Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Check Out The World's Largest Sock Monkey In Atlanta

Gift and decor supplier Midwest is taking its popular sock monkeys to new heights (literally), introducing the world's biggest Genuine Monkeez sock monkey at the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishing Market, which runs Jan. 6-14.

At 8 feet tall, Super Sammy is really more of a sock gorilla. Larger than life, he'll be on display in Midwest's AmericasMart showroom in Building One/Merchandise Mart, Suite 16A7, and he'll also be the star of Midwest's Go Bananas event on Friday, Jan. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. Independent retailers are invited to attend the event, get their photos taken with Super Sammy and receive complimentary Genuine Monkeez gifts, as well as free freight on all Genuine Monkeez orders of $500 or more with immediate shipping.

If you don't have a chance to meet Super Sammy in Atlanta, he'll be making appearances in Midwest's showrooms in Dallas, New York and Las Vegas, too.

Programs For Kids

I’m going through the Revolutionary 100 surveys now to write up details for our web coverage, and noticed a couple of garden centers focusing activities toward kids this year. I wanted to post a link to a program that I think is really beneficial and might help some retailers in their efforts to reach kids. It’s a program called Veggie U, and the link is www.veggieu.com.

This program is a non-profit created by The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. It’s a farm dedicated to growing specialty herbs, veggies and microgreens sustainably, and supplies chefs all over the country. The idea came about when the owners were sitting with some chefs talking about the lack of nutrition education for kids. They came up with the program, which involves sending vegetable seeds and soil packets to classrooms across the country, along with a curriculum designed to teach kids in a fun and enjoyable way about vegetables and nutrition.

I don’t know if there are partnership opportunities with this program for garden centers, but it seems like it would be a great way to tie together nutrition and gardening.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ANLA Blog Fest Today!

Want to find some good ideas fast? Check out the 2009 ANLA Management Clinic blog, which is being updated Thursday, Dec. 18 every hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with all sorts of ideas you can take to the bank.
The blog’s focus is Managing Through Tough Times, and our own Group Editor Richard Jones will be one of the featured bloggers, along with Dale Deppe of Spring Meadow Nursery, Ken Long, president of Garden Centers of America and co-owner of L.A. Reynolds Home & Garden Showplace, and many others.
Find it all at www.managementclinic.org/blog/index.cfm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Think Local, Not Independent

I was going through my notes from the trip and realized I left out one of the most important parts of the GCA Holiday Tour. I left out Lloyd Traven's opening-night talk. Lloyd spoke to a full and just-arrived room of tour members about being local, getting rid of your "crap" and being green. He's from Peace Tree Farm, and is currently in the process of getting certified organic through the State of California.

He made too many good points, there was no way I could leave any of it out. (And sorry for the picture, I was just starting to get a handle on the camera.) That's Lloyd in the yellow shirt. The following is a quick synapse on some of the points he touched on:

What's Independent?: Quit with the Independent Garden Center talk. What does it really mean. From now on, try saying "locally owned" instead. That's something people can connect with and something they can understand. "We are local, this is what people want," said Traven.

"Differentiate or Die!" was the first slide of his presentation, which is pretty self-explanatory.

Stop Pack-Ratting: "If you sell what you've always sold, you'll get what you've always got," he said. Quit being that person who says they'll buy new stock once the old stuff is gone. "There's a reason people aren't buying that crap." And it's taking up valuable space.

Timing: Work with your growers. Strenghten your relationship and get a sense of timing down with them.

seXY Tip: Generations X and Y love taking home tip sheets. Continue to teach them even when they've left your store.

A Green Sense: Of course going green makes environmental sense, but make sure it makes economical sense for your garden center first. And if you sell it, "You must also tell it." What's the point of selling organic plants if your customer then goes home and douses it with Sevin or Peters. You need to teach them. Explain to them the significance of going organic and why some things may cost more than others.

