Adapting for Tomorrow

January 19, 2010
Written by
If it’s personal attention and hand-picked products that you’re are looking for, then Georgina Garden Centre, located in the lakeside community of Keswick, Ont. is the perfect place to shop.

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Georgina Garden Centre has been serving the community of Keswick, Ont. for 25 years.


The business originally opened as a landscape company in 1984 by Mike Johnson and his wife Connie. A few years later, the operation expanded to include a garden centre and it’s been making gardens greener ever since. With 25 years under their belt, the couple is still at the helm of the business and are constantly growing and adapting to ensure Georgina Garden Centre continues to a be a success.

Located on two acres of land, the garden centre is open from March 1 to Dec. 24 and is devoted solely to selling. They don’t grow any of their products; instead they search out quality vendors to supply them. The garden centre stocks annuals, perennials, tropical plants, trees and shrubs as well as hard goods and giftware.

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The garden centre has won awards for its seasonal displays and freshens up the look of the centre as frequently as possible, often at least once a week.

 
Shannon Lindensmith is the manager at Georgina Garden Centre. She describes the set up of the garden centre as a giant circle that leads customers through the various selling areas. Customers enter into the front shop, which houses tropicals as well as all of their ceramic, plastic and clay pots. Lindensmith describes the front area as a “shop within a shop” and says the décor changes frequently with the seasons. At the moment, the space is occupied with several decorated Christmas trees and a sitting area with a fireplace – a perfect spot for customers to grab a seat and a mug of hot apple cider. To the left of the room is an herb hut, a little structure that looks like a house, where all the centre’s herbs are displayed. The rest of the garden centre consists of four greenhouses, filled with benching to display all the green goods.

When shoppers come into the store, Lindensmith says it’s likely they’ll see a fresh new look every time. “Our displays are always changing – if they stay the same for a week that would be a long display.” She says they are always on the hunt for new ideas and styles and travel to various shows and events. Lindensmith recently returned home from the International Garden Center Association Congress in England with the centre’s owner Connie. “For a lot of our Christmas displays, we got some good ideas, inspiration and that push to do that much better this year. We are always looking around at other garden centres, magazines or trade shows for different ideas on how to do things.” She gives most of the creative credit to Connie, whom Lindensmith says “can display anything.”

Georgina Garden Centre’s customer base is unique in the sense that they cater to two groups. The first are residents that live in the area and have shopped with the business over the years. The second group consists of cottagers from Toronto who venture up to nearby Lake Simcoe to spend their summer weekends and vacation time near the water. Here is where Georgina Garden Centre’s landscaping department ties in nicely. “The landscaping side of our business will go out and look after the gardens and the planters. They’ll change the planters for all four seasons – spring, summer fall and winter – so when the cottagers come up it’s all done,” says Lindensmith. “A lot of them take advantage of that. Some of the cottagers can’t get up here [at the beginning of the gardening season] so we will hold things for them or deliver it to their house with the planters and product they pick.”

The garden centre strives to offer shoppers with high standard products and everything that goes out on store shelves and benches are handpicked. “We don’t just phone up a supplier and say ship us product. We go and select everything that is brought in so it’s all top quality.” Lindensmith says the garden centre is also aware of their limits – they will only carry items that fall into their expertise and selling capacity. They don’t want to offer absolutely everything under one roof if they can’t do it successfully. “We don’t do outdoor furniture because we don’t have room . . . We won’t sell a product if we can’t do it well and if we can’t do it properly.”

The garden centre and landscaping business employs roughly 30 people and there’s a strong emphasis on customer service when it comes to employee training. Lindensmith says they have an in-house program where they go over the different service philosophies that are of value to Georgina Garden Centre. Their shoppers have noticed this emphasis as Lindensmith says this is one area that gets the most feedback and something the business has become known for. “They know that our customer service is good and we know what we’re talking about. We won’t lead them in the wrong direction,” she says. “We are very honest with customers.” The staff isn’t afraid to explain to shoppers why it might be the wrong time of year to buy a certain product at the risk of a sale. In fact, they only stock products that are hardy to their area to ensure success in the garden. It’s this connection and investment in the shopper that makes the customer feel special. “We try to personalize everything; we do personal shopping for people. If they want to come in we will book a time and it will just be for them. We will do anything custom for anyone.” Lindensmith says it’s also common for customers to request a specific employee for help. “A lot of our employees have certain customers that like them and go to them. We find customers really like that and it gives the employee a boost too.”

In the past few years, the garden centre has ramped up its advertising and marketing, a direct result of a new point-of-sale (POS) system purchase. Mike, along with the centre’s retail consultant Bob McCannell, were collectively instrumental in setting up a new marketing program using the information gathered by the POS system. The marketing has evolved and will further evolve with the current economic conditions. “We collect people’s names, addresses, phone numbers and ask them to give us their e-mail. We assure them that we don’t do anything with the information other than look at it for where we are going to advertise,” Lindensmith says. “It’s helped with where we advertise so we’re not wasting money in certain areas where we thought people were coming in and they’re really not.” Using the information they’ve gathered, Georgina Garden Centre sends out about 20 colour flyers a year through direct mailing and also has built up a solid e-mail list.

The centre’s loyalty program has also benefited from the new POS system. Customers can sign up for free to become a part of the program and can use their phone number to pull up their profile whenever they are shopping. Shoppers receive points on purchases and can use them anytime as there’s no expiry date. Last year, Georgina Garden Centre conducted a customer survey where $15 worth of points was used as an incentive to take part. The survey has helped the business decide which direction to head and helped them better understand what their customers want. “It really helped with our advertising – which way to continue or change to – and gave us feedback on our website, sales and things like that. For instance, we found that a lot of people wanted multiple pricing . . . so we adapted a lot of that and that worked well this year.”

Last year was a big year for Georgina Garden Centre as the business attracted a number of awards. Locally, they were awarded with the Georgina Business Excellence Award for a Large Business from the Chamber of Commerce. They also received the Landscape Ontario award for Outstanding Display of Goods – Seasonal, another for Outstanding Display of