Q&A with The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre, Enchanted Gardens

Two IGCs share which business initiatives helped them grow in 2020.

The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, is returning to the Top 100 List at No. 65. This second-generation garden center is considered travel-worthy and drives customers from all over, including London. It offers a host of gift and garden items and even has homemade treats readily available for purchase. Learn more about them in the interview with Owner Dave Van Raay here.

Garden Center magazine: How does The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre set itself apart from others?

Dave Van Raay: One of the things that we pride ourselves on is our appearance — the way our garden center stands out. I’d also like to think we’re a destination garden center. We’ve had people actually visit from far away, even out of the country. Most customers come because their friends bring them to our store and the cycle continues. It’s kind of funny when people, especially from Europe, visit and say ‘My friend brought us to your store’ And and I say, ‘We welcome you to our garden center.’ They look at me and say ‘Well, you’re not a garden center.’ I think it’s because we have so much to offer but I do believe we are a garden center.

We have lots and lots of plants, but when you first walk into our store, it is quite heavily geared to a gift and gardening boutique and everything to do with outdoor décor. You don’t really see the plants until you go to the back, which is where our annual greenhouses, along with our perennials, shrubs and trees are. So upon first impression, it does look more like a garden gift store, I suppose.

The Van Raay family

GC: How has the garden center adapted to COVID-19?

DV: Well, we’ve made a lot of changes and I consider those changes to be the main reason for our business success this year. More so than just the fact that, ‘Oh, everybody’s starting to garden.’ We’ve readapted to a more spacious environment, even as far as Christmas goes. We have two large greenhouses which are about 5,000 to 6,000 square feet that we opened up and put furnaces in. That’s allowed us to put our Christmasland out there. We have no aisles less than 5 or 6 feet wide and of course we’ve done a ton of signage, and spent a lot of money on educating our staff and customers on protocols to make it a safe environment. We’ve had no incidents, so we’ve been lucky that way and I think we’ve done an excellent job.

GC: We see that you have a waffle bar. How did that come about, and how has the response from customers been?

DV: My wife Sue and I went to Bruges, Belgium, about three or four years ago. As I was walking around, I found a waffle bar, and it’s not your typical waffle bar. It’s more of a treat waffle and it’s called a liege waffle, which is considered a dessert in Belgium. They’re like a sugar waffle and are made from pearl sugar.

What they do is, they serve this waffle to you and top it with whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate, sprinkles and caramel — anything you want. When I had one of those, I said I was going to have this at the nursery one day because they were serving about 1,500 waffles a day. Ours is called Opa’s Waffle Bar, but we can only serve takeout waffles now. We also do all in-house homemade fresh fudge which does well too, but when the waffles are baking, the whole place smells amazing.

GC: How do you hope The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre impacts your customers?

DV: I am glad to think that it impacts them in a positive way. I think it makes people happy. I’ve talked to so many people who have careers that are related to customer service, but in a different way. We’re involved in customer service, but when our customers come through the door, the thing is, we have to keep them happy because they came happy. And I think we’ve done a great job at making them even happier.

GC: Speaking of Christmasland, how does that impact your staff and customers?

DV: We’re big on Christmas and have actually seen a 25% increase this year. We decorate — and decorate a lot! As far as product line goes, we are fresh and new every year. We do not like to put the same old thing up each year. We truly do try to reinvent and add a new look of the store to try and give it a nice unique appeal from year to year so it gives people a reason to come back. I think that’s the reason that we do get a lot of travelers from a distance. It also keeps our staff busy. One of the comments that we do get from the staff is that they really look forward to the season and they just love it. They’re all dressed in their Christmas red and you can feel the good vibes when you walk through the place. It’s quite invigorating.

Enchanted Gardens

Joey Lenderman and Peggy May

Enchanted Gardens in Richmond, Texas, is making its debut on the Top 100 List at No. 83. The IGC recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has grown into a community leader. It offers a wide array of products, holds educational events, and sponsors school gardens and multiple neighborhood initiatives. Learn more about them in the interview with Owner Joey Lenderman and Operations Manager Peggy May below.

Garden Center magazine: How has Enchanted Gardens grown over the years and what do you offer your customers?

Joey Lenderman: Next year will be our 26th anniversary. When we started, we were out in the middle of nowhere, and now everything is just growing like crazy in our area. We’ve been really fortunate. We are a full-service garden center. We get all different types of run-of-the-mill plants, as well as unique and collectible plants. We have a great selection of pottery, statuary trees, custom containers, and probably the best selection of herbs and vegetables, annuals and perennials around. We grow most of those in our own greenhouses.

GC: How has Enchanted Gardens gotten creative and stayed connected with customers during the COVID-19 outbreak?

JL: A couple of the folks here came up with an Instagram and Facebook deal called #BeatTheBoredomKit for kids. Every week, we’d come up with something different and people would pick up “the boredom kit” to take home and do an activity with their kids.

GC: Enchanted Gardens is heavily involved in the community. Why is that important to the IGC?

JL: This is our community. This is where we all live, and we want it to thrive and want everyone to be successful. So we always support those in need and always share our love of nature and being outside.

Peggy May: Joey’s son is also autistic, and Joey had the idea to have this thing called a #MilkweedMovement to give back to local nonprofits and support monarch conservation. We gave all the profits of our milkweed to three different organizations who are involved in helping people with disabilities. We donated over $18,000 last year, and will be donating to special needs-based organizations again this year.

GC: How else does Enchanted Gardens give back to the community and how did you support your customers during the pandemic?

PM: When COVID hit and restaurants closed for dine-in, Joey had me order from surrounding restaurants for the staff to make sure everybody had some business. There’s also an organization called Lunches of Love that aims to end childhood hunger. Some kids were home and didn’t have any food to eat and Joey funded them for a month. There was also a hand sanitizer initiative from our county that was supposed to go for a while, but funding was pulled from it. So Joey and some other business people got together and funded it for about a week.

JL: The sheriff’s department used to give away hand sanitizer to a 1,000 or 2,000 people a day until they ran out of supplies. When I heard that, a buddy of mine and I talked to the sheriff and offered to help out. We did enough to get them about probably 10,000 bottles of sanitizer.

PM: Joey also had this great idea to help feed families outside of the Lunches of Love program. We had so many people get scared about running out of food, so they were starting to garden and of course, had no experience. When things were getting too big for the 4-inch containers, Joey started sizing vegetables up into larger containers.

We offered 1 gallons, 3 gallons, 15 gallons, pretty much almost full-grown vegetable plants, for folks that didn’t have a green thumb. We had people standing in line for it. It was phenomenal.

We also have a lot of events here for the community. We teach people how to do raised garden beds, how to grow citrus, tomatoes, vegetables, herbs — we have lots of helpful seminars and host have book signings, all of which has been surely missed during the pandemic.

GC: How do you hope Enchanted Gardens impacts your customers?

JL: We want our customers to have a wonderful experience when they're shopping here and take that home with them and continue that experience. We hope they find all the information, knowledge and inspiration to become successful gardeners and just be happy and live a great life. With lots of these folks — especially nowadays — we are the only real people that they see. Sometimes they may stay quarantined in their home and eventually visit just because we're outside, are a safe place and have lots of nice people around. There's a lot of people that just don't get to interact with others and we just want to be here for them whenever we can. We found ourselves being a lot of counselors during COVID.

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