A Dream Teamer

Remember the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and the USA Dream Team? At the time, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley showed the world just how far ahead the U.S. was in the realm of basketball. If there was a garden center dream team, Homestead Gardens would be in the starting five and in line for a gold medal.

The size of Homestead is one thing, but it's what they're doing under their roofs that's something worthy of it's own HGTV show.

When you walk through the front doors, the first thing you notice is a runway of main-aisle that gives you an unobstructed view all the way to the back door. Dave Hanger, Homestead Gardens General Manager, said it gives the retail space a racetrack layout, which leads shoppers to everypart of the interior property. He compared it to Target's main, 15 foot aisle that runs throughout the store.

The space at Homestead Gardens is second to none and makes for a breatheable experience. And that space doesn't interrupt their holiday offerings.

Scott Daley is the resident creative genius. Hanger said that Scott is just "unbelievable with some of the things he's doing around here." A great example of this is the half taxi cab. Found in the Department 56 section, some Homestead workers went down to a junk yard and found this car. They had them cut it in half before they hauled it back to the store. A fresh coat of paint and voila...an instant display fixture meets conversation piece. Vintage chairs, freezers, tables and ovens can also be found in their displays.

Besides everything else going on during the holiday, Homestead's toy train track is a big ticket. With a full-time conductor on hand, "On weekends it's sometimes three deep in here (around the track)," says Hanger. "Sometimes you'll see three generations come in to watch the train."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baby Vegas

Our final day on the road toured us to the crabcake state, Maryland. First stop: Valley View Farms in Cockeysville.

It may have been the cloudy day. It may have also been the “getting ready” transition between seasons, but Valley View Farms looked a little bare from the outside, which ill-prepared me for my first couple steps into the store.

It was like Clark Griswold’s house inside-out.

Ceilings were lit from corner to corner. And the rotating artificial trees decked in an assortment of ornaments and lights were an added touch that didn't/won't go unnoticed.

I’d be interested to see what it would look like if they turned down the normal house lighting a little. I bet the Christmas lights would pop even more, and save on the electric bill along the way.

The Little Things

Don’t let the title fool you, Bucks County’s Bucks Country Gardens does Christmas big, but they also do a lot of the little things. Not to mention, their barn turned retail center is a perfect place not to get lost.

Sometimes you want your customers to get sucked in at your store, it’s a testament to the experience you’re providing. But those who wander at Bucks are definitely not lost. Their centrally located customer service desk (I highlighted it in the photo) gives shoppers a great reference point. Think library, it’s kind of like that.

If you ever visit Bucks and you’re around the customer service center, be sure to look up. They make hanging banners easy. Bucks utilizes a pulley system to swap out the signs that hang high from the barn’s rafters. It cuts down on labor and from having to drag out the ladder.

And if your garden center sells Christmas trees and offers a delivery service, maybe you should think about getting your tree team a box of hospital booties. They can be used to slip on over their boots when entering a customer’s home, says Donna Denter, Bucks lifestyle/home décor manager. No more tracking mud and now into homes and no more having to take shoes off.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What The X?

It’s no secret, I love Christmas. I have Johnny Mathis’s Christmas album on my iPod year-round. So forgive me if I get upset for seeing signage that uses the term “Xmas” instead of Christmas. It just rubs me the wrong way.

So here it is, a decree of sorts. No more “Xmas,” or else.

Let’s agree not to take shortcuts on holiday names. It just takes something away, the sparkle.

What brings this up? After we departed from a place that’s Christmas through and through, we visited Gasper Home & Garden Showplace in Richboro.

Gasper is a relatively new operation that focuses on landscape services. There’s no getting around it, it’s a sharp place. High-end granite tables and benches, and striking modern statues are placed neatly throughout the grounds.

My only gripe came in their storeroom. Small signs posting holiday deals used “XMAS” instead of Christmas. I cringed, and I wasn’t the only one. Cyndee Carvalho of Alden Lane Nursery in California agreed, saying there’s something not right with the way it sounds or looks. I would be interested to hear what other garden centerers think about using “XMAS.” I know it’s not a deal-breaker...well, maybe it is.

