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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Marigold Nurseries

A fourth generation family business, Marigold Nurseries is Vancouver Island’s largest garden center.

The operation also does its own growing and sells most of what it grows at its own store, but also wholesales to some grocery stores.

Marigold creates beautiful and unique mixed containers, which are displayed throughout the store, and although one of the employees admitted they might not necessarily sell each and every one of the containers, customers love the inspiration they get from them.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Marigold, the garden center’s resident kitty cat.

Elk Lake Garden Center

This grower-retailer really focuses on color and quality. The benches were fully stocked with perfect pansies and magnificent mums. Blooming potted plants are another big part of the business.

Elk Lake does a great job getting color out in front, too, making it almost impossible for passers by not to notice it.

Garden Works

GardenWorks has 10 locations throughout BC, and day two of the tour took us to the Vancouver Island store, where merchandising is the operation’s bread and butter. In addition to its already creative displays, GardenWorks uses a tremendous amount of point-of-purchase material, like the Rock Stars line, to make the plants really stand out.

GardenWorks also partners with local artisans to offer a unique mix of art and décor for its customers. One of the artists creates beautiful mosaics using pieces of broken china (pictured). The mosaics are durable enough to stand up to the elements and can be left outside in the garden, even during the winter (which tends to be pretty mild on this temperate island).

Cannor Nursery

This particular Cannor Nursery store has the right attitude when it comes to marketing and branding. The garden center really wanted to emphasize its focus on water gardening, so it created Wildwood Waterscapes. Giving the water gardening department its own name shows it’s not simply an auxiliary product category for Cannor – it’s something the garden center really focuses on.

Another cool venture Cannor is participating in is the “100th Monkey Effect.” The story behind the “100th Monkey” comes from Lyall Watson’s book “Lifetide,” which describes scientists studying macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima. Every day, scientists delivered sweet potatoes to the sandy shores to feed the monkeys, who ate the sandy potatoes for weeks, until one day, one of the monkeys washed the dirt off. A few days later, the monkey had taught his mother to wash her potatoes, too. Eventually it spread, and a group of 100 monkeys followed suit. After the “100th Monkey” tipping point, the whole colony was washing the sand off their potatoes before eating them.

The story is meant to be taken to heart and considered in the context of climate change. When will there be enough people concerned about the planet that we’ll reach a tipping point?

All the proceeds from the purchase of these cute monkey statues (pictured) go directly to the David Suzuki Foundation, which uses science and education to promote solutions that conserve nature and help achieve sustainability within a generation.

Butchart Gardens

We began day two of the IGCA tour at 5 a.m. to catch an early morning ferry over to beautiful Vancouver Island, which is home to the capital, Victoria.

Our first stop was Butchart Gardens, which were absolutely breathtaking. Words can’t really do these gardens justice, so here are some photos!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension bridge, built in 1889, spans 450 feet across and 230 feet high. Below is the beautiful Capilano River, and at the end is a lush rainforest filled with old cedars, hemlocks and Douglas firs, some as old as 500 years.

The walk across the bridge is a little frightening, as it sways from side to side, making it difficult to keep your footing. But Jim and Mary Wallitsch of Wallitsch Garden Center in Kentucky (pictured on the bridge) and I made it across, one wobbly step at a time!

It was all worth it at the end, where we got a fantastic nature tour and learned all about the history of the First Nations (the area’s indigenous people). Interesting tidbit: banana slugs (which can be up to a foot long), found in the area, have yellow slime that acts as an anesthetic. If you touch it, your finger will go numb. The First Nations would simply slap a little of that banana slug slime on their teeth if they had a toothache and not feel a thing.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?), we didn’t encounter any banana slugs while we were there.

Southlands Nursery

Nothing is out of place at Southlands Nursery. The garden center is meticulously laid out and merchandised. The owner Thomas Hobbs was a florist before entering the retail garden center business, and it shows. His artistic approach to merchandising makes Southlands a delightful place to shop.

Items like old windows and doors jazz up displays and add a whole new element of interest to plants and pottery, inspiring customers. And, if customers are especially intrigued by certain displays, they can even purchase the old windows and doors for their own gardens. Everything at the garden center is for sale. Southlands even make use of broken pottery, planting it up with stunning combinations of succulents and other varieties.

The team at Southlands has mastered branding, too. Boxes and paper bags adorned with the garden center’s logo are somewhat pricey, according to Hobbs, but it’s worth the investment for the opportunity to be constantly reinforcing your brand.

Maple Leaf Garden Centre

Nestled in the foothills behind a stunning, mountainous backdrop in West Vancouver, Maple Leaf Garden Centre caters to a high-end demographic in a neighborhood filled with beautiful, historic homes.

With an elegant yet rustic atmosphere, the garden center certainly fits in with its surroundings. They’ve dressed up some ordinary hoop houses with attractive, cedar facades, which help add value while creating a richer ambiance and more enjoyable shopping experience.

Exquisitely planted containers throughout the garden center include recipe cards so customers can easily recreate them in their own gardens.

IGCA Congress - Stop One: Art Knapp's Urban Garden

More than a dozen different countries are represented on this year's International Garden Center Association (IGCA) Congress. The three tour buses full of people visiting Vancouver's finest garden centers are melting pots of garden retail for the next five days. The tour promises to provide of host of ideas for everyone to take back home to their own operations, and day one certainly did that. The first stop was Art Knapp's Urban Garden.

Art Knapp’s Urban Garden is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver. A unique atmosphere and product mix cater perfectly to the garden center’s demographic – young urbanites and condo dwellers.

Because of the recent explosion in high rise condo construction over the last few years, The Urban Garden has adjusted its product inventory to include more home décor pieces and indoor/tropical plants (or, living art, as they call it). There are also plenty of cool containers planted up for condo owners looking for something easy but different to drop on the balcony.

The garden center also does a particularly good job of promoting the benefits of indoor plants, effectively using signage to tout plants’ ability to clean the air we breathe.