What’s the most valuable asset a garden store possess? The land it sits on? It employees? The merchandise or plants? It’s resale value? I contend the most valuable asset is the garden centers ability to generate and nurture its own enthusiastic customer base. As the cost of producing plants drops, and the quality continues to rise you will find excellent plants even at the mass merchants. Quality will no longer be the exclusive domain of independent garden shops. More and more we find good quality plants available at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, the box stores, Costco, Ikea, and any number of other outlets not traditionally associated with gardening.
A persons initial interest in gardening may be sparked by any number of reasons, but we can no longer expect the interested gardener to shop at a independent garden center or IGC. They are just as likely to pick up their plants at Costco, at a price that can’t be beat. We no longer depend on the natural and societal pressures that compelled many to garden in the past. What we need to do is to help create a whole new generation of enthusiastic gardeners. This can be accomplished by the smallest garden shop utilizing the power of social media. The ability to communicate with a large number of people “levels the playing field” between the large concerns and the smallest ones.
Once we have helped the new, now enthusiastic gardeners, we will have to nurture them. They won't just show up at the door next year if we don't give them a compelling reason to "keep it up" and reap the benefits. To many other fun or necessary things to do in life to occupy their time. We need to build our own communities of enthusiastic gardeners, and then give them the tools (social media perhaps) to help spread the word.
The Petaluma Seed Bank (which only sells hybrid seeds, no plants) is a great example. What the Petaluma Seed Bank and their owners Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have done is tap into the zeitgeist of the times. They create their own buzz via their catalog, online presence, and events to keep the gardeners interested. They have both brick & mortar as well as online sales. They are political (anti GMO), and donate time and money to their (and their customers) causes. They grow their own food on their own land (they walk the talk), and then discuss the results and possibilities with their customers. They have created a community of enthusiastic customers who share their love of the business.
We don't just sell plants and fertilizer anymore. We will have to create,organize, and nurture communities of like minded people who share a common goal, or interest. In our case that revolves around horticulture in general, but could also go off in a hundred different niches. Find your niche, and become the best in that world.