Day 2: Feeney's

There are those places you come across in life where you just feel comfortable and safe.
Feeney’s is one of those places.

When bus-driver Fred heard we were starting day two off with Feeney’s, he wasted no time telling a story about his wife’s shopping experiences there. He also made sure to tell us they have a reputation for excellent customer service, which is hard to tell on a tour visit (everyone’s on their best behavior), but easy to believe.

With displays from floor to ceiling, I felt fully encapsulated by the store. I was starting to think Feeney’s main goal is to give their customers a sore neck…flying reindeers, airplanes, clouds, to name a few.

You never know what catches a person’s eye or what fills a void in someone’s home. On that premise, Feeney’s offers a bidding process to customers on select pieces-parts of displays. On the way out, I saw slips of red paper on a large china cabinet. Sometimes fixtures need to move and make room for newer ones. The bidding gives customers a chance to grab something (e.g., baker’s rack) for cheap, and Feeney’s makes out too, getting money for a piece that might otherwise find it’s way to the dumpster.

Feeney’s figurine collection is just one more knife in the drawer. I’m not sure that saying makes any sense. What I mean is aside from their seemingly unlimited Christmas merchandise, they are a destination location for Byer’s Christmas Carolers and everything Department 56 (plus retired pieces). They don’t skimp and that’s why it works for them. If you decide to run with a collection line, thoroughness is a good way to go. It gives your customers a sense of security with their investment. If they want to continue collecting, they’ll know where to turn first.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Terrain: The Not-So Bad And Everything Else

Not even a year old, it’s only natural for Terrain to have a couple hiccups in the growing process, right?

While a big fan of what Terrain had to offer under ceilings and between walls, I was a little less confident in their exterior efforts. Here are a few key points members of the tour made on more than one occasion:

1. Wheelchair accessibility- edging that sectioned off locations in the yard sometimes stuck out above the ground in many places. Also, there were steps, but hardly any ramps.

2. It was hard to locate a cart to load up your selections.

3. Unlike Waterloo, there was no map of the property.

4. Terrain’s structures are all unattached, something that might fall out of favor with customers during the cold winter months. Dress warm and bring your boots.

Is Terrain unpractical? Maybe. Or are we just to knit-picky? Probably. I have a bad feeling that Terrain may never be accepted by the independent garden center community. I've heard a bunch of opinions isolating Terrain as one of them and not one of us. They're approach is unfamiliar, but is that a gateway to judge the heck out of them?

Terrain: The Good

Pier One dressed in an expensive flannel shirt. That’s my initial take on Terrain. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.With live garland wired and streamed over the main walkway, it was easy to see that “rustic” oozes out of everything. And isn’t it funny that this is considered cutting edge?
From Waterloo’s sharp, shiny and packed to Terrain’s rough, earthy and hip, the tour did a complete 180, really challenging our perception of garden centers.

There’s no doubt that Terrain has a definite cool factor. The indoor retail space is full of “one of a kinds” and post modern merchandise displays—using huge tree stumps, old school running faucets, boxed frames, and refurbished doors and dressers.
Terrain is not the type of place you’re going to find a lot of one thing in a bunch of different colors. They are not looking to appease the demand for run-of-the-mill products. They want you to leave with a “treasure,” something that not everyone can get their hands on.

Mentioned in the morning talk, chalkboards provided plenty of useful signage space. This time of year, they keep their customers up to date on any current or upcoming events.
At the counters, customers can find Terrain branded grid paper to jot down their ideas or draw up that masterpiece in the works. An outdoor fireplace and an indoor café (which has a full menu) also offer places to mull over any remaining gardening or home décor decisions your customers may have.

Christmas On Steroids

There’s about 75 of us on this tour of Southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. We’re split into two buses, and GCA’s Shanan Molnar wasted no time informing us that we were on the official “fun bus.” With Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing on the radio, the tour’s very first stop started at Waterloo Gardens in Exton.

