You won’t see domesticated animals in most types of retail stores, but independent garden centers are a special breed. Across the country, several IGCs are home to animals that blur the line between pet and mascot; cats, dogs and even pigs find themselves in the role of “store pet” at many retailers. We’ve gathered a small collection of some of the loveable critters who welcome customers, generate brand awareness and contribute marketing power to their stores.
AZRIEL THE CAT
Sloat Garden Center
(Several locations throughout California)
Sometimes you find your pets, and sometimes they find you. This was the case at Sloat Garden Center, where a neighborhood cat frequently visited one of the chain’s nursery locations in California and eventually became a store fixture.
Going so far as to don a fancy tie on occasion, Azriel is a dedicated member of Sloat’s customer service team. Jennie Strobel, custom container department manager, says the retailer adopted Azriel about five years ago.
“He was the neighbor’s cat and kept coming over more and more,” Strobel says. “He liked all the attention. When the neighbors moved, they asked the manager if she would want to keep him there since he was always at the store anyway. He’s been here ever since. We think he’s around 9 years old now. He has a bed at the store and is quite content in his life here. He is loved by all the customers, too.”
TARO THE CAT
Terra Sol Garden Center
(Santa Barbara, Calif.)
This adult black cat can usually be seen lounging on the counters and around the premises of Terra Sol Garden Center, says sales associate Claire Kinnahan.
“He sort of adopted the nursery, probably about 12 or 13 years ago,” Kinnahan says. “He’s got a storage house that he sleeps in at night and he pretty much has the run of the joint. He loves to sit in a box at the front counter and let people pet him whenever possible.”
'GREY KITTY' FAMILY
Since 1986, there has always been at least one “Grey Kitty” at Tagawa Gardens, becoming an official and enduring symbol of the store — even appearing on plant tags and signage.
The mascot has taken many names while fitting the “Grey Kitty” persona. Currently, the store mascots at Tagawa Gardens are the brother and sister cats Lady Grey Kitty (bottom left) and Earl Grey Kitty (top left). Images of the various felines are also used in marketing materials. A previous Grey Kitty mascot, Peyton, can also be seen here relaxing among the flowers (top right).
“The name Grey Kitty was what we called our original grey cat that was rescued off the streets of Denver by one of our staff members. He started coming to the name Grey Kitty before we could name him, so Grey Kitty stuck,” says manager Beth Zwinak. “All of our Grey Kitties have been rescued and/or adopted from local animal shelters.”
TED THE DOG
Wright Outdoor Solutions
(West Des Moines, Iowa)
A reliable standby at his store, Ted is an adult pug/beagle mix whom patrons have come to expect to see when they shop at Wright Outdoor Solutions. Receptionist Summer Wilkinson says Ted is a part of the team at the Iowa IGC.
“For the most part, he’s just kind of out and about. He’ll sometimes sit in on meetings with us. He’s a lot of fun. Everybody likes [visiting Ted], even the FedEx guy will bring bones for him.”
Ted is owned by Kristen Hansen, garden center manager at Wright Outdoor Solutions.
PENNY THE TEACUP PIG
Boasting a fan club with membership in the thousands, Penny is a hit with children who often accompany their parents to Nalls Produce. The store even hosts a yearly birthday party for the teacup pig, who has called the Virginia retailer home for five years.
“It’s a kid-centered birthday that really doesn’t have anything to do with the garden center at all, except it’s a fantastic traffic driver,” says Valerie Nalls, store vice president. “Last year, it was probably 105 degrees and 1,000 percent humidity. I think we had something like 600 parents and children cycling through here over a three-hour period.”
Nalls says Penny may be such a draw for customers because she brings a sense of barnyard charm to an otherwise very suburban community. Although the store doesn’t make direct money from Penny by selling feed or other pig-centric experiences, Penny is an invaluable marketing asset for Nalls Produce.
“She does so much for the branding and the sense of community, and that’s who we are,” Nalls says. “We’re a community garden center.”