In a region known for premier tourism and cutting-edge retail, Molbak’s Garden + Home goes beyond holding its own. With more than six decades rooted in Washington’s wine country, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Seattle, the Woodinville, Wash., independent garden center is redefining the garden, home and gift experience.
Vast selection, inspirational displays and exceptional staff
By virtue of size alone, Molbak’s garners preferred destination status. The 17-acre property’s live goods area covers 56,000-plus square feet. Add the 8,010-square-foot Garden Store and Home + Gift’s nearly 17,000 square feet, and chances are they have what you need. But Molbak’s is known for more than size and selection.
When customers walk in either of the store’s main entrances, Store Manager for Hard Goods Susan Burchak expects two reactions to Molbak’s elaborate displays: surprise and delight.
“We do our best to bring in a great selection of products and visually get it out there,” Burchak explains. “Our displays knock it out of the park. They’re absolutely beautiful and give a lot of inspiration and ideas to people.”
This year, the Garden entrance transformed into a “garden theater” with an ever-changing selection of peak plants, from spring edibles to prime perennials, while the Home + Gift entrance celebrates the excitement of each new season with lifestyle selections.
The full impact of Molbak’s comes courtesy of a staff that’s passionate about the products, but also about working at the IGC.
“[Our knowledgeable staff members] care about Molbak’s and care about the customers,” Burchak says. “We want to connect people to their gardens and homes through what we sell. I feel good every day about the people that I work with, and I think that comes across [at the store].”
Trends in indoor plants and containers fueling growth
Live Goods staff reports that indoor plants, particularly succulents, are still rising strongly. In hard goods, not surprisingly, the houseplant craze feeds increased container sales.
“Our indoor containers are so popular,” Burchak says. “It goes with that trend of indoor. People are really wanting to bring those elements inside and decorate with them. Indoor containers have just been growing along with indoor plants.” Macramé hangers have staged a comeback along with other accessories.
Burchak sees a transgenerational trend toward smaller living spaces behind increased indoor-related sales. “We see people living more in smaller spaces. I think that’s definitely why this increased,” she says. “But I think that people are really excited to refresh their indoors, and what’s popular now is comfortable, easy things.”
Other strong areas include accents and pollinator plants. “Our accents have been a really big thing for us this spring, for people really wanting to add that special touch to their garden,” Burchak says. Popular items include spinning garden wheels, giant faces and rustic farm animal décor.
Burchak has also noticed continued interest in pollinator plants. “Customers have really been talking about the eco-systems, and people have been hearing that in the world in general, so pollinators are doing really well,” Burchak says.
In-store tours turn overwhelmed into entertained and informed
With a store this size, reactions such as, “Gosh, it’s so large,” or “I didn’t know you had this” aren’t unexpected. But the Molbak’s team turned this potential disadvantage into opportunity with store tours that started earlier this year.
“During our busy seasons, we do store tours for people,” Burchak says. “We do them a couple times during the day on the weekends, and we’ll expand that going into the holidays.”
Well-received by customers and staff, the 45-minute tours take people through the store — no behind-the-scenes peeks included — highlighting the product range and sharing bits of Molbak’s history. “We also find that people coming in with out-of-town guests or family that don’t live close by really enjoy that special touch,” Burchak says.
Associates talk with customers about the tours, and overhead announcements signal their start. Associates conducting the tours also carry signs so other shoppers know what’s happening and feel free to join in. Groups typically comprise about 10 people.
[Our knowledgeable staff members] care about Molbak’s and care about the customers. We want to connect people to their gardens and homes through what we sell. I feel good every day about the people that I work with, and I think that comes across [at the store].” – SUSAN BURCHAK, STORE MANAGER FOR HARD GOODS, MOLBAK’S GARDEN + HOME
Staying in step with customer expectations and preferences
Staying competitive and cutting-edge in the fast-growing, fast-changing Pacific Northwest demands reaching a new generation of gardeners and continuing to reach and inspire an existing generation.
“Keeping up-to-date for our customers, and making sure we find all the newest things can be a challenge, especially in plants,” Burchak says. “But our buyers do a really great job of sourcing out new and different things every season.”
She also sees social media as a key component in staying in step with change. “You have to keep up-to-date on social media, because that’s one way [customers] like to connect.” She points to the prevalence of airiums, terrariums, and succulents on Pinterest and other social platforms. “Keep up socially on what’s going on out there,” she says.
The IGC responds to emerging trends with lifestyle and educational options, from the on-site garden café and wine bar to educational seminars on topics such as food preservation techniques, including trendy fermentation and dehydration.
New display concepts meld nursery, home and gift into one
Trying to categorize Molbak’s as either “garden” or “home” ignores their innovative melding of the two. A new concept store within the store, just opened in mid-August, exemplifies their success.
Called “The Wedge,” the new area stands out visually from other departments. “It’s a little different display concept than we’ve used in the past,” Burchak explains. “It is devoted to featuring the best Molbak’s has to offer in one location.”
The Wedge offers indoor décor, indoor containers, succulents, low-light plants, candles, gifts and more. “We’ve done a lot of color schemes in there. It’s pretty simple. It’s very modern, and it seems to be attracting all generations.
“I’m really excited to see what our customers gravitate to in there and get their feedback for likes and dislikes,” she adds. “I think it’s going to be a lot more likes.”
With this latest example of how Molbak’s pushes the envelope, Burchak notes that inspiration is all around — if you just step out far enough and look.
“It’s important not just to look at other nurseries. We try to look at other businesses in general,” she says. “It might be an industry that has nothing to do with gardens. We look and see what they’re doing that maybe we could take and bring here.”