About four years ago, we started a tradition at Garden Center magazine; each September, we dedicate the entire issue to featuring some of the businesses included in our annual Top 100 Independent Garden Centers list. We ask them to share what makes their companies successful, what sets them apart, what challenges they’ve faced and what advice they have for their garden retail colleagues.

Each year, we strive to speak with businesses in different areas of the country, and this year is no different, as the garden centers featured in this issue hail from Woodinville, Wash., (Molbak’s Garden + Home) to Tallahassee, Fla. (Tallahassee Nurseries) Despite regional customer and climate differences, somehow every year common themes emerge from the stories we hear. Last year, creating a great experience seemed to be top of mind for the business leaders we spoke to.

This year, many told us that the educational events hosted at their garden centers have been well-received, and teaching customers how to be successful gardeners is one of their most important jobs.

I thought about these conversations during the keynote address from retail consultant Bob Negen at the IGC Show this past August in Chicago. His talk was informative, and we’ll share more highlights from the show in our October issue, but what resonated with me most was an acronym he shared: WWMCW, which stands for, “What Would My Customer Want?” He encouraged attendees to think about their store hours, return policies and staffing from their customers’ perspectives. Many independent garden centers are already doing this, as they are planning workshops and seminars, considering their customers’ gardening knowledge (or lack thereof) when determining topics.

Many garden centers have a “garden pharmacy,” and have for many years, but we have never heard it mentioned as many times as we did this year. It wasn’t a new area for the retailers we spoke to, either, but for them, it has never been more important. The web can be a start for finding solutions to pest and disease problems, but there’s nothing that can replace that in-person knowledge and expertise, when someone can bring in a sample from their yard and get a diagnosis (and prescription) on the spot. Customers want that, and many retailers are providing that kind of service, education and expertise.

Perhaps “What Would My Customer Want” can serve as a foundation as you plan for your 2019 season and think about the experiences, education and products your store could provide to keep your customers happy and successful.

Michelle Simakis