With roots as a small landscape design firm, Southwood Landscape & Garden Center has grown into one of Oklahoma’s largest retail garden centers — encompassing growing facilities and a full-service landscape design and installation department. The company continues to optimize its retail operation (which comprises 85 percent of the business) by focusing not just on plants, but on the service and solutions that surround the products, says Joe Ward, general manager.
“We are very focused on our customers’ success,” says Ward, explaining that this begins with plant selection. “We do not carry a plant just because it is available. It must be able to grow here in the Tulsa climate. Trialing is important to us; before we mainstream a plant or product, it must be proven.”
Southwood has expanded its growing facilities, acquiring 17 acres in 2002 and a 75-acre farm in 2011. The nursery grows annuals, perennials, pansies, mums and hanging baskets, using Southwood’s own potting mix and fertilizers to improve quality.
Recognizing that the shopping experience is as critical as the products themselves, Southwood pays attention to how customers and employees access items.
“Much of the experience is embedded in the design and layout of the facility, along with processes developed for restocking and maintenance,” Ward says. “It’s all designed to highlight the experience of selecting a product.”
With the goal of becoming a destination garden center, Southwood accentuates the experience with music (from Pandora and live bands), local food trucks, and even tricycles to let kids cruise the grounds. Employees restock inventory via 8-foot-wide concrete walks, so as not to interrupt the customers’ shopping experience.
Over the past few years, Southwood expanded its information center and moved it from the cashier area at the front of the store, to create the Southwood Solution Center in the center of the store. Other “work-related products” associated with gardening, such as chemicals, fertilizers and tools, also moved to this part of the store to serve as a resource area for customers.
Friendly, knowledgeable staff are key to the shopping experience, and Southwood maximizes them by letting people focus on their jobs. The Solution Center answers and forwards all incoming calls; cashiers don’t even have phones, so they can focus on quickly checking out customers.
“Our goal is to become a destination garden center, providing success for both customers and employees,” Ward says. “Processes and systems that are well-formulated take stress off the staff and make the customers’ experience seamless.”