We recently shared the news on our Facebook page that Ernest Wertheim would be joining the Garden Centers of America (GCA) Tour in Seattle this summer. Garden Center Manager Erik Dietl-Friedli commented, “My entire career has been based on a few words Ernest shared with me on a GCA Tour long ago. He said, ‘Look at everything like a customer.’”

That’s exactly what the garden centers featured in this month’s cover story did when deciding to offer new services to their customers. They considered what it was like to be a shopper at their stores, and how they could improve the overall experience.

For example, Ed Kopec of Edward’s Garden Center said he watched as his customers attempted to navigate his garden center without much plant knowledge. He saw their confusion, their frustration, and decided to step in and help, ultimately leading to the hugely successful “We Plan, You Plant” landscaping program.

Alsip Home & Garden already had an established pet product department that also sold small animals in 2008, but going the extra step and offering grooming services for their customers has made the company the go-to destination for everything pet.

CEO Richard Christakes noted that when he’s out in public, no one brings up the many plants he sells at the garden center. They all mention the grooming service or the animal rescue non-profits and veterinarians that rent out space from the IGC, because, as Christakes knows, customers love to spoil their pets and be allowed to take them shopping.

Stephen Flynn Jr. listened to his customers who raved about what he thought would be a one-off event that he hosted at Nunan Florist & Greenhouses. They said he had a great space and that he should start offering special events. That was a couple of years ago, and now they manage 15 or 20 events a year.

Those are just a few examples. This month’s cover series is all about determining which services will improve the shopping experience for your customers, which make sense and are relevant for your store, and how to effectively market and manage them. Some may require an investment, but others may not cost much — such as offering plant pickup, managing lines differently and allowing customers to book appointments with staff — but could be incredibly valuable to your visitors. Like always, we hope these examples spark ideas for services that you can offer in your garden center to continue to cater to your customers and give them more reasons to choose to shop in-store with you.

Michelle Simakis