Over the years, garden centers have diversified their business with various ventures, including restaurants, fall festivals, farmers markets and special events.
Mini golf is generally not among them, which is part of the reason why Stephen Flynn Jr. wanted to try it.
Though Nunan Florist & Greenhouses has been a staple in the community since its founding 100 years ago, Flynn, who owns the Georgetown, Mass., garden center with his father, needed to supplement the lazy summer months. Flynn had already launched an ice cream shop named after his 10-year-old daughter, Kallie’s Kones, and opened up his 22-acre property to weddings and other special events, but he wanted to give customers another reason to stop into the garden center.
“Mini golf has been good for us because it gives us that income that we aren’t getting from annual sales [in the summer,]” says Flynn, who is also the general manager. “A lot of people were going on vacation in July and doing things other than plant. We really wanted to make [the mini golf course] almost like an arboretum, something where we have one of every plant we sell.”
In July 2016, the mini golf course, built by Castle Golf, opened. Mini golf courses often have playful themes, with western, pirate or nautical motifs. But Flynn envisioned a beautiful, inspirational space filled with plants — the ones Nunan sells — that people of all ages could enjoy. Plants and trees like weeping blue spruces, pansies, petunias, dahlias, cannas, grasses, mums and kale adorn the course. There are other features, like a 16-foot waterfall, and annuals are changed out in the spring, summer and fall.
“There are 600 different trees and shrubs, perennials and annuals that are all tagged with the label that has the common name and the Latin name on it,” Flynn says. “On the back of the scorecard, there is a spot to write down the plants that interest you. After they are done playing, they can walk around and find the plants they wrote down on the card.”
Flynn says the mini golf course has performed as expected, and draws grandparents with grandchildren during the day and families at night.
“A lot of the time, believe it or not, it’s a mother or father wanting to look at plants, and they give their kids money to play. It gives them an hour to look at everything on their own,” he says. “We feel it gets more people in here and through the door. A lot of people come for mini golf and realize how nice of a garden center we have here, so it helps us both ways.”
Plans are also in the works for an on-site restaurant — Café Sarina, named after Flynn’s 7-year-old daughter — that will be built from the ground up.
“This big café is going to be split into two; one side is just going to be ice cream and quick things like slices of pizza and hot dogs, and the other half is going to be the fresh, farm-to-table side,” Flynn says. “We’re going to have beer and wine, paninis, wraps, fresh salads, smoothies, more of your healthier, organic options.”
The goal is to make the store a destination, a place where people want to hang out, spend time, and hopefully buy a few plants.
“Once we get the café up and running, we want to get into doing a petting zoo, a zipline, stuff like that just to bring people in and have a place, a destination,” Flynn says. “As we all know, plants are being sold everywhere … this gives them a reason to come here for more than just the plants.”
Plants are hardly an afterthought at Nunan, however. The company grows 95 percent of its annuals and perennials, and they bring in unusual trees, shrubs and tropicals. They have a florist on-site, which creates arrangements for everything from funerals to weddings, and they offer landscaping, interior plantscaping and plant rental services.
They are also experimenting with innovative ways to remind people that they do sell plants. They launched a “Men’s Club” before Valentine’s Day this year, for example, which sends members reminders about anniversaries, birthdays, and romantic holidays, encouraging them to purchase something for the women in their lives.
“It’s mostly 70 to 80 percent of women that are shopping, and we’re trying to get guys back in, to get them away from the Home Depots and places like that,” Flynn says. They have about 3,000 email addresses in the system so far, and he hopes this year, as more people discover the program, it grows.
Diversifying the business with an ice cream shop and mini golf course may have helped plant sales, too, as Flynn has noticed an increase in certain areas.
“Every year, we grow significantly with the annuals and perennials. Shrubs have been slower the past 2 or 3 years,” Flynn said. “Annuals and perennials are what’s growing our business.”