At the moment, “improvement” is the watchword for Baker Garden & Gift, which has served the gardeners of the Fargo, N.D., area since 1959 and looks to step up its presence in the market — both in terms of physical buildings and the company’s website.
Baker Garden & Gift’s main retail location is supplemented by a secondary property — added to the business in 1993 – used for growing plant material and as a home office for the company’s landscape service. President Eric Baker says that while his growing operation is limited in volume, the Fargo area has come to rely on Baker Garden & Gift for edibles and other smaller-scale plant material.
“As far as smaller stuff, we have about an acre of greenhouse production we supply ourselves with. We certainly buy-in a decent amount of stuff, too,” Baker says. “Fargo’s not necessarily rural, but compared to other cities, there are a lot of scratch gardeners, so we do a decent job on vegetables and making sure we have good material. I guess we’re a go-to for that. We sell a fair amount of fruit trees, and we’re still kind of farming-oriented, even though our city’s [more than] a quarter of a million people.”
Despite its commanding position in its market, Baker Garden & Gift wasn’t immune to the unseasonably cold weather that impacted many garden centers throughout the U.S. this spring.
A season of speedbumps
Spring 2018 brought Baker Garden & Gift a challenging pattern of weather. The long North Dakota winter made customers cautious and kept them out of their gardens, though Baker says this tends to happen in the Fargo area.
“Interesting enough, we’re so far north that people have a good memory,” he says. “There are going to be those impatient people that are like, ‘alright, I’m going to buy it and hold onto [plants until the weather improves].’ This year was just sluggish and temps were just below average, which forces people to hold out, as they should this far north.
“What I’ve been telling people is that our normal, super-busy six-week period turned into an extremely busy three-week period,” Baker adds. “Luckily, we had a fairly dry spring, so we had zero weekends where we got rained out. That kind of saved us. I’d say the cold slowed us down, but the dry part of the season actually enabled us to do as much as we did the year before, if not better.”
I’m looking forward to seeing how other garden centers continue to elevate their platforms. For certain entities, the people who are innovative and changing, there’s certainly room for [learning] from younger generations going forward, and it’s not in every industry that you can say that. I’m looking forward to the future.” – ERIC BAKER, PRESIDENT, BAKER GARDEN & GIFT
Baker gives some credit for the strong year to Baker Garden & Gift’s calendar of well-attended events and seminars for providing off-season revenue that mitigated the compacted spring.
“One thing that’s probably going to push us over the top again this year is [that] we did quite a few seminars this last January, February and March,” he says. “I think, with the increased sales, doing these events, that supplemental income helped us push through the late spring season, cash flow-wise.”
Taking the leap
Baker knows that a good sales year should be capitalized on. Long-term plans are in motion to upgrade the company’s 19-acre secondary site; including improvements to growing facilities, a new landscaping headquarters and, potentially, a second retail storefront. Last year, a new modern building was constructed to house the company’s landscape department, and Baker is in the process of shopping for complementary new greenhouse structures.
“I’m just in the process of updating some of our greenhouses at our grow facility — I’ll just call it our farm,” Baker says. “So, this might be a five-year plan for us, but eventually [the farm will] become retail for me. I’m pretty certain it’s just a matter of time before that happens. I’m trying to be strategic about buying the right house that’ll look nice in the retail environment.”
Baker has ambitions for his company that necessitate a physical expansion, though diligence and restraint are crucial when renovating facilities and opening new locations.
“Our push is going to be expansion. We’re in a smaller market, so I have to expand somewhat slowly,” Baker says. “Once that infrastructure gets put into place, I might dabble in potentially wholesaling and a few other things.”
This push for expansion also extends to Baker Garden & Gift’s online presence. Baker says he’s working with a local developer to refresh the company’s website to offer a more modern experience.
“The existing [site] we have is pretty plain jane and was developed about five years ago,” he says. “I’m good friends with Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis, and I kind of took their website as inspiration. Our website is going to have a kind of similar feel and shape to theirs.”
Whether launching a new location, improving greenhouses or revitalizing a website, Baker is dedicated to harnessing forward momentum and is excited to see what his and other businesses in the garden retail industry can accomplish.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how other garden centers continue to elevate their platforms,” he says. “For certain entities, the people who are innovative and changing, there’s certainly room for [learning] from younger generations going forward, and it’s not in every industry that you can say that. I’m looking forward to the future.”