Southwood recently added a video monitor that displays a map of the store near the front entrance to help customers navigate the space.

To differentiate from big box stores like The Home Depot that happens to be right across the street, Southwood Landscape & Garden Center focuses on providing a convenient and memorable experience for customers. For example, the IGC recently added a large video monitor near the front of the store that displays a map of the four-acre retail center to help shoppers locate the items on their list. The store even provides tricycles to help kids navigate the retail space while their parents shop.

Joe Ward

“The overall experience and associate interaction, coupled with high quality and timely availability of product, is what separates Southwood,” says Joe Ward, general manager.

Ward explains how the customer experience comes to life through new events and services as Southwood continues to grow.

Q: What have been some of the most popular and successful events at Southwood?
A: In 2016, we began offering our Planting Bar events on designated Thursday evenings from 5 to 7. We offer wine, soft drinks and light snacks. During this time, participants can shop for plants and pots, then plant them on-site with friends and family. These events are free except for the cost of items purchased, and we provide the soil.

This past spring, we added our Design Table events. These are limited to 15 or fewer participants and paid in advance, at $20 to $50 per person — again with wine, soft drinks and light snacks provided. These sessions — which include guided make-and-take projects such as terrariums, driftwood plantings, air plant gardens and succulent gardens — have been very successful.

We also provide instructional sessions and seminars with topics like pruning, tool care, lawn care and seed planting, landscape design basics, vegetables and herbs, and houseplants, to name a few. These are free seminars with attendance of approximately 200.

Q: How do you promote these events?
A: We market the Planting Bar and Design Table events through our Great Gardener email list and Facebook. These events have been targeting a much younger demographic, while the instructional sessions still are frequented primarily by Baby Boomers.

Q: How do the landscape and retail divisions of Southwood support each other?
A: The landscape department operates as a stand-alone department with an in-house design team and several installation crews. Our retail planting service is an integral component of the landscape division, and greatly supports the retail division, because this allows us to offer larger plant material, delivery and installation within two weeks of purchase, and an extended warranty when planted by our in-house crews.

In 2016, we introduced our Landscape Design Center for the purpose of building customer awareness of the landscape design-build department. It’s located toward the back of the garden center, and retail sales staff will escort customers here to schedule a planting through the landscape department if the customer needs more than the retail staff can provide.

Planting workshops and educational seminars are well-attended by customers of all generations.

As a result, landscape revenue has increased by 18 percent for the first half of 2017.

Q: Where do you see the biggest growth potential for your business?
A: The greatest opportunity for growth at Southwood is through our growing and landscape divisions. We have a finite footprint with our retail site, where moderate increases can be gained by turning and fine-tuning retail product selection. Larger increases in sales volume will be created by growing product that is currently purchased from the outside, and increasing our landscape jobs and services.

Several years ago, we expanded our growing facility to accommodate our retail and landscape needs. Our primary focus for the growing operation has been annuals, edibles, perennials, patio pots, pansies, mums and hanging baskets. The growing division provides almost 15 percent of our overall retail needs, and we’re now launching into some shrubs, tropicals and shrub roses, as well.