Why A Revolution?

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I’ll spare you the dictionary definition of a revolution, which is probably the most cliched way to begin a column.

Instead, I’ll tell you why it’s an important word to describe what our industry is going through right now. There’s a need for radical change in the way independent garden centers do business, and that need was even more prevalent this year than in past years. Those who stuck to the traditional ways of doing things suffered, while those who learned and adjusted prospered from it (or at least remained flat to 2008 – still a win in the 2009 economy).

Each year we conduct a pretty extensive (some would say very extensive) survey to gauge which retailers will make our Revolutionary 100 list. The survey asks retailers about the topics and issues we feel are vital to their ultimate success and profitability, as well as their economic sustainability.

Those topics include:

  • Involvement in local and state associations, trade shows and educational seminars to take advantage of available industry educational resources and continue learning.
  • Use of technology to streamline and improve efficiencies in buying, inventory, customer satisfaction and marketing.
  • Attracting new and existing customers through the use of unique, eye-catching promotions and displays.
  • Educating and providing world-class customer service to promote strong customer retention and loyalty.
  • Offering employees a rewarding work environment that encourages their personal and professional growth.
  • Offering customers products that are effective and safe for the environment, as well as education on how to use certain products safely. Also, creating a retail environment that is economically and environmentally sustainable.
  • Providing customers multiple points of access to the garden center brand through social media, a website, direct mail, in-person events, speaking engagements, radio/television and print columns and involvement in the local non-industry business organizations.
  • Providing more to the community than just another retail store – to contribute and participate in local causes and events to build lasting and genuine relationships in the community.
  • Have a plan in place for the future of the business with targeted steps for a sustainable, profitable business for the community and employees. This plan includes capital improvements as well as succession.
  • Being unique and a visionary in preparing for the future of garden center retailing.

That’s a pretty long list, and not every garden center that makes the cut for the Revolutionary 100 excels in each of the criteria. But they all meet several of these qualifications, and are striving to work on the rest. There are a select few that meet virtually all of these, and they are the ones that have become our regional and national winners.

I will interject one cliché in here. There’s a reason the word ‘evolution’ is part of revolution – it’s necessary for a business to evolve to meet the changing nature of its local market. There are Revolutionary 100 garden centers on the list that have been mainstays for the entire five years we’ve released the list. I’d like to recognize them here, because that is a powerful testament to their ability to adapt and change to continue to meet their customers’ needs.

Those garden centers are:

  • Parker Gardens, Scotch Plains, N.J.
  • American Plant, Bethesda, Md.
  • Matterhorn Nursery, Spring Valley, N.Y.
  • Van Wilgen’s Garden Center, North Branford, Conn.
  • Watters Garden Center, Prescott, Ariz.
  • Cornell Farm, Portland, Ore.
  • Countryside Gardens, Hampton, Va.
  • DeWayne’s Home & Garden Showplace, Selma, N.C.
  • Hoerr Nursery, Peoria, Ill.
  • Hillermann Nursery & Florist, Washington, Mo.
  • Berns Garden Center, Middletown, Ohio
  • Wallace’s Garden Center, Bettendorf, Iowa
  • Knupper Nursery, Palatine, Ill.
  • Wojo’s Greenhouse, Ortonville, Mich.

Special props go out to Ken Lain and his team at Watters Garden Center, which has won the Southwest Region every year since we began announcing regional winners four years ago. Congrats to all, and we look forward to watching your progress in years to come!

Jennifer Polanz is a freelance writer with Grasshopper Freelance. She can be eMailed at jepolanz@gmail.com.

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