At Downtown Home & Garden in Ann Arbor, Mich., a retailer located partially in a 100-year-old barn, the old and the new are brought together every day. Downtown prioritizes customer engagement with extensive social media activity and a calendar full of themed events, while relying on a history of knowledge, personality and service to bring it all together.
Owner and president Kelly Vore explains the strengths that keep her business in the Top 100.
Q: What do you think people in your market rely on you for?
A: Folks depend on us to be open every day at 7:30 a.m., for coffee, pastries, birdseed and pleasant conversation. Customers look to us to help solve challenging gardening questions, the occasional odd offbeat issue they may have at home, and to assist with outdoor furniture choices to enhance their hectic lives. We are trusted to be consistent, friendly and knowledgeable, especially when our customers bring their out-of-town guests to show us off as their “favorite store.” We take their pride in us very seriously, and make sure we’re “guest ready” at all times.
Q: What plants and products are popular with your customers? What do you specialize in?
A: Michigan-grown vegetable and herb starts, annual and perennial flowers from decades-old family farms: N.W. Kaltz & Sons Farms, Columbus, Mich., and Zywicki Greenhouses in Belleville, Mich. We also offer a vast selection of succulents, orchids and houseplants in our year-round greenhouse. Our focus is in offering top quality products at the very best price we can pass on. We strive for genuine competitiveness. Items on our shelves have to earn their space. We buy smart, sell fairly and back it up with tremendous personal service from our very seasoned crew. We have a very vibrant presence in a century-old building, offering the hard to find staple items and the on-pulse current innovations that our very savvy customers expect from us.
Q: What makes your garden center unique and successful?
A: We present Southeast Michigan’s largest selection of tulip, daffodil, hyacinth and allium bulbs. We are known as the “Amaryillis Kings” and showcase 30-plus varieties of the best the world has to offer. We sell outdoor furniture from the best companies in the U.S., France and Italy. We delight with a vast array of Polish Pottery, Le Creuset and All-Clad cookware, as well as Lodge Cast Iron. We have every useful kitchen tool one needs and no frivolous gadgets. We outfit our customers year-round in Carhartt, Filson and Stormy Kromer clothing, hats and accessories. We are a source of expertise and advice, employing stalwart team members with collective downtown Ann Arbor retail experience.
Q: You host several events throughout the year. Can you talk a little about those and how they bring people into the garden center?
A: Our decades-old events are eagerly anticipated and very well attended (100-400 attendees average). This year will be our 19th annual Jam Contest and Tasting and also our 9th annual Pickle Contest and Tasting. We will wrap up October with our 2nd annual Big Green Egg Fest and head straight into the holidays with our fundraising Pancake and Sausage Supper for the local humane society and then stage baking and kitchen skills demos on the weekends. Our annual Christmas Party, complete with farm animals from a local rescue, is attended by families every year who have grown up with this tradition as an integral part of their family holiday memories. We offer fresh cut Christmas trees and roasted chestnuts on the open fire in our tree lot. Our 4th annual Polish Pottery Party warms up February and is extraordinarily well attended. We serve pierogis, bring in loads of Polish Pottery and make a festive weekend out of it. We cook a lot and offer free samples during our events.
Q: You post a lot on Facebook about pet safety and pet products. Is that a passion for your garden center?
A: Facebook is a strong medium for us. Lewis was our store cat for over 17 years. Wallace followed, filling Lewis’s big pawprint, and is the star attraction on Facebook as well as an ambassador for our pet products. We pride ourselves on unique, high quality pet accessories that make life better for those with two and four legs. We shop diligently and bring the best, most innovative items available in the market place — everything in our pet department has been tested by our staff’s dogs (and cats) and we won’t sell anything that we wouldn’t get for our fur-kids.
Q: Can you tell me more about Wallace the cat and how he became a customer favorite?
A: Our resident orange cat, whether it be Lewis or Wallace, both are agents of our heart and soul. Daily, many customers are just here to see the cat. Lewis’ passing caused a Facebook storm of tens of thousands mourning his loss and he had the largest obituary in the local paper that day. Wallace is charismatic, ornery and majestic. “Star of the show” doesn’t really cover it. He more than earns his keep in mousing and charming his public.