Q: What kind of information is available on your blog, and how does this content help you connect with customers?
A: We base much of our content on what happens during the week. Over the last few weeks, we had armyworms show up, which haven't been around for years. So we'll write timely posts about maintenance against these different kinds of pests. Last week, I was on two different radio stations talking about armyworms, webworms and mushrooms. I talked about mushrooms because we had two weeks with no sun and a lot of rain, which brought out the mushrooms, and people forget how to deal with them. But I love when people call us on these topics. We put ourselves out there as experts, which means we have to be on top of things.
Q: Your store was named by HGTV as one of the country's "13 Great Garden Centers." What does that recognition mean to you?
A: It was a total surprise; we didn't even know we got picked. To be recognized by HGTV is a great opportunity for us, especially as we were the only garden center in the state to be chosen. The announcement is on our website, and we talked about it on the radio. People feel good coming to a place getting that kind of recognition.
Q: What can you tell me about your recent journey to Uganda?
A: My entire family went for three weeks in July, following a trip my son and I made six years ago with a bunch of high school kids on a church mission trip. We stayed in contact with a man in charge of an orphanage there, then made the trip back.
We went this time to teach people how to grow a garden. We also built some goat pens and rabbit hutches, and showed them how to plant eucalyptus trees, which can be sold as an investment with a seven-year return. We brought over about 500 pounds of donations from customers, including shoes, coloring books and clothing. This was a hard-working trip, but very cool to see the results.
Q: How do you integrate philanthropic efforts into your business model?
A: That's what we're here for. Community involvement is part of our DNA. The community blesses us by shopping here, so the least we can do is give back. If someone's doing a fundraiser, we'll donate items as well as money. A couple of weeks ago we bought a trailer for a high school band so they can go to sporting events.
My wife, Julie, and I know we have to invest in our coworkers, too. Investment means how-to classes, role playing or encouraging any continuing education they want to do. Our "You Earned It" program gives points for coworkers who are doing something good, like helping a woman to her car or picking up trash in the parking lot. Points can be exchanged for gift certificates, or a spa day, or a day off with pay. Most people feel unappreciated in general, and this is a way to know that someone appreciates what you're doing.
Q: What plants and products are popular with your customers?
A: Our top grossing category is bulk items like bark, soil and gravel. Perennials have always been a strong product for us. Cone flowers, sedums, hostas and ferns are popular.
We have display gardens where we're planting things for people to see. They'll look at an Autumn Joy sedum plant we've been growing for years in a one-gallon pot and say, "Ah, that makes sense." People can grasp the beauty of [our work] that way. We sold about 30 percent more in perennials last year than the previous year. Part of that was having those plants out on display.
As for services, our mosquito installation misting service grew because of worries about the Zika virus. We offer a one-time or monthly spray, and also have an installation service that surrounds a property. It goes off two to three times a day and sprays either an organic or permethrin product. Permethrin is a safe chemical that's been around for years and breaks down quickly when exposed to UV light.
Q: What are some popular services your garden center offers?
A: We have a 1,000-square-foot "education room" where we hold seminars on fairy gardens, terrariums, square foot gardening and more. This fall we have a class on combo pot plantings, which should be fun.