Not long after Bill “The Farmer” Meadows and his wife, Betty, started selling plants at Meadows Farms Nurseries, they started planting for customers, too. Now, having a full-service landscape division, in addition to 20 retail garden centers in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, bolsters the business against market swings.
“It’s rare that both departments have a great year. It’s always one or the other,” says Bobby Lewis, vice president of marketing. “In the years that retail is not as profitable, landscape helps. For the last four or five years, our landscape division has been more profitable.”
The landscape division only does jobs of $1,000 or more. Smaller projects may go to the grounds maintenance division, added in 2006, which only covers a few counties. Projects outside of that area get referred to landscape contractors who frequent Meadows Farms.
Lewis says landscaping’s biggest advantage is the ease of scaling resources up or down, based on demand.
“When the [landscaping] business is there, you bring in a few more designers, hire a few more foremen, maybe buy a few more trucks. It’s very adjustable,” Lewis says. “Landscape has [survived the recession] best because it’s so easy to adjust — whereas retail, we still have to pay the electric at every location. We have to have a minimum amount of staff to be open a certain amount of hours.”
To combat retail’s slower recovery, Meadows Farms has been tightening operations, labor and expenses where possible, while trying to draw customers in with weekly promotions, loyalty rewards, and popular plants like edibles and natives. Coincidentally, digital marketing provides less expensive ways to effectively do that.
The biggest change to streamline the retail business was implementing a point-of-sale system that went live last year.
“It’s an ongoing project,” Lewis says. “It’s the most challenging thing our business has faced in at least 10 years, but it will allow us to be more competitive. It will improve our operations and make us more efficient. It will allow us to identify inventory that we need less or more of.”
While refining retail operations, Meadows Farms sustains business through other services. Lewis predicts growth for these services throughout the industry — growth that will outpace the popularity of the hottest edible or native plants.
“Right now, any service — whether it’s landscaping or grounds maintenance — will grow the most, just because of the time constraints people have these days,” Lewis says. “There’s a huge trend [of people] wanting services done for them versus doing it themselves. That plays right into landscaping.”