COVID-19’s impact on the independent garden center

In the midst of a global pandemic, garden centers are finding ways to offer their customers a respite.

During a time of social distancing and self-quarantining, independent garden centers are finding unique ways to continue serving their customers. From curbside pickup to virtual shopping to new marketing messages, IGCs are spreading the word that gardening is not cancelled. *Please note that all information is current as of print date, but circumstances are rapidly changing.

New ways to shop

From online shopping to curbside pickup and home delivery, here’s what four Top 100 Independent Garden Centers are doing to alter their services in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Many garden centers are offering delivery or curbside pickup to reduce or eliminate the need for contact during this time of social distancing.

Hillermann Nursery & Florist in Washington, Missouri, has limited customers in the store to 10 at a time, encouraging curbside pickup and delivery. The greenhouse and sales yard will remain open for browsing since there are 15 acres for shoppers to spread out — a message the IGC is pushing out to its customers.

Hillermann is going to be offering Facetime shopping as well. Customers simply call the store’s main number and make the request. A staff member then calls the customer back on a smart phone and walks them through the store to pick out exactly what they want.

“We’re hoping that it’s something the customer will be more comfortable with because they’ll actually be seeing what they’re getting,” Hillermann McDonald says. The IGC has done it before for out-of-town customers and Hillermann McDonald is hoping it will pick up in the midst of coronavirus concerns.

Ruibal’s Plants of Texas has always offered deliveries, but the company is pushing that service even more now. Customers can shop the website for annuals, perennials, floral plants, shrubs and trees, and download a color wheel PDF to see what’s available. Orders can be made either by email or over the phone.

“If we don’t have a ton of people here in the nursery, then we’ll start using our personal vehicles and trucks to do some of the smaller deliveries — push out as many of those as we can so it will just be a few people close to one another,” says Mark Ruibal, owner. “So instead of having 20 or 30 people in here kind of close, you have the one delivery driver who goes to take it, put it out on the front porch and leave it and anybody’s who’s worried about that won’t have to get it or have to be contacted.”

In California, “The world is stopped almost,” says Frank Benzing, president and CEO of SummerWinds Nursery. But since garden centers are allowed to stay open, the company is bumping up delivery and curbside pickup. Customers can call or email to place orders, or opt to come into the store as long as they maintain social distancing.

Kate Spirgen


The return of the victory garden

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, one way garden centers are dealing with the fallout is by dusting off a term from the past and encouraging customers to plant victory gardens.

When James H. Burdett wrote the Victory Garden Manual in 1943, the U.S. was more than a year into World War II. Food was scarce. Americans wanted to do something productive and feel self-sufficient.

Burdett founded the National Garden Bureau in 1920 and that organization’s current executive director, Diane Blazek, updated his tome for today’s gardens in a series of blog posts. The first one was about planning, the second one will be about planting, the third one will discuss care and maintenance and the fourth one will be about harvesting.

Blazek believes IGC customers are looking for a return to normalcy. After posting “Victory Gardens 2.0: 10 steps for planning your own,” she thinks the messaging is a good fit for today’s times.

“Based on the reaction we got, yes, it definitely is striking a chord,” she says. “It’s the one thing you have control over. I can control my garden. I can grow my own produce. I can feed my family. That feeling of empowerment is a big part of it.”

You can read the entire first post here.

IGCs like Georgia’s Pike Nurseries are using the messaging, as well. Their post-coronavirus marketing includes tips for planting modern-day victory gardens.

“Any time the country goes through a difficult time, you see people spending more time at home and watching their pennies a little closer,” Vice President of Marketing Desiree Heimann says. “So it makes sense that you’d start planting your own Victory Gardens. We started encouraging that and the sales went along with it.”

Not that sales are booming, but Pike has definitely seen a percentage of sales moving toward edibles. Whether it’s veggies, herbs or berries, people are grasping onto that message.

Victory Gardens allow quarantined, stir-crazy people to get out in their yard and experience the benefits of gardening.

“We’re being told to isolate and distance, and that’s not what humans do,” she says. “If we can encourage people to go outside and plant their Victory Garden, yes, they’ll have their fruits and veggies that they love to grow, but it’s also a form of therapy. And they can do that safely in their backyard.”

Nancie Corbett, owner of Bluebird Farms, a small IGC in Berlin, Maryland, opened March 23 after a two-month winter break. Corbett partnered with Windmill Creek Winery, which donated the land for 60 garden plots, for which she would sell the plants at a 20% discount.

On March 25, she led a Facebook Live virtual event explaining to interested participants how to make a Victory Garden. Now, the winery has a waiting list for the plots. Corbett sees the reason people love the concept.

“It gives people hope,” she says. “They can envision their garden in August and right now each day we’re just trying to get through until the evening when we go to bed.”

— Matt McClellan

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