Creating a destination IGC

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Sawyer Home & Garden Center leverages tourism traffic and demand for wine to cater to customers.

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September 22, 2015

After 30 years of steering her business toward stability, Linda Patejdl, co-owner of Sawyer Home & Garden Center, is ready to hand the reins off to the next generation.

But only after she’s seen the operation become a fine wine destination as well as a successful garden retailer.

Sawyer Home & Garden Center was founded in 1985 in Sawyer, Mich., by Patejdl and her husband, Barry. Along with roughly 60 year-round and seasonal employees, the business is operated by Tom and Jennifer McReynolds, Patejdl’s children. Tom manages the nursery and landscaping sectors of the business while Jennifer oversees retail sales as well as perennial and annual cultivation.

Patejdl is also assisted by grandchildren Megan and Nick McReynolds. During the 30 years since Patejdl and her husband launched Sawyer Home & Garden Center, the business has fostered a reputation for fresh produce sourced from local farmers, a wide variety of green goods, a stockpile of more than 500 wines from around the world and locally brewed beers.

“We’re known for our wines,” Patejdl says. “We have gourmet food tastings and things like that. Of course, craft beers right now are big. I don’t know how many different ones we have. We have a lot of local beers. In every town, there seems to be a brewery now.”

With Sawyer situated in a high-tourism area of Southwestern Michigan, Sawyer Home and Garden Center is seen as a popular landmark among seasonal visitors with a taste for wine and souvenirs. The location also encouraged cooperation with area farms in order to offer locally grown edibles.

“We’re just a little over an hour from Chicago, so what happens is everybody in Chicago, since we’re on Lake Michigan, everybody has their weekend home right there,” Patejdl says. “Like anything, we’ve grown and we are a tourist area. You have to keep customers coming, that’s why we started the produce. We’re in a big growing area right where we are. There’s an abundance of small farmers and fresh produce, so we started bringing that in.”

Patejdl says they, like many garden centers, have explored a more spirited and tourist friendly business that encourages customers to visit for hours at a time.

“Look at how a lot of them have evolved,” Patejdl says. “They’re kind of taking note from the English garden centers. They have people spend the day there.”

As her younger family members take more active roles in the business and Patejdl eases herself away from the helm, she still has goals for leaving her mark. In the near future, she hopes to secure more space for customer parking and increase water intake, as expanded greenhouse space means greater water demand.

“Those are standard garden center kind of problems, I think,” Patejdl says.

When customers are loyal and the location seems prime to keep them coming through the door, it can be easy to kick back and rest assured the business is doing fine, but Patejdl says it’s important to keep working to keep your company viable for whoever steps up to take it over.

“We’re fortunate we don’t have a lot of competition, just by the area where we’re located,” Patejdl says. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the trend. You have to look at what people want.”