City: Dolores, Colo.
Owners: Vic and Gail Vanik
Size: Retail–27,000 square feet, Growing–3 acres
Years In Business: 27
Number Of Locations: 1
What changes have you made in the last 12 months to increase your garden center’s profitability?
- Changed the store layout to manage traffic flow in a more efficient way.
- Decreased product selection to eliminate slow movers.
- Cut shrink considerably. Now that we have some history, we began heavily using the POS installed in 2008 to increase margins and reporting to assist in making buying decisions, manage customer interaction, use for smarter marketing, etc.
- Eliminated underperforming staff and started sending staff home on slow or inclement weather days.
- Worked with vendors and suppliers to decrease rates we pay on products. This has been particularly effective on things such as our insurance rates, our radio advertising, etc. We even fired an accountant that we’ve worked with for 30 years when we felt his rates got out of hand. Our new accountant’s bill came in at 1/4 of the cost of the old one. Basically, we took a good, hard look at wherever there was room for improvement or to cut costs and went out and did it and it’s paid off.
- One of the biggest things we did was to implement a new perennials signage program whereby every pot was individually labeled with a stick on label with all of the information for that plant, area specific, along with a photo of what it would look like when it bloomed. Perennial sales increased 23% from that effort alone.
What kind of incentives do you offer for positive employee performance? Because we believe that everyone is part of a team at Four Season, we sometimes do things a little differently. There are cash or store gift certificates for staff caught "doing something right," along with a personal note of thanks from me. At Christmas, each staff member gets a personally handwritten note about why we’ve enjoyed having them this year and thanking them for their service. We also try to reward the team as a whole because we believe it builds a better team. For example, we had been offering the 401K but most of the staff were no longer interested after last year’s financial meltdown in the market, so we discontinued that and have substituted other things instead. One of the things we did this year was to treat everyone to a catered steak dinner, as a suprise, at the end of the season. We have a massage therapist come in for the Fall Luncheon, that I cook personally as my way of thanking them for their service. Any time we can find an opportunity to build that team, we’ll take it.
Why is your garden center Revolutionary? Because I knew this question was sure to be on the survey, and I already knew the things I would list, I also asked my folks what they thought made us revolutionary. Here’s what all of us, as a team effort, came up with as answers.
From Vic and Gail: Four Seasons has a heart and a soul and a spirit that is different. When we bought the company, Vic and I remembered how our previous bosses had been and we set out to create a company that would be unique. We make people smile—both staff and customers. We took it upon ourselves to make it our goal to take care of the staff and we do that through the usual benefits, but also things like surprising them with steak dinners when they think they’re coming for an after hours meeting.
We don’t just sell plants, we sell friendships. For example, the previous owner still comes to help on busy days. We care about our people, they care about each other and subsequently they’ll take care of the customers. They KNOW they are appreciated. There is a willingness at Four Seasons to change, adapt and try new things in order to become extraordinary and remarkable in the truest sense of those words. We try to make Four Seasons a happy place, and in this day and age, that’s not always easy. For example, staff ladies come in with tiaras for Mother’s Day. The women surprised me with a quilt for my birthday where each of them had made a block, and then the center block read "You Color OUR World" as a take off on our "Where it’s fun to color your world" slogan. What a way that they took care of me!
Our quirky sense of humor has produced things like a broom next to the cash registers with "Gail’s Convertible" written on it. They say that I either sweep with it or ride it, depending on the day! We continue to travel to find the very best ideas to bring back for our staff to run with. Each tour produces a slide show for them to use for a training opportunity. Each show produces a suitcase full of products for them to try and give us feedback on as to it’s efficacy. The learning opportunities that the owners attend are fully shared with staff through visual aids, samples to try, or Brown Bag Breakfast seminars later on.
What’s the point of going if you aren’t going to share? One of the things that we are so excited about and perhaps most proud of this year, is brand new and truly revolutionary. We’ve found a non-traditional greenhouse crop to grow over the winter, that should be profit producing. And yes, it’s legal! We believe it will enable us to keep everyone on the payroll throughout the winter and for us, or any garden center for that matter, that’s a huge accomplishment. Additionally, we haven’t had to lay anyone off this year or ask any staff members to take pay cuts and I’m so thankful for that. The business remains profitable and solid. Sometimes we feel like the "little garden center that could,"–we think we can, we think we can, we know we can!
Our staff wanted to share their views on what they thought made us revolutionary too. They said: We don’t get stuck in the tried and true. We’re out of the norm. We fill a need and provide a service in a small community both through plant sales and charitable events. We’re not the biggest, and we don’t do the most sales of any garden center in the country, but our small size and input from our staff family allows us to change in an instant and try new things. As someone recently said, "Good enough never is," and we’re not happy to be good enough. We’re just a bunch of "revolutioners" always looking for ways to improve. Our training and knowledge is area specific and we cover a huge range of USDA zones from 3-7. Our owners are not afraid to push employees to be their best—always thinking and growing. "Mom" and "Dad" challenge us to think like them (even when we don’t want to do our Training Cards!) All of this contributes to an unusual, sometimes quirky, but wonderful company culture.
There is a sincere and honest desire here to serve our customers and support the industry. I (Gail) do it by doing things like sitting on the Legislative Committee for CNGA, writing articles for the trade magazines from a retailer’s perspective, and talking to anyone who is interested about what we’ve done to survive and thrive in this economy. Our staff does it by supporting us in our efforts, and taking the very best care of our business and customers that they can. Together we all learn, grow, and aren’t afraid to try unusual methods—whether it be in advertising, marketing, displays, how we disseminate information to our customers, or through sales. They sometimes never know what crazy notion they’re going to walk into when they come to work on a day to day basis—we keep them guessing, but we all realize that if the industry falters so do we.