Courtesy of Laurel Oak Garden Center

Q: What changes is Laurel Oak Garden Center making to signage and shelving?

A: We’re making Laurel Oak’s signs and shelving more cohesive with everything. We’re using the same fonts and style all the way through. In the past, we used different sign companies, printed some ourselves. We had different kinds of shelving. Now, from the roadway to the nursery, all our banners and signs match. The signs on the road and outside the nursery have all the same color. We have one kind of shelving for outside, and one for inside. In good design, repetition of similar elements helps create a flow of continuity. If you’re soothed in a garden center, you’re more relaxed, you’re more willing to buy.

Q: How does it benefit your customers? Your staff? Your bottom line?

A: We’re trying to be more consistent with our message so it flows. More consistency to our signage becomes an identifying factor for customers. It makes them feel more comfortable, and if our signs are organized and it flows, then it gets our message across better.

Signage is that unpaid salesperson. The more we can have signage to direct people, to inform people, [the better]. I’ve increased sales by having better signage. It’s even simple things, like “perennial” and “annual.” At the root of it, annual and perennial sound very similar. We literally put in front of our perennial area, a two-foot by three-foot sign: “Perennials: We come back every year.” [Customers] didn’t have to ask one of our staff. If that freed up one employee to help someone else or sell to someone else, that’s great. And that sign cost me $23.

Q: Have you been able to see any results from the changes yet — good or bad?

A: Our sales have increased for the past three years. I can’t attribute it to just changing signs and shelving ... part of that involved having a plan and making changes and trying to adapt.

A sign never leaves and never calls in sick. It’s constantly there conveying your message for $23. Talk about return on investment.

Q: What other changes is Laurel Oak implementing?

A: In this industry, you change or go out of business. We can’t offer lowest prices because we’re an independent store, so we develop niches.

It’s in our five-year plan to make ourselves more of a destination garden center, to draw people to want to come to our store and make it a good time. We’re redoing our outdoor pond area: making the pond smaller and adding a patio area around it and a path walkway through an idea garden. Eventually the pond area will lead to a playground and mini golf. We already have a vegetable garden. Local moms’ clubs come in, kids plant vegetables in the garden, and they come back throughout the year and see how the plants are doing. There’s a fish food machine at the pond — kids and grandparents and parents, they come just to feed the fish at the store. And kids who used to come feed fish are now employees.

The more you can get people to stop, the more touches you can get with a customer, subconsciously, they’re leaving with a positive feeling about Laurel Oak, and they’re going to tell people about us.

“A sign never leaves and never calls in sick. It’s constantly there conveying your message for $23. Talk about return on investment.” — Dave Scott, president, Laurel Oak Garden Center

Q: From start to finish, what is the process Laurel Oak went through to make these changes?

A: Signage and shelving were in our five-year plan. We literally laid all the signs out in the greenhouse, categorized them, asked what message they delivered, and [whether] we still want that message. Then we decided to stick with just one company with signage. It’s like we partnered with them. We knew what to expect from them, and they knew what we wanted to do.

Q: How is Laurel Oak active in the community?

A: We literally made a conscious effort — I was tasked with doing the giving back part. I developed what we call “giving guidelines” so it would be easier to say no to some people and yes to others. We took the approach that we can’t change the big things in the world, but we can change the little things in our community. More weight is given to local initiatives and children and senior citizens.

We work with the local animal welfare association. We donated materials and labor to their grounds. They bring animals for Christmas photos and other events. We donated two ponds to elementary schools. We talked to the kids about it, taught them about ecosystems and had a build-a-pond day. We have a pond and garden tour that benefits the education foundation. We run a lot of fundraisers for the schools — the PTA, the football club, soccer team. In turn, parents, kids remember that.

Q: How does this philanthropy benefit your garden center?

A: When we have an event with the animal welfare association, they send it out to their mailing list and Facebook page, which reach 45,000 people. Conversely, when we do an event, we share our audience with them. It’s a win-win.

It’s not always about making money instantly, but it’s about making relationships with people. Not only is it fun to do, but it doesn’t cost you that much. By helping out with people, it’s good karma. Eventually it comes back to you.