Gale’s is already reaping the benefits.
“The main reason we put it up was to increase our business,” Krupa says. “Garden centers are a seasonal business, especially in this part of the country. We wanted to become a destination. Now, we see people walking in with their bags of fruit – and that’s exactly what we wanted. This is probably one of the best things our owners have done to increase the business.”
Expectations For Spring
When spring truly arrives in Willoughby Hills, Krupa envisions even bigger possibilities for Gale’s.
“We’re going to do outdoor merchandising with Sun Plum,” he says. “We have a nice covered portico where we can put hanging baskets. This is our rookie year, so it’s going to be an experimental season.”
Frank Teriaca, the 24-year-old who runs Sun Plum Market with his 23-year-old brother Nick, is excited about the cross-merchandising opportunities for the two businesses, as well.
“We draw the same clientele,” he says. “We built our business off their customer base, and our businesses really go hand in hand.”
The one challenge Gale’s may face is parking. Gale’s and Sun Plum share a parking lot, and many of the cars parked pre-spring are there shopping for produce first. Still, Gale’s already has one potential solution in mind: a golf cart-like shuttle service that takes customers and their goods to their cars.
There’s also an upside to having a lot full of cars. “When you see a lot full you think, man, something’s happening there,” Krupa says. “When you see doors and people walking through, you think you need to check it out.”