Retail Evolution

Retail Evolution

Features - Tour

Habersham Gardens in Atlanta is a testament to the old saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

November 12, 2009
Sarah Martinez



Opportunities and challenges have helped Habersham Gardens emerge into a better place.

Habersham Gardens

2067 Manchester St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
(404) 873-2484

Deborah and Walt Harrison

Landscape division was founded in 1978; garden center in 1996

Web site:

Habersham Gardens in Atlanta is a testament to the old saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The garden center and its landscape services division survived the crippling drought that brought the Southeast to its knees in 2007 and into 2008. When rain finally started to fall in the region, a new, non-weather related challenge surfaced: the national recession.

“We’re much smaller now than we were three years ago sales-wise and employee-wise,” said co-owner Deborah Harrison. “We just had to rethink our whole approach. Since 1995, we had the clientele and street cred to carry a big inventory and turn it over quickly. I was spoiled. I didn’t have to worry about if it would sell, because it would. It was a real challenge finding our sea legs in this really bad economy. But I think we’ve emerged into a better place.”

Tough times prompted Habersham Gardens to tighten areas that need to be tightened. Harrison said they also had a lot of conversations about how they could better serve their clientele.

A new approach A new merchandising strategy was one element that emerged from these conversations. This year, Habersham Gardens grouped plants in solution-based departments. The staff came up with 11 categories, including “Privacy Plants,” “Instant Gratification (annuals)” and “Shady Ladies.” Each category addresses the needs of Habersham’s urban clientele.

Customers have already begun to adapt to the new system, though there was a bit of a learning curve at the outset. Harrison said some people could see the new organization scheme as the dumbing-down of gardening.
“But indeed our customers are loving it,” she said. “They’re finding information and the things they need without reading hundreds of signs.”

Habersham Gardens is also capitalizing on customers’ desire for seasonal color and décor.

“We’re selling huge amounts of custom-planted containers,” Harrison said. “We had one lady who came in recently and bought $7,000 worth of containers, service and delivery. We’re actively pursuing that market.”

More adjustments in the store’s merchandise mix are forthcoming, according to Harrison. She’s noticed that over the years they’ve become very heavy in contemporary-style garden pots and accents.

“We’re Southern, and I think we strayed a little from that,” Harrison said. “There’s so much talk these days about comfort food and comfort-things, I think this is a good year to go back a little to that.”

Small footprint. Habersham Gardens has to be smart about space. The entire garden center occupies slightly less than an acre. Harrison said they frequently mix up the display space so the store doesn’t become stagnant. “I insist that we change department locations every year,” she said. “We paint our buildings at least once a year, maybe twice a year.”     Also, Habersham quite literally has no parking. On busy days, customers’ cars line the street in front. Customers generally don’t mind. And, in some ways, it adds to the store’s charm.

“It’s almost like reverse chic,” Harrison said. “We’re everybody’s secret little place. We have to be whimsical because we can’t be a full-service garden center. They [the store’s customers] aren’t going to come here because they can find every kind of bug spray on the market.”