Michelle Simakis

During my conversation with Dean Engelmann, one of the principals of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis, for this month’s cover story we discussed what made his business so successful and how independent garden centers can continue to survive increasing competition from large retailers and e-commerce brands. Garden centers don’t have to get bigger, Engelmann said. They have to get better.

Retailers (and we as editors) often look to successful, interesting businesses for inspiration and ideas, and to discover what strategies or departments have been hits for them that other companies can adopt. Instead of thinking about what they can add to improve their businesses, Engelmann said independent garden centers can instead consider eliminating departments or divisions that aren’t working for them. (Leslie Halleck also noted this strategy in her article, “Focus for faster growth,” published in the November 2016 issue: bit.ly/2lBqH1z.)

Over its 15-year history, Tangletown has grown, adding departments and divisions when the time seemed right, including a CSA program, a farm where they grow produce and raise livestock, a restaurant and landscape design and installation. They once offered landscape maintenance, too.

“We started doing landscape maintenance pretty intensively, and it was our hardest, most difficult thing to start and get our arms around. Every year, it seemed like a more challenging element,” Engelmann said. “When we sat down and looked at our core values, what we want to be great at and what we have the ability to be great at, we said we want to be great farmers, great growers, great retailers and great landscape designers and installers. We never said we wanted to be great at garden maintenance.”

Through the process of strategic planning and determining who they are as a company, Tangletown realized maintenance wasn’t a strong division for them, so they got rid of it. They also noted they didn’t have passion for it in the same way they have passion for growing, farming, producing quality food and designing landscapes.

As a company, what do you want to be great at? What are you passionate about? These questions could help guide your next strategic planning meeting. Consider getting better by getting smaller. It’s easier said than done, of course, when you have people, time and money invested. But if it’s not working, having the courage to get out is just as important as being willing to take on something new.

Michelle Simakis