The Garden Barn Nursery in Vernon, Connecticut, is making a return to the Top 100 List, at No. 52. The IGC has been hard at work the past few years, adding a greenhouse, going solar-powered and keeping new gardeners coming back for more. Learn more from Kim Gliha Mullen, co-owner and president, below.
Garden Center magazine: How did your IGC adapt to the COVID-19 outbreak?
Kim Gliha Mullen: It was a very interesting spring; I’m not going to lie! I was beyond impressed with my staff, our customer clientele and my family for the adaptation we had to go through this spring. It definitely was not easy because our restrictions in Connecticut kept changing. We took it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day — everything changed so, so rapidly, that there was no real time to devise a true plan. We just kind of went with it and everyone was very accommodating here, both staff and customers. We did the best we could with what we had to work with, basically.
GC: What are you doing to retain the new customers that found you during the coronavirus?
KGM: We’re definitely doing quite a bit more Facebook communication. We’ve upped our email communication due to the increase in traffic this year. We did not honestly do much advertising at all because it was hard enough to keep up with what was coming through the door. It’s been pretty cool because we had such an increase in traffic. Three of the ownership partners here had to put our cell phone numbers on our website to help manage the phone calls, which created a little bit of chaos in the spring, but it actually created kind of a communal messaging and email system for our customers. They actually reach out and they send us photos of what they’ve done in each season. They feel comfortable touching base and either asking questions or sharing.
GC: Are there any new trends that you’ve been seeing this year in terms of plant popularity or an interest in specific products?
KGM: Definitely. Fruit trees, fruiting bushes and anything edible. Seed starting was astronomical this year and houseplants continue to rise aggressively — that’s been on the rise for a few years — but it just really took a turn this year because everyone is home. Almost every category here this year went up significantly. And I think it’s just because a lot of people in a state were working from home and when we were shut down, it gave them an outlet outside of working or schooling to a sense of normalcy.
GC: When and how did you decide to add more solar power to your facility?
KGM: We did that in 2018. We were solicited by JD Solar Solutions, which is a local solar company, and we thought it would be a good fit. At that point, our state was offering tax credits to kind of implement the whole system. We actually had a decent year that year, so we had extra money in the bank. So, we decided that was a really good way to show people that we were going green. We also get paid for some of the electricity that we provide now, which is cool. The biggest push was to show our customers and our community that we were trying to go green and trying to do a little bit of our part to provide power as well.
GC: You also added a new greenhouse this year. How has that helped your business?
KGM: The extra greenhouse helped us provide more products that were difficult to find or hard for other suppliers to ship without damages. It’s giving us a bigger range of products that we were struggling to either get here in decent condition or to provide something better for our customers that we never had space for before.
NEW TO THE TOP 100 LIST!
City Floral Garden Center
City Floral Garden Center in Denver, Colorado, is making its debut on the Top 100 List at No. 52. The IGC offers everything from local delivery to weekend classes to custom container potting. And this year, the garden center built an e-commerce site in just weeks. Learn more about them in this interview with Matthew Osier, marketing director.
Garden Center magazine: How were your spring sales?
Matthew Osier: Spring sales were terrific and we had some significant growth [year over year]. On the conservative side, we were about 40% up from the previous year through spring. Surprisingly, our biggest departments were soils and mulch, herbs and planters.
GC: How did you promote online shopping, curbside pickup and phone/email orders?
MO: Going into spring and the beginning of COVID here in Denver, we adjusted our marketing to focus on building out an e-commerce component for curbside pickups only. We only had three weeks to build the site with limited products. Once the site was live, the response was so tremendous we had limited the number of orders to keep up with demand.
GC: How did your IGC adapt to the COVID-19 outbreak?
MO: We had to make adjustments like limiting the number of customers allowed in the store, hiring staff to clean and maintain customer carts, hourly cleaning of surfaces throughout the store, requiring masks and gloves, and of course, setting up a curbside pickup and delivery option for those at risk.
GC: How has your retail location changed to keep customers and staff safe?
MO: We have done quite a bit to ensure everyone is secure when shopping or working in the store. We’ve created an hourly cleaning schedule for the whole store and customer carts are consistently cleaned after each use. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the store for customers to use. We’ve also placed markings on the floor at the checkout keeping people 6 feet from each. And we’ve trained our employees to make sure everyone is following the guidelines set by the CDC.
GC: What are you doing to retain new gardeners that found you during the COVID outbreak?
MO: We’ve redesigned the sign-up for our Garden Rewards to be a QR code, and that has made the process of signing up quicker and more efficient.
GC: How are you staying connected to customers without traditional events?
MO: We recently started doing Zoom calls for people that teach them about specific gardening trends based on seasonality.
GC: How are online sales looking for you this year now that you’ve included an online shop?
MO: Our online shop was open for about five days, but its sales were incredible and now moved us to explore creating an online store for nationwide customers.
GC: Are there any other new trends you’ve been seeing this year in terms of plant popularity or an interest in specific products?
MO: Houseplants are quickly becoming our best-seller and have been a great way to create sales in the down months of the year.