I’ve been to garden centers from Los Angeles to Toronto to Miami and even Maui, and no matter how many I visit, I’ve never once set foot in a store and thought, “I feel like I’ve been here before.” Even visiting multiple locations of the same company’s store is a new experience every time. Sometimes even the same store can feel like a whole new store, depending on the time of year. It’s one of the most fun and exciting aspects of this industry — no two stores are exactly alike.
That’s why many customers return time and time again to their independent garden centers. It’s not a get in, get out experience like so many shopping experiences. It’s fun; it’s exciting and there’s always something new to discover.
In this month’s cover story, you’ll read about three independent garden centers that chose to expand by buying out an existing location (or, in one case, two locations). But rather than gutting the operation and installing their own brand from the get-go, the new owners took the time to appreciate the acquired store’s legacy and unique character. And they’ve worked hard to maintain the things that set those stores apart from the crowd.
Each company dug in deep to learn how their newly acquired business operated, got to know their staff and carefully navigated the transition. No one had anything less than kind to say about the previous owners and all their years of hard work to build their brands.
As Liberty Landscape Supplies owner Mike Zaffaroni says, garden centers aren’t a franchise. You can’t come in with your processes and bulldoze your way through. “Our industry just doesn’t lend itself to that,” he says. “That’s just not how we are. Each location, even if we were to have a thousand locations, would have their own character, to some extent.”
Instead, each company carefully decided to make improvements to stock or processes or maybe even infrastructure, but their goals were to retain the unique aspects of each store. You certainly won’t see that with a Lowe’s or a Home Depot.
The things that make each store different are huge assets that have lead to their success. And that’s worth holding onto.