To the right of Waterloo’s front entrance, I noticed two things right away. First, before you even step through the doors, there’s an easy-to-read map of the grounds. Second, they had this week’s savings flyer framed and at eye level (I’m not sure if it’s sent out in the local paper or not). It lets the customer know right away what’s on sale this week. Both eliminate some FAQs upfront. 
As we piled into Waterloo’s, a manager mentioned a few tidbits about their Christmas layout, one of which was half-trees. Waterloo removed one side from a handful of the artificial Christmas trees used in the displays. This lets the tree lay flush against the wall, preventing wasted space. It’s one of those, why didn’t I think of that (if you haven’t already) concepts.

Overall, Waterloo was a bit overwhelming for me, but a huge hit with almost everyone else on the bus. The garden center received loads of praise for their ability to merchandise a high volume of product. 

There were rooms upon rooms with unfathomable amounts of Christmas goods. Ornaments and ornaments. They are all well thought out, and plenty of them carry themes. One garden center owner and tour member said the sheer volume alone would keep her up at night. 

As we drove off, Dave Williams of Williams Nursery in New Jersey told us that Waterloo’s employees are trained to listen for no music. If they are walking through the storeroom and aren’t hearing anything, they need to seek out a music box and wind it up. “Customers can’t experience quiet music boxes. It only takes a few seconds.”

She, She, She

The 2008 GCA Holiday Tour (Pennsylvania/Washington D.C.) started bright and early Tuesday morning. With a room full of groggy faces, and plates full of bacon and eggs, Greg Lehmkuhl, creative director of Urban Outfitters/Terrain at Styer's, talked about the new-garden-center-on-the-block’s target, their ideal customer: an affluent, trendy female in her forties and fifties. 

He referred to her as “she” more than a number of times.     

The whole time I was thinking, well, what about me? I’m 26, male and a fan of Urban Outfitters. What about marketing to the next wave of would-be gardeners? I’ve heard a mixed bag of impressions Terrain’s left on its visitors and I’m looking forward to seeing if Terrain lives up to any of the hype they’ve received. It’s our second stop on the first full day of the GCA Holiday Tour.   

For the rest of Terrain’s morning breakfast presentation, Greg explained his take on redeveloping a dated garden center and also a few things he’s implemented that help set Terrain apart from everyone else in the industry.   

Here are a few things he wanted us to think about and also look for during our visit to Terrain: 

1. Use chalkboards, handwritten signs. They’re easy to update and they can help explain products. Greg went on to say, if you buy a wacky or expensive product, use simple signage to “explain to your customers why you bought it. Don’t assume they know.” 

2. Use stencils for branding. Terrain’s name is tagged throughout the grounds with a stencil and some bright colored paint. On mailboxes, benches, screens…it creatively burns your brand into your customer’s memory. 

3. You don’t always have to use the fixtures manufacturers send you. For Terrain, most POP isn’t cohesive with their style. Sometimes it won’t mesh well with your store either and that’s okay. 

4. Along with the property, always update your Web site. Terrain updates at least once a week. Like products in the store, the same can be said for your site—customers need a new reason to come back.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bottomless Mug Club

Bruegger's Bagels just introduced an interesting new promotion to keep customers coming into its stores. "The savings go up with every cup" is the tagline for Bruegger's Bottomless Mug Club, which allows patrons who pay a flat fee of $129 to receive unlimited coffee, tea and soft drinks in 2009. To sweeten the deal, they also receive a Bruegger's coupon book worth $40.

So, $129 for coffee seems like a lot, doesn't it? Not when Bruegger's illustrates your savings on its promotional pieces. If you get three cups a week in 2009, you'll save more than $130. Five cups a week saves you $310, and seven cups a week gives you a savings of $485 (plus a case of the caffeine jittters).

