The next issue of the magazine I edit features heritage businesses in Western New York—the ones that have lasted more than 100 years. Amazingly, two we’re covering are garden centers (and there are more gardening-related companies we couldn’t fit in). I say amazingly because there are built-in problems with maintaining independent gardening businesses in cold climates. Not to mention the big box chains (we have several) that pretend to have everything the home gardener needs.
How do these long-running garden centers do it? A lot of it just has to do with standards of service and degrees of alertness to important trends. A lot of it has to do with basic sound business practice. Much of it has to do with customer loyalty that has endured over generations.
Still, around here, all nurseries and a couple of garden centers take at least part of the winter months off. One 100-plus-year-old garden center thrives through the winter—much as landscapers do—thanks to a huge snow removal department. But not all of them are equipped to do this. And I was discouraged when, last year, one of the biggest year-round independents closed down for good.
I try to do my part, especially at this time of year. A small city-based garden center is now my first stop for gift-shopping. They carry lots of items that don’t need to go into the frozen ground, starting with houseplants (of course), and moving on to bird-feeding supplies, terrariums, wall planters, and—a new item—clear window planters that are perfect for culinary herbs. Last year, we got everybody big kokedamas (plants growing out of compact moss/soil balls, no pot needed). I was thrilled to see that most of these have survived through the year. The year before we got attractive, squirrel-proof suet feeders for everyone, and this year—oops, some of them might be reading!
I am a big offseason shopper, probably one of the few in my area who’s stocking up on small pots and potting soil in late fall (for bulb forcing). And if I was a seed-type, I’d probably be shopping in February and March as well.
I want them all to be 100-year-plus businesses.