Change you can see

Features - THE TOP 100: No. 28 | Esposito Lawn & Garden Center

Owner Ralph Esposito explains how he refreshed and revitalized his garden center with a front-to-back makeover.

September 19, 2016

Esposito renovated its store to make it easier to find specific plants.
Courtesy of Esposito Lawn & Garden Center

Q: What sets Esposito apart from other garden centers?

A: We’re willing to take on new endeavors and create new departments as need and opportunity arise. We’re constantly evolving, and unlike big chains, we can implement changes quickly.

When my father started the business in the ’60s, he sold plants out of his station wagon on the side of the road. As time went on, we noticed a need for landscaping services and started offering that. When customers needed someone to maintain their newly landscaped yards, we decided to add a lawn care department. We needed equipment for the lawn maintenance crew, so we purchased enough equipment to start selling it. Because we needed to maintain our equipment, we added a small engine mechanic’s shop and began providing repair services. Next, we added pest control and fertilization departments. Within our store, we have a floral shop, a hydroponic supply store, a large Christmas department and a brand new Ace Hardware department.

Now we’re considering adding a pool maintenance department. This year, we started testing pool water and selling pool chemicals. We wanted to get our feet wet first to learn what’s necessary to run a professional pool cleaning service. Over the years, we have learned that the best practice is to test out a service to see if it’s viable. Our spray department was founded on this premise; we started that 25 years ago with a pull-behind tank on a pickup truck, and now it’s one of our larger departments.

Q: How do you maintain quality service as you add departments?

A: Every department is set up as its own business, with its own staff and responsibilities. This encourages specialization and allows our staff to become masters of their specialty. Maintaining accountability for their department encourages ownership and drives them to provide excellent customer service.

Each department is charged with a percentage of all overhead operating costs, and directly charged for all expenses related to payroll and supplies for the department. This is important because it allows each department to see how it is contributing to the company’s overall success. At the end of the year, all departments are consolidated into the final numbers for the company.

Q: What prompted you to add a hardware department?

A: We had an Ace Hardware franchise in the early years. Around the mid-’80s, Home Depot opened a store half a mile up the road from us. I did not want to fight Home Depot on hardware, so I closed out the hardware inventory.

Ace has been trying to get us back into the hardware business, so this fall we decided to add an Ace Hardware department in our store. We’re going to have a soft opening over the next several weeks, and then in October we’ll make an announcement.

Now there’s Home Depot half a mile up the hill and Lowe’s half a mile down the hill, so we’re right in the middle selling virtually the same products. If people want to buy [inexpensive products], they go there, and if they want to ask questions, they come here. They can’t duplicate our atmosphere or our people.

Every department is set up as a separate business, with its own staff and responsibilities to encourage accountability.
Courtesy of Esposito Lawn & Garden Center

Q: What other changes have you made recently to improve the business?

A: The garden center underwent a significant makeover this year. Previously, there were problems with accessing and locating specific plants. To solve these issues, we removed several large trees and reconfigured displays to improve visibility. We increased our plant selection, grouped like-kind products together, and organized our plants with updated signage. We installed sidewalks and we’re in the process of adding boardwalks and retaining walls.

We’re continuing to make changes from the front of the store to the back. In front of the building, we built large pergolas with an outdoor kitchen, bar, fire pit and patio. This helps customers visualize the work we can perform. Inside the store, we’ve rearranged counters and shelving to give customers a better line-of-sight for our products.

Someone had the idea to move our ceramic pots across the creek. Now that all the pots are together, the pot sales have gone up. It’s not that we have more pots, but customers notice them now. People didn’t know we had certain things until now because everything is easier to find.

The more changes we make, the more excited people are and the more ideas that start to flow. Employees are invested because we’re implementing their ideas. Customers are excited because it’s more convenient.