The concept is genius. Save the few people who will go in there, get their cup of coffee and be on their merry way, the majority of customers won't be able to resist that cream cheese-slathered bagel or egg and ham breakfast sandwich to go along with their beverages. Bruegger's has pretty much got a customer for life. Or at least for a whole year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Coolest Thing Ever

OK, maybe not the absolute coolest thing ever in the history of all things, but it's close. I came across the EasyBloom Plant Sensor today, which can determine which plants will thrive in a specific spot in your yard. On top of that, it can diagnose ailing plants and bring them back to health. And, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial (sorry), there's even more! It also gives you access to plant information on 5,000-plus plants and allows you to create a custom library of your favorite plants.

It works like this: You plug the EasyBloom Plant Sensor into a USB port on your computer, which takes you to your My EasyBloom Dashboard page. Put the sensor into "Recommend" or "Monitor" mode. Then you place the sensor in the ground where you want to put a plant, or next to the plant you want to monitor. The device then gathers a "plant's eye view" of the location. The next day, plug the sensor into your USB port again, and the data is uploaded to the EasyBloom Web site, which then recommends plants or diagnoses problems, based on whether you have it in "Recommend" mode or "Monitor" mode.

Check out the EasyBloom video here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pumpkin Planters

I just came across the blog for San Francisco Bay-area Sloat Garden Center and wanted to share one of their neat posts. A local news station did a bit on using hollowed out pumpkins as planters for mums, cabbage and other fall plants and filmed it at one of Sloat's garden centers. Sloat made sure to post the video on the garden center's blog for anyone who might have missed it. You can check it out here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Supporting A Good Cause = Good PR

I just got an e-mail from the frequent parker program I belong to at the local airport. The car park is working with Feeding America to host a canned food drive. For every can parkers drop off, they get a dollar off their parking stays (up to $3). Everyone who contributes is also entered into a drawing for the chance to win gas cards.

Maybe some garden centers are doing something like this? If you are, make sure you give your local newspapers and TV stations a call to let them know! They love these human interest kinds of stories, and you just might get some media coverage, while, of course, supporting a great cause.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

IGCA Congress 2009 – Destination: Manchester, England

The British representatives on the tour did an excellent job getting people excited about next year’s IGCA Congress, which will be held in northwest England. By the closing gala reception, there were already 60-plus people signed up for the tour.

Anyone interested in more information can click here to visit the IGCA Web site.

Granville Island

For the final stop, the bus dropped us off on Granville Island. Once a run-down industrial park, Granville Island has been transformed into a tourist destination with parks, boutiques and a public market with fresh fish, produce, cheeses and more.

The artistic presentation of the produce blew me away. Too pretty to eat!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Art Knapp’s Plantland

The final garden center stop on the IGCA Congress tour was Art Knapp’s Plantland, the company’s flagship store.

The garden center touts its selection of unique, imported furniture, which is beautifully displayed.

Attractive vignettes help lead shoppers through the extensive home décor department, which includes everything from large furniture pieces to artwork. The home décor department was just beginning its transition into the Christmas season, which one of the employees admitted is a little earlier than usual. But, Art Knapp’s does Christmas so well, they wanted to make sure everyone on the tour had a chance to see it. I especially liked the Asian-inspired Christmas display (pictured).

Triple Tree Nurseryland

Triple Tree makes most of its money in trees and shrubs, and it’s easy to see why. The nursery yard is innovatively cross merchandised, and a spotless brick walkway, wide enough for carts, leads shoppers through the area with ease.

The garden center also offers a wide selection, including a variety of large specimen trees.

Trice Farms Pond & Garden

After a scenic drive through the countryside, we arrived at Trice Farms. The garden center markets itself as the area’s water gardening expert, and a number of lovely display ponds on the property confirm it. This store spares no expense when it comes to showing customers exactly what they’re capable of in the water gardening category.

A water gardening information center (pictured), staffed by employees, helps take the intimidation out creating a pond. The store also features a studio where classes and seminars are held to educate customers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Northwest Landscape Supply

Northwest Landscape Supply doesn’t do plants. It instead focuses on landscape rocks, fountains and statuary, profiting by selling a significant amount of heavy, high-cost items.

