Like many successful independent garden centers, Martin’s Home & Garden started as a seasonal roadside stand. Founders John and Helen Martin began selling homegrown bedding plants and summer produce to residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., in 1982.
Eleven years later, they went year-round with a new location and a complete garden center selection. Ten more years brought a move to a more central location, with their son Lester now managing the business, and Martin’s grew from 1 acre to 5.
Fast forward to Jan. 1, 2009, and Lester bought out his parents and became the sole owner of Martin’s Home & Garden at the age of 28. From 2003 until now, sales have nearly tripled. Martin’s employs 26 full-time, year-round employees at the single Murfreesboro location. Seasonal hires increase the total to 60 in April and May.
Set apart by a green heart and soul
When shoppers head to Martin’s Home & Garden from surrounding counties or make the 35-mile trek from downtown Nashville, they often have green goods in mind. “Our greenhouse department — annual bedding plants, vegetables, houseplants and tropicals — that’s the heart and soul of our business. That’s what we started on. That’s what we’re known for,” Martin says.
With selection and quality that he humbly states are second to none in the region, the greenhouse department generates one-third of the IGC’s revenue. The shrub/tree and perennial/herb departments earn praise for well-rounded, top-quality selections, but the greenhouse sets Martin’s apart.
The best customer service in town
The foundation Martin’s parents laid still guides his business. “Since day one, my parents were very strongly set in their concept that if you take care of the customers, you’re going to be okay. We’ve tried to maintain that long-term mindset for 36 years. Putting our customers as top priority has been the key,” he says.
That founding philosophy was crucial to early success. “There were several plant retailers that were much bigger than we were, but we did everything we could to make sure customers were happy and successful,” he says. “And guess what? They came back the next year.” Now customers arrive expecting the area’s best service, and staff make sure they get it.
“There were several plant retailers that were much bigger than we were, but we did everything we could to make sure customers were happy and successful. And guess what? They came back the next year.”— LESTER MARTIN, OWNER, MARTIN’S HOME & GARDEN
Martin cites two major accomplishments for boosting revenues. A 2011 retail greenhouse expansion increased the indoor sales area by 5,000 square feet. “That was a big thing in helping to increase the revenue flow, especially in early spring and going into the cooler season,” he says.
The second advance was a POS system in 2014. “That was our first point-of-sale system for the store,” Martin explains. “Going from the old-style, hand-run cash registers to a full-scale point-of-sale and inventory tracking system was a major change for us.” The gains in customer engagement and inventory management have been significant.
“We’re also pretty fortunate to be able to say we really didn’t take much of a hit during those recession years and recovery years. 2010 was one of our really, really great years,” Martin says.
Strategy had a part to play as well as luck.
“The biggest key was focusing on affordable ticket items. When times got tough, people stayed at home and had staycations. We couldn’t sell a $3,000 fountain,” Martin says. “But with our primary product lines, we were able to offer a way for people to enjoy their landscape and garden and not be in over their head.”
Priorities for the future
Long-term strategy is under wraps, but Martin has numerous plans in action. His biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to handle traffic overflow during spring’s peak weeks. “We need about 50 percent more room for our parking lot,” he says.
With the area’s soaring housing market, plans include expanding shrubs and trees by 50 percent in the next 12 to 18 months. Perennials and herbs are doubling for spring 2019. Houseplants are another key expansion area.
“We want to really get those green goods departments up to where we feel they can be,” he says. “The hope is to increase revenue over the next two years by $250,000 to $300,000 because of those departments.”
“My whole philosophy is what I got passed down from my parents: Take care of the customers and have top-quality product. If you don’t focus on plants and try to have the best, it’s going to be tough,” Martin says. “Focus on the green side of things. Make sure you’ve got that down pat and offer top-quality plants — then add the things that go with it.”