Just in time for the retailer’s 30-year anniversary, Texas-based independent garden center Calloway’s Nursery opened in March two new stores in Tarrant County and North Fort Worth, the 17th and 18th locations owned by the company. We talked with Calloway’s president and COO Marce Ward about the goals and circumstances surrounding the new expansion and how Calloway’s is looking ahead to the next 30 years.
Q: What can you tell me about the communities you’re hoping to serve with these two new locations?
A: Well, North Fort Worth is growing at a very fast rate, as is Mansfield. We already have brand presence in both of those communities — we have a store in Fort Worth now, and we have a store in Arlington. But what we’re excited about is being able to be more convenient to homeowners in some really fast-growing areas. We expect both of these stores to have a strong impact on the financial performance of the company going forward.
Q: I’m curious about the timing of this expansion. What made right now a good time to start on these new stores?
A: We do the majority of our business from about the middle of March to the middle of May, and if you’re going to open a new store, it’s important to be open for that time frame. We tend to look at these things with a longer-term view; like, “What’s a store going to do for us over the lifetime of that facility?” With these two, we were pretty fortunate, in that when we were able to do the land deals and get the architecture and civil [engineering] done and all of the permitting and so forth … we were able to push very hard and make March for both locations. We hope to grand open the Mansfield location Friday, March 11 if everything goes well and follow that up with the North Tarrant store on March 25, which is Easter weekend. That’s always a really good one for us as long as the sun shines. Editor’s note: Ward made both opening targets.
Q: Do you think these two stores will do anything differently or try anything new compared to what your specialties are?
A: With the two new locations, we’re pretty much sticking to our core business and our core offerings. We’re very well known in the area for our presentation of annual color and perennials. That’s what really drives our business.
Q: What kind of square footage will you be working with at these new stores?
A: The store at North Tarrant Parkway in Fort Worth, that’s about a three acre site, which is pretty typical of a Calloway’s Nursery. It’s got about 100 parking spaces and about a 5,000-square-foot building that resembles an old Texas farmhouse, it’s a beautiful thing. I think people get inspired when they look at it. Then we have approximately 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space that we use primarily display the annual and perennial color and an about 30- to 35,000 square foot nursery yard for the trees and shrubs. The Mansfield location’s a little smaller of a footprint for us, it’s about a 2.5 acre site. We do have a few stores that are that size and they’re good stores for us, we just have to really be on our game to keep the merchandise flowing through there since it’s a smaller footprint to work with.
Q: Back when the economy wasn’t doing as well as it might be now, Calloway’s closed stores in the San Antonio market. How do you feel about being able to add some more stores to the Calloway’s brand?
A: It feels great. Our plans are for organic growth with the Calloway’s and the Cornelius brand [a subsidiary nursery] in the markets that we’re serving. With what Texas is doing and the nice growth that we’re experiencing here, we feel like those opportunities are going to be there for us in years to come. I understand what’s happening here is a little unique compared to the rest of the country and we feel really fortunate to be located where we are.
Q: Do you feel like this opportunity to build new stores speaks to the condition of the horticulture industry at large or the Texas market in particular?
A: My understanding from the reports I look at and read is that the industry at large across the country has done pretty well in the last few years. I think Texas is unique, with the population growth that we’re experiencing and I think that’s driven by a few different things. There’s lots of operations moving into Texas, there are lots of people coming in for those jobs, there’s a lot of opportunity here, around Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. The cost of living in favorable here compared to many spots around the country. It just seems to be the place people want to be.
Q: This expansion coincides with the 30-year anniversary of Calloway’s Nursery. Looking back on 30 years, what would you say you’ve learned or accomplished? What’s on the horizon for you?
A: I think it’s three things, really. I think it’s the importance of picking really good store locations. Having really good systems to manage the inventory, since it is so perishable. Probably more important than anything else, all aspects of a successful business really come down to having great people on your team. It’s all about people. When it comes to picking store sites, convenience is so important these days. People seem time-starved … and we feel like the products we offer provide them relief for that. That’s one of the things we’re excited about at these new stores; being able to get into these communities where we’ll be a little more convenient. Inventory management; it’s been amazing what we’ve seen over the last 30 years relative to improvements in technology and systems that help us plan and replenish and keep the inventory fresh. We’ve learned that that’s just critical to this business. We’ve got a group of people here that have a passion for making sure that the customer experience is outstanding. Good stores, good systems, good people and things will work. I think when you talk about the last 30 years and how we can think about this industry and what’s changed, it’s exciting to think about the next 30. It’s hard to imagine what that might look like, and what we talk about a lot around here is to still be here in 30 years — we challenge ourselves every day to stay current and to be flexible. We want to make sure we stay relevant with the homeowners we’re trying to serve. I think the next 30 years will be very exciting in the retail garden center arena.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.