There won’t be any big parties or drastic changes to mark the 80th anniversary of Tallahassee Nurseries this year. But if you look closely, you’ll see countless examples of how the business has grown and improved over time.
When Ruth and Eugene Ellis Sr. opened Tallahassee Nurseries in 1938, they grew fresh produce and flowers on 5 acres. Their son Gene Ellis and his partner Dan Prosser built the business into a modern retail garden center complete with a gift shop, a greenhouse, and a full-service landscaping division. Today, the nursery covers more than 11 acres, with 65 full-time employees — several of whom have been with the company more than a decade, and some even longer.
After the second generation of leadership retired in 2001, two long-time employees, Paul Brock and Dan Prosser’s nephew, Nate Prosser, bought the business in 2002. Now, Brock says, his focus is improving the retail experience.
“The previous owners set in motion a continual revamp of the entire nursery to make it easier to shop,” says Brock, who joined the company in 1984. “We keep expanding on that by trying to constantly improve. We strive to provide a better shopping experience and create a destination garden center.”
To continue that tradition of continuous improvements, Tallahassee Nurseries made several renovations leading up to this year’s anniversary milestone.
“We did some major facelift improvements to mark the 80th birthday of the business,” Brock says. This included updating the bathrooms, finishing and repaving several walkways to improve accessibility, and repainting the gazebo at the center of the garden center to freshen things up.
The company also instated a customer loyalty program a couple years ago to encourage shoppers to keep coming back. Through the program, customers earn a point for every dollar spent, and for every 300 points accumulated, they receive a $10 coupon.
“It’s really taken off, and I know that’s creating a lot more repeat business,” Brock says. “It’s amazing how many people cherish (those rewards), and we still sign up a number of people every day. In fact, we just hit 20,000 loyalty customers.”
Change is important, because we’re trying to change the experience for people who shop here. We strive to create a wonderful environment, and that’s what sets us apart from other garden centers.” – PAUL BROCK, CO-OWNER, TALLAHASSEE NURSERIES
Investing in the customers and the facilities has paid off, as Tallahassee Nurseries continues to grow.
“So far this year, we’ve been up all but one month, and doing very strong. We’ve been up in customer count, up in average sales, and obviously up in dollar sales,” Brock says. “I’m sure the renovations have something to do with that.”
There may not be events planned specifically to celebrate its 80th birthday, but Tallahassee Nurseries still knows how to party. Besides hosting weekly classes, workshops and educational talks, the IGC is well-known in the community for two large events.
The biggest one takes place every spring, when Tallahassee Nurseries hosts a large fundraiser for Big Bend Hospice.
“It started 11 years ago as a small fundraiser, and has grown into a huge event that takes an army of volunteers to produce,” Brock says. “We started out with 200-300 guests, and last year, we had almost 1,000 attendees. We raised just shy of a quarter of a million dollars.”
The other popular event, which takes place every fall, is called Artisans in the Garden. This year will be the 22nd annual gathering, featuring 50 local artists who showcase their work.
Events at Tallahassee Nurseries continue to evolve and improve to draw more types of consumers. In fact, the IGC just added a certain ingredient that Brock is especially excited about: adult beverages.
“We wound up getting a beer and wine license, so we’ve had several events during shopping hours called Summer Sips,” says Brock, who plans to eventually add a bar area. “We have live music, and of course, beer and wine, so ladies can come in and have a glass of wine while they shop, and their husbands can sit down and have a beer.”
Being open to changes and new ideas like these, Brock says, is key to staying relevant to new consumers and becoming a destination for customers.
“Change is important, because we’re trying to change the experience for people who shop here,” he says. “We strive to create a wonderful environment, and that’s what sets us apart from other garden centers.”