Building a destination that people want to spend time at is the mission of American Plant, a 95-year old garden center in its third generation of family ownership. Marketing Manager Gina DeMatteis explains how a focus on organic gardening, community-centric events and strong giftware offerings allows American Plant to capture its metropolitan clientele and keep them coming back.
Garden Center: What do you want customers to get from a visit to American Plant?
Gina DeMatteis: We say that a trip to American Plant should be an experience, not just an errand you have to run. Our locations offer a piece of tranquility and excitement all wrapped up in one visit. We really have everything you need for your home, indoors and out. You can get your garden supplies, your annuals, your perennials, trees and shrubs. Our lifestyle boutique is a great gift destination, and then we have greenhouses that have top-of-the-line orchids and houseplants, and we do custom arrangements. So, the only thing we don’t do is fresh flowers, like floral design.
GC: What can you tell me about American Plant’s other offerings?
GD: We do have a design center at one location, where [our] landscaping [department] has an office. It’s a house on the property where the designers created an outdoor living space, so it’s a showcase for customers when they come to meet with the designers. There’s a formal patio with a fireplace, a casual in-ground firepit, a succulent garden, and a little bonsai area, so it’s a nice example of what our landscape designers can do for the customer.
GC: I understand that American Plant is also known for being a fully organic store. How did that come about?
GD: We took the lead [on the organic movement] in 2000. We went organic because the boys who are the generation running [the business] now — the three brothers — their mom was diagnosed with lymphoma. So, we pulled all of the toxic chemicals off the shelves and went organic, which was pretty controversial back then. But, we stuck to it and of course now ... people are really appreciating that. Our signature topsoil and pine soil is organic. We’re very conscious about the environment.
We’ve thought about the needs for urban people who have balconies — our garden supplies have these great containers for growing herbs that involve easy watering and filtering, and we have little greenhouses to grow herbs [indoors]. We’re trying to cover everybody’s lifestyle needs, whether you live in a big house or in a studio apartment.” – GINA DEMATTEIS, MARKETING MANAGER, AMERICAN PLANT
GC: Another thing American Plant is known for is the home-brewed compost tea, which is advertised on your website. Could you extrapolate on that?
GD: We brew it on weekends, it restores and increases the populations of beneficial microorganisms. It improves the nutritional quality of plants, the soil structure, water infiltration, oxygen diffusion and water retention. It retains nitrogen and trace minerals through chelation. It makes nutrients bio-available at the times and rates that the plants require. It produces hormones that help plants grow and stay healthy. So, it’s really just feeding your soil to make it the best energy that the plants can absorb. You have to use it within four to six hours of brewing it, so it’s fresh and strong. You can put it on your grass, too. There are millions of live, beneficial organisms in it that help your grass and the environment and soil. We’ll brew a certain amount and then bottle it. It’s perishable, like any natural herbal product. The potency won’t last long. You need to use it within a certain amount of hours. It says ‘[use within] four to six hours of brewing,’ and to apply it as soon as you get home.
GC: I know events for holidays and other special occasions are popular at American Plant. What would you say are the biggest ones?
GD: We do a lot of seasonal things for the community. Our staff creates a haunted house at each location. So, we have a lot of creative people on board who want to create these things and really excite our customers, which is fun. We’ll do a movie night for the kids — they bring their sleeping bags and we make popcorn and cider. But, we’re right in town, so you can just pop over at night, buy your pumpkins, watch a movie and go through the haunted house — you don’t have to drive an hour away. We do the same thing over the holidays; it’s free to come and talk to Santa Claus, get your picture taken with him. We try to create that warmth with people. We give a lot of donations to the auctions and the local high schools, because a lot of our seasonal staff are students.
[At Christmas], we [sell] the six-foot Frasier Fir that’s absolutely beautiful, and we do it at a really competitive price. People just love it because you can stop, do the Santa visit, get your tree, buy your gifts, you can have custom arrangements made. We have a wreath counter in both stores [during] the holidays, where you can pick your base wreath and then we’ll make custom bows for you and add to it. You can add little ornaments, and we have all the accouterments for the wreathes, so we’re kind of famous for that around the holidays. We just started doing new events in the past year and a half. We’ve been doing after-hours events, like [making] succulent arrangements, terrariums and fall containers. We did an herb event, and the annuals manager we have at one location’s brother is a chef. He came and did a little talk on how you can muddle herbs in your cooking and drinks, and he actually made a sampling that customers could try. We got a great response from the events so we’re continuing to do that.
GC: How has this year been so far? Were there any challenges this spring?
GD: It was a late spring. We thought [the weather] was going to be [a problem], but people got so anxious that when they came in, they came in full-force. They came in again and again. Our parking lots were just jamming in both locations as soon as we got that little taste of spring/summer. Right now, it’s been a little bit of a quiet time, but that’s just because August is the big vacation month. It’s also a good time for us to breathe and start getting ready for fall. Right now, we’re starting to recreate the lifestyle boutique toward fall, and get ready for the pumpkins, and the haunted houses are already in production. We need that little bit of downtime and really, this is the only time of year that we get it. People were still coming in late summer, getting hanging baskets and things because, I think, they were so anxious to create their gardens and embellish their front porches with color and containers. Then we had that rain spell where, if you had annuals planted in your containers, they just got drenched. That actually worked in our benefit, because everyone came back to replenish after the rains, so we’ve been stocked all summer.
GC: Any final thoughts on what you think helps American Plant stand out in the industry?
GD: We’ve thought about the needs for urban people who have balconies — our garden supplies have these great containers for growing herbs that involve easy watering and filtering, and we have little greenhouses to grow herbs [indoors]. We’re trying to cover everybody’s lifestyle needs, whether you live in a big house or in a studio apartment.