Accommodating a growing population

Features - THE TOP 100: No. 99 | Shelly’s Garden Country

Shelly’s Garden Country establishes customer relationships with education and by carrying the right plants for Denver’s challenging conditions.

September 19, 2016
Douglas J. Guth
Courtesy of Shelly’s Garden Country

Metro Denver’s population is among the fastest-growing in the nation, a trend that has treated Shelly’s Garden Country well. Owner Shelly Breitenbach purchased and renamed the business in 2013 after serving as general manager at the previous store for 25 years. She says her store’s unique products and deep employee knowledge base keep bringing long-time gardeners back while also attracting those new to the hobby.

Q: How has your business changed in response to population growth in the metro Denver area?

A: With more young professionals in apartments and condominiums, we’re seeing a division in our customer base in terms of goals and interests. People in smaller spaces are going to want columnar trees and shrubs. That trend adjusts what we’re going to order and carry.

Q: What plants and products are popular with customers in the area?

A: Predatory insects are really starting to take off. Buying mites, ladybugs and wasps is no longer a foreign concept to the consumer. Two years ago, people wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea about these insects, and now they’re asking for them by name. It’s an 100 percent shift in mentality into a more organic form of [pest control] away from chemicals.

We’re also seeing a surge in everything that is succulent in dwarf and columnar plants. Hanging baskets have been a strong seller, too. Strawberries and tomatoes in baskets are starting to become popular.

Q: How do you deal with Denver’s high altitude in terms of how it impacts plant growth and maintenance?

A: Being on a high plateau means more sun intensity and lower moisture. We have products and plants geared toward those issues, and work with local growers who understand what plants are able to survive the environment here. Customers going to a big box store to purchase their annuals are not going to get the information they need to care for plants in our environment. Our annuals are separated out by “sun” and “shade.” We take extra effort to understand the microclimate here and get the right plants in the right place.

“We take extra effort to understand the microclimate here and get the right plants in the right place.” — Shelly Breitenbach, owner, Shelly's Garden Country

Q: In what ways is your store trying to attract younger or “Millennial” gardeners?

A: The No. 1 way we’re getting through to Millennials is through social media. Our urban farming and terrarium classes are geared directly toward them. Urban farming overall is a huge trend for the cities we serve. Young people want to grow plants organically, and like to know what they’re putting into [their plants] to keep them organic. They don’t just want to be sold a product, but have an ethical vision, and they’re not afraid to ask harder questions about what they’re looking for.

Q: How have the landscape design/yard maintenance segments of the businesses added to your success?

A: Our yard maintenance and landscape design services also speak to the Millennial population. Some are buying single-family homes or townhouses with small yards, and they’re coming to us for advice. Forming that relationship is what makes us different. We have customers who we designed yards for 15 years ago, and we’re still continuing that conversation today. If we get relationships with younger people started now, that can last for a lifetime. We want to be vital in the community.

Workshops and social media outreach have put Shelly’s in favor with the young, growing population in Denver.

Q: How do special events like painting classes and fairy garden workshops help your store connect with the community?

A: Fairy garden classes have been huge for us. We thought it would just be for children, but we’re getting generations of grandmothers, mothers and daughters as well. The age range we get is from mid-30s to people in their 80s. It’s also a destination activity that gets two or three friends together. It’s been mind-blowing.

We started doing classes in 2013 to get more people’s hands on what they had been asking for. We do classes on perennials, urban farming and more. It’s about bringing more knowledge to our customers than what they’d get at a big box. We have been able to make a close connection with customers based on something they’re requesting, which is a big value to them.

There’s a passion that comes through that goes beyond business. We’re focused on relationships and building knowledge. Building up people and supporting their dreams translates to customers 100 percent. The most popular comment we get is this store “feels good,” and we’re passionate about that.