The Revolutionary 100 Roundtable focused on many ways to stay successful in difficult times.
Each discussion centered around the core challenges of cutting expenses or driving revenue and profit. Here are the attendees’ thoughts on topics that range from improving facilities and training employees to changing up product mix and serving customers better.
"We’re revamping our cosmetic look on a reduced budget. We’re restaining our cement floors, reworking and opening up space, buying low-cost fixtures from companies going out of business. We’re also focusing on landscaping and curb appeal."
— Jill Parker
"In structures the trends are geared away from greenhouse and are more for lifestyle, including produce stands and cafés. They don’t want it to be a greenhouse anymore."
— Jeff Warschauer
Employees – Training & Incentives
"The field trip day for our staff has really been vital. We go to other garden centers not necessarily in our competitive area but an hour or two away. I give them money so they can go make a purchase because I want them to experience customer service on a different level. Then we come back and talk about their experience."
— Gail Vanik
"Something we offer as a benefit is any full-time employee can buy anything at cost; anything True Value carries. We also offer it to a few part timers."
— Sandra Hillermann McDonald
"Green is here to stay. In the past 20 years we’ve taken a stab at the green movement, but now it’s here to stay. We spent $300 million in research and development and 15 percent of that is going to the bio or green part of it. You’ll see more products in that line in the next few years."
— Jim Van Handel
"There is an opportunity to create the vision for younger customers. I’d like to see the garden centers paint doors different colors and change the plants around them."
— Faith Savage
Closing The Sale
"You’re better off being more personal. Don’t ask ‘Did you find everything?’ Instead, say ‘Those are some really beautiful plants.’ Teach your employees to read customers better."
— Barry Christian
"We have a sales pad checklist. It includes tie-ins as you finish. They hand it off to the customer and it has planting information, soil amendments, fertilizers and stakes. Same with prescription pads – it’s like a cheat sheet. It keeps salespeople on the floor, not at the register."
— Tom Hebel
"To combat ‘sales’ we’re going to increase our margins. The customer is looking for value. We have smaller items to provide value. Our margins are up the last two years, and up four points last year. We’re at 53 percent."
— Gary Blondell
"I interview the customers while I’m loading their car. We also give them postage paid cards to rate the garden center."
— Jim Dezell Flamingo Road
"We try to solve the problem with the lowest level of employee. We give employees the freedom to solve problems, and let them make the decision to take back a $3 plant."
— Barry Christian
"We found last year younger couples are coming to our garden center. We make sure the horticulturist is right there putting on a show. That’s really worked well for us. She’s really knowledgeable."
— Tish Llaneza
"We have customers fill out a survey after seminars, and we have an 85 percent return rate for a $25 gift certificate drawing. We invite them to join our customer rewards program. We also get their e-mail addresses. We have 17,000 names on our list."
— Jennifer Brennan
New Products & Services
"We have a fairly large furniture department. We started recycling old furniture. Aluminum paid 75 cents a pound last year. We’re also repurposing glass from recycled outdoor tables."
— Jim Feeney
"We’re doing interplanting gardens. It’s an edible revolution and we have five classes in conjunction. Customers can bring in their overplantings and we’ll take them to the food bank. We’re getting more into events, too, and trying to increase by 10 percent. We’re reaching out to every possible women’s group to have meetings. We do tea and coffee. We give them material for the next event we’re having. We’ll do something every two weeks."
— Tish Llaneza
"We opened a produce market. On Nov. 8 we opened a building and have already moved into 1,800 square feet of our old patio shop. The average ticket is $8.50 and we expect to double it. Customer traffic is up 92 percent over last year, and sales are up 7 percent. We get above 50 percent margin on produce."
— Jim Dezell
"We’re hiring less part-time people. We’re asking part timers to work one more day a week. Kids working one to two days a week are just not that effective."
— Tom Hebel
"We posted jobs on Craigslist and 10 minutes later the phone was ringing. We’re now cross-training, too. We’ve had little layoffs, but cross-trained our keepers."
— Mary Blondell
"Labor is where you make money or lose money. You make a profit or you don’t. Inventory control gives you cash for the winter. It’s not rocket science."
— Ken Lain
"We’re using a consultant on sales ratios and inventory levels. We’re cutting 10 percent of our SKUs a year for five years."
— Steve Parker
"We’re getting rid of old varieties and duplication. How many blue petunias do you need? We’re doing the same with hard goods, too."
— Mike McCabe