Hope for a nurseryman's daughter

I receive comments all the time from people thinking of starting a small nursery or garden center. My latest was from Allison who wrote “I'm wondering if there is any hope for a nurseryman’s daughter to take over his family-owned retail business. I’ve grown up living beside my family’s 100 year old nursery my entire life. Recently, my dad has decided that it’s time to get out. He’s not making any money, and competition is getting all the business due to a better location. I feel that my dad is losing business due to his lack of motivation, but he blames it on the location. He’s let the nursery lose its charm that it once had. His heart hasn’t been in the nursery for a while. I, on the other hand, can’t stand to let the nursery go, and would do anything to keep it around. We have great wholesale contacts. My dad’s been a loyal customer to some for more than 30 years. My cousin lives down the road and sells wholesale. Our annuals come from the very best in the country. We are also very competitive in pricing. Why is it so hard to make this business thrive? Is this a completely a lost cause, or is there something I can do? Any advice is appreciated.”

I also received a comment earlier from Lorna that more or less asks the same question. I e-mailed Lorna mentioning a online resource she might like The Art of running a small garden center or nursery.

The nursery business is changing, along with most business theses days. I started in the nursery business during the last era of the garden center business. The era Allison's dad remembers. Things were different. No box store competition, no Internet, gardening clubs that were growing, etc. Now there is competition from box stores, the Internet, and shrinking garden clubs. In addition there are so many other ways to spend your time and money than digging in the earth. I understand Allison's dad being burned out and wanting out. Meanwhile Allison and Lorna see possibilities but little or no help from the older generation of nursery people who are as confused as to what to do next as the rest of us.

Other than the conversations we have here I don't have any specific advice other than keep the positive vibes and energy. Running a successful business requires both. My wife and I have a couple of commercial rental units that are vacant and need filling. A young lady came in the other day asking about them. She had ideas about what she wanted to do as far as a business but said everyone she talked to said this or that business had been tried here, and failed. I guess the people she was listening to figured if it was tried once that was it. What they don't ask was “were these new businesses that failed run properly?" Maybe that coffee shop should have served better tasting coffee, or that take and bake pizza place would have been more successful if the service and pizza was better. Just because it was tried once doesn't mean it was tried right.

My advice is to live the dream. Sure there are all sorts of business details that need to be factored in but optimism and enthusiasm mean so much. These days people feel bombarded with so much information, and so much negativity that they are dying for an optimistic message. Just by being enthused and optimistic you can attract like minded people who are looking for that positive message. I believe that there will a resurgence in the small garden center business led by people who refuse to be brought down by bad news, and instead want to make their own positive news. That's why I think that word of mouth advertising, supplemented by a great in store and online experience is the small businesses best hope for getting the word out.

There are of course many details that can affect your business, location, local economy, weather, business skills, etc. I do believe that the first requirement however is enthusiasm for what we do and optimism in the future. When challenges arise these traits will come in real handy. I believe that the smaller garden center can provide a refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Rather than just a place to buy plants it is a place to become rejuvenated, and learn about the natural world. You enter the garden center tired and burned out and leave enthused and excited about creating change in your own world, via the magic of the garden. Tell me why a business that provides those valuable benefits wouldn't be a success?