The independent garden center industry is as diverse as the plants and products it offers, as each business has different selling strategies and its own take on what a retail nursery should offer. This year, however, as we were listening to stories from the 19 companies featured from the 2017 Top 100 Independent Garden Centers List, an overwhelming number of leaders talked about what they were doing to encourage people to visit and spend time, not just money, at their stores. A strong theme emerged — providing a great experience, and not just opportunities to shop, is essential. Though many have the same goal of making their businesses destinations for more than just plants, their ideas differ and include farm-to-table restaurants, live music, food trucks, evening painting classes and even a mini golf course. They are creating community centers for people and providing even more than top-notch products and customer service. Lucky for us, they graciously shared their stories and time. You can read their inspiring ideas, including sales strategies, merchandising tips and how to refresh a brand.

The following people contributed to this issue: Michelle Simakis is editor and Conner Howard is associate editor of Garden Center magazine. Maddie Capron interned during the summer of 2017. Brooke N. Bates is a freelance writer living in Cleveland and a frequent contributor to Garden Center and to GIE Media Horticulture Group publications. Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights, Ohio-based freelance writer and journalist and frequent contributor to Garden Center and to GIE Media Horticulture Group publications. Jolene Hansen is a freelance writer and former hort professional based in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. She is a frequent contributor to Garden Center and to GIE Media Horticulture Group publications.