The Good Earth Garden Center bucks the industry norm by having more permanent employees than seasonal, which is reflected in the slightly elevated labor percentage of 27.5 percent. However, that percentage is well within the industry normal range. The company employees 25 in retail, 25 in landscape and does not hire seasonal employees at all for retail, although it does bring on 20 seasonal employees for its landscape and maintenance departments.
The secret behind keeping labor to a manageable level while retaining a healthy staff level is controlling schedules and keeping inventory turning.
Today’s Garden Center spoke with The Good Earth’s Gregg Curtis to learn how they do it.
Today’s Garden Center: How do you keep the inventory turns healthy?
Gregg Curtis: We get an average of 5,000 flats from Bert Hybels, so that makes a pretty good splash of color, mass of color everywhere in spring. What was interesting is we have taught our customers that the truck comes in Wednesday night or early Thursday, so they come in on Thursday to shop. In our POS, we saw the highest sales on bedding plants and tropical are on Thursdays, not weekend days. Bert Hybels is so consistent on quality.
Today’s Garden Center: Do you advertise the deliveries?
Curtis: We do not advertise that. I might mention on the radio that tropicals are coming in. It just repetitions over the years.
Today’s Garden Center: How do you control plant quality?
Curtis: We got a little stiffer on rejecting product. We’d call some suppliers with a problem, and they would offer a discount. But we’re in the business of selling. Discounts don’t help us. We’re not in the business of growing. The next load would be much better.
For our trees, we’d ask the growers to send us pictures before shipping. The product showed up as it looked in the photo. And our trees this year, it looks like a park, consistently the same height and branches start at the same height. The grower that got our business was one of the smaller suppliers. They gave us a great price and sent the product as it looked in the picture. We learned that trick from our landscape department. Our landscaper Zach has always been good about getting photos for his designs.
Today’s Garden Center: How often do deliveries come in?
Curtis: Too many days a week, about four. We’re trying to cut it down to two or three, max. It takes so much time out of the day. We’d like our deliveries be Monday through Wednesday – or Tuesday to Thursday at the latest.
Today’s Garden Center: How do you manage other plant categories?
Curtis: We’re probably getting everything but our bedding and tropicals prepriced before coming in, and that has helped a bunch. We turn bedding plants so fast, we have signs. We don’t price them individually any more. We still have to price tropicals. It’s interesting, we haven’t found a single grower. Instead we use a broker, and her quality is always great. But she has to pool it together from several growers.
We’ve tried a different broker, we got their shipment in last week, it looked like the tail end of Charlie Cook’s. So we’re staying with Charlie.
Today’s Garden Center: How do you manage the rush of spring?
Curtis: We bought [the property] next door, so we now have a holding area. We restock daily. Having such a big area, we’ll have 95 percent out for the public to see. About the only thing we don’t bring up are our perennials because we grow most of those.
Today’s Garden Center: So you are a grower/retailer?
Curtis: We only grow the perennials, although we are starting to do some of the bread and butter items in shrubs and trees – spirea, lorepetalums. We put those in after the perennial crop is done.
Today’s Garden Center: What is your most successful category?
Curtis: Highest profit items are perennials and clay pottery.
Today’s Garden Center: How are you able to maintain so many employees?
Curtis: I was amazed to hear how many people are laid off at the end of the season. At that point we do our projects. We didn’t get through them all this winter, since spring came so early. We have no problem keeping people busy. We begin late November or early December.
Today’s Garden Center: What kind of projects do you have employees tackle?
Curtis: One recent example is our gift shop. We took an area that wasn’t giving us the turns we wanted, gutted it, insulated it and turned it into a really unique gift shop. We saw more things at [AmericasMart] this year that gave us ideas. And we had three men use our gift shop for their Valentine dinner. They brought in their own steaks, cooked them and then their wives shopped when they were finished with dinner. All three men were friends. It was one man’s job to find a place for dinner that was unique. Facebook has some of the pictures.
Another way the gift shop has paid off is Julie [Curtis – co-owner and Gregg’s wife] had a customer that came in yesterday. By the time she left, Julie spent six hours with her and the customer spent $7,000 just in the gift shop.
Today’s Garden Center: How do you source your gift department?
Curtis: We got on Craigslist, created a driving route from from Memphis to Mississippi and found all this unique stuff. We also bought from Atlanta – 60 percent came from [AmericasMart] this year.
Today’s Garden Center: Are you different in any other way in how you manage your labor expenses?
Curtis: We probably offer some of the highest wages and benefits in the industry. I think too many people set their expectations too low for their coworkers. We don’t do that. It’s not a production facility, but if you say you have nothing to do, we need to talk. There’s enough to do every single day, the day should feel like 20 minutes. We request a lot of our guys.
Today’s Garden Center: What about overtime?
Curtis: You know, it’s interesting. For us, it’s not a dirty word. I know a lot of people who don’t do overtime. We do.
I should mention here that we are able to utilize our maintenance staff. If a truck comes in that we have to unload, I can call my maintenance department. We utilize the rest of the company to the best of our ability.
The retail guys, their job is to sell, sell, sell. So I want the maintenance guys to unload and get the product out. You need to do what you do best, don’t do something someone else can do. Do what no one else can do.
I’ll bring our maintenance department in on weekends to be loaders. Their job is to come up beside someone, take their purchases and ask which vehicle is their’s and turn that parking lot over as quickly as possible.
If the maintenance guys are coming in, I’ll work that back into our retail numbers.
Today’s Garden Center: Are there any other ways you are saving money?
Curtis: Another area is pricing. We have stuff pre-priced before it comes in, but it needs to be checked. We are using our POS more effectively to make sure it’s correct. The handheld scanner is used. It will let them know when it’s not right.
And we’re getting better at quality pricing. If we can get $35 for a $5 plant, then that is what we should charge.
One of the things I learned at the Revolutionary 100 Roundtable three years ago is how one retailer would have his managers go out when it rained and change prices. If it’s $27, then up it to $29, or $29 to $34. We did that over the past couple of years. We tried that and nobody said a word.
We didn’t have push back when we did that.