Things haven’t always been perfect for Louisiana Nursery Home & Garden Showplace since it was founded 35 years ago. Owner Mitch Mayes has had to close satellite locations and cease growing operations over the years, but the Baton Rouge-area retailer has stood strong thanks in no small part to capable sales and management staff, a strong holiday business and other ongoing innovations.
Q: Could you give me a brief history of Louisiana Nursery?
A: My dad started the company about 35 years ago when I was in high school, so I’ve been working there since high school. He opened up a very small mom-and-pop retail garden center — over the years, it grew. At one point, we had three regular garden centers. We had two Sears garden centers we leased and we had a growing operation, but we grew too fast. We stopped doing the Sears garden centers, and we closed the growing operation and strategically grew over time. But it’s just been a long evolution of making some good business decisions and making plenty of mistakes. [We’re] hoping we learn from our mistakes and get on the journey to where we’re at now.
Q: Do you have any plans for new expansion in the future?
A: We bought some property about a year ago, and we’re going to be building a future site in another suburb outside of Baton Rouge. But that’s not anything set yet.
Q: What would you say is Louisiana Nursery’s greatest strength? What do you think keeps your business among the Top 100 IGCs?
A: Why we’re successful, the No. 1 reason, is our people, our employees. We have an incredible core of employees. We have one merchandise coordinator who works in the stores who’s been with us 34 years. We have a ton of people [with] over 25, over 20, over 15 [years of experience]. We have a very, very tenured and experienced employee base that cares. And I think that’s the number one reason why we’re successful. At our stores, we’re all one team. It’s not about the owners and the people who work here. It’s not about this store or that store. Including the ownership, we’re all a team. When we have good years we all do well, the bonuses are better. When we don’t do as well, that’s [on] everybody. So, I think it really comes down to [what] my dad started — people can say it, but I think he showed that we are a team.
One thing we’re known for locally, maybe even nationwide — I would say our sales per square foot is pretty impressive because our stores are physically very small. Our biggest volume store, which is where our corporate office is — It’s less than two acres; it’s 1.77. Now we use some extra space in the back — probably about a half to three-quarters of an acre — that we use for our loading areas in the back of the store. Also, we’re in a small strip center so we use extra parking. But even within that, this store, which is less than two acres of property that I own, does $5 million.
And I would say probably the other thing that we’re known for, both to our customers and probably to other garden center owners is pottery. We do about half a million dollars in pottery at our stores, so it’s a good five percent department for us.
Q: On your website, you promote a Garden Club program for your customers. Can you tell me more about how that program works?
A: For probably 12 or 15 years, we called it “Showplace Bucks”. [We used a] punch card, people hold onto the card and get a discount later. We finally went to a digital awards program through our point-of-sale system, that’s been about four or five years ago. As you purchase stuff, you build up points. We have redemption periods in early to mid-summer and January through mid-February. We give points and if people redeem the total points in the redemption period, they would get five percent in rewards dollars toward purchases at that time.
The bigger benefit is we send out a newsletter once a week. We have about 35,000 people in our garden club. We give them a garden tip of the week, we give them a plant of the week and we sometimes give them a pest of the week depending on what’s going on. But if they want to look at every promotion, they can scroll way down. We get an open rate of around 30 percent, which is impressive for doing it weekly.
Q: What’s the most profitable or successful department or category you offer at Louisiana Nursery?
A: We do close to a million dollars in trees and greenery. Most of that is in trees. There’s no question that live trees is by far the most profitable entity that we do in the year. I guess there’s nothing that’s even close to that. We have a big Christmas store inside all of our stores with ornaments and lights and artificial garlands. And then outside, we do all the normal poinsettias, greenery, live plants, Christmas cactus, live greenery and all that stuff and then we do trees. We do about a million dollars of [outdoor] Christmas and then a million dollars of [indoor]. We get our Frasers from North Carolina and all of our Noble and Norway trees from Oregon and Washington. That’s the reason why you can average $100 a tree down here — because you can’t grow any [Christmas] trees here.
Q: Do you have any other plans for developments or improvements in the future?
A: Well, obviously we’re always trying to change and evolve. I’d say the other thing is the fact that we’re willing to build another store at this property we just bought recently. So we will be building a fourth store and as I said, once we get that store going in the future and we’re positioned in our market, I’d say we’ll have pretty much covered all the good places. So that will be the peak, at least while I’m around.