Brian Minter pointed out to me that Northwest has found a bit of a niche with its “disappearing water gardens,” which use natural rocks to absorb and recycle a water feature’s water. This allows the homeowner to have the look and sound of running water, but without algae build up or the risk of attracting disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Ninety-Nine Nursery & Florist

Day four of the IGCA Congress first took us to Ninety-Nine Nursery & Florist, a family-run operation known for its award-winning displays. “Impeccable” was the word many tour attendees were using to describe the garden center, and that pretty much sums it up. This is a garden center that’s not afraid to throw away tired plants. Every plant there was perfect.

Ninety-Nine has also found a way to profit from waste, selling petals from roses about to be discarded for $4.99 a box.

GardenWorks: Mandeville and GardenWorks: Burnaby

Both of these GardenWorks stores aim to inspire. GardenWorks is definitely not afraid to use a little paint to jazz up its displays, and vignettes created using brightly painted doors get customers excited about decorating their porches and patios.

The Burnaby store is the flagship, and there’s no shortage of curb appeal at this store. Beautifully planted flower beds at the entrance invite customers in. At Mandeville, the quaint café includes a lovely patio with tables and chairs, helping to make it a true destination garden center.

The stores also do a fantastic job with their cross merchandising, always helpful in getting the add-on sale and raising average price per transaction.

Sustainability is an important mission for GardenWorks, too. GardenWorks not only offers reusable shopping bags printed with a message to support independent Canadian garden stores, it also supplies grower flats for shoppers to use and bring back to the store, in place of expensive cardboard boxes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Minter Gardens

If you ever happen to flip through the book “1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die,” it won’t take you long to get to Minter Gardens. It’s the first one mentioned.

The 7,000-foot tall Mount Cheam is a splendid backdrop for the 11 gorgeous themed gardens. You’ll find out more about the gardens in the November issue, too, but until then, check out these photos!

Minter Country Garden Store

I won’t give too much away about this one. Minter Country Garden Store is going to be our November cover story, so you’ll be able to learn all about it in that issue of TGC. But I will say that owner Brian Minter is doing everything right. The merchandising is spot on, and the garden center is filled with spectacular mixed containers. Kids enjoy visiting Minter Country Garden Store, too, because a miniature train takes passengers on a fun tour around the property.

Cannor Nursery: Abbotsford

Surrounded by box stores (including a Home Depot right across the street), this particular Cannor Nursery store has had to reinvent itself in recent years in an effort to cater to the higher-end consumer.

The store’s café, Tamaringo's, creates a cozy, inviting atmosphere that no big box could replicate, and it serves a delicious assortment of coffees, teas and other foods (including yummy gelato).

Cannor’s efforts to focus on “relationship selling” – building connections with customers so they won’t want to shop anywhere else – have been successful. The owners say sales are growing more every day, and they’ve found their niche with the more affluent customers.

Nordic Nurseries

Nordic Nurseries isn’t a garden center, but it was full of spectacular marketing and merchandising ideas, in addition to magnificent trial gardens.

The nursery is actually a grower of more than 300 varieties and is in the Proven Winners grower network – hence, the fantastic displays featuring Proven Winners point-of-purchase materials.

Tanglebank Country Gardens

The lovely Tanglebank Country Gardens hosted us for brunch on day three of the IGCA Congress. The boutique-style garden center started in 1996 and is in the planning phase of creating a new and improved store that will include a bistro – perfect for the weddings and other events often held at the garden center.

I really liked the way Tanglebank uses paint to add interest to otherwise ordinary benches. Owner Brenda Falk says she decided to add the splashes of green and yellow paint because in an area known for its rainy weather, the colors can make the garden center feel bright and inviting, even on dreary days.

The garden center also does a great job reinforcing its brand with signage and tags throughout the store that feature the logo.