I received a e-mail from a friend in the northern California garden center business the other day. Here is part of it, "How are you doing up there?Â I love your website!Â Do you do all this yourself?Â Seems like a great idea...business has been slow here.Â I'm getting pretty tired of it, didn't make much money last year or the year before for that matter..I'm beginning to think this is more of a hobby than a job!Â Hope you're doing better." How many of us in the garden center business feel the same way? I have to admit that I was feeling the same way until not to long ago. The ornamental side of the business has been devastated. We use to carry the standard fare at the nursery. Some of our best sales use to come from impulse buys. Unusual plants like weeping Norway spruce, or unusual Japanese maples could be counted on to entice and sell. Not any more. If I we're to keep running the nursery the way it had always been run we would be out of business.
We made a choice to change our focus last year. It has changed everything. Your probably tired of hearing abut it, but our foray into indoor gardening has been huge. We actually have winter time business! What's really cool is the cross over sales we have been making to conventional gardeners who never knew about some of the stuff that is generally only found in hydroponic stores. After my talk the other day to our local garden club the ladies where coming in buying mini greenhouse tops, seed heating mats, smart pots, and rock wool growing cubes. Most had never heard of or seen rock wool grow cubes or smart pots. This is something almost exclusively found in hydroponic stores. The Smart Pots are going to fly out of here this spring! Tomatoes will love growing in these things, and people will love the novelty and results they provide.
Burn out is something all of us in small business have to deal with. We have been able to keep it in check this year. I am fascinated by the new technology and items that we are discovering by getting involved in what was almost exclusively a hydroponicÂ store specialty. In addition we are seeing an influx of twenty something males and females who are also interested in this stuff. Low and behold "generation y" is interested in gardening. They just have not been served by conventional garden centers. They love all this new stuff!
We are becoming a hybrid garden center. Not a conventional nursery, and not a hydroponic shop in a warehouse. We are here to serve gardeners of all persuasions. Mostly we want to be our areas source of gardening supplies, period. It's so exciting to see young people who really care about fertilizers and what's in them. Young people who are growing their first vegetable gardens. Older people who are buying T5 grow lights to start their seeds inside their homes.
I don't buy into the current trend in the industry to simplify things so as to appeal to the supposed un-interested and non-gardening young. They want information and the tools to garden their way. If you don't supply it they will head to that hydroponic warehouse to get it. Drop your pre-conceived notions of what these people are up to. Look outside of your comfort zone to find new ideas of how to run your store. It has given me a new sense of hope. The younger generation does want to garden. The older generation does want to try new ways and things to help them garden better. Don't hang out with the same crowd you always hang out with at nursery trade shows.
It's a brave and strange new world we are entering. We decided that becoming a hybrid garden center was right for us. It changed the dynamic here, and has given us a more positive future. Our experience is that of one small store in northern California, and perhaps our experience wont translate to other regions or other garden centers. Just thought you should know how we are dealing with these most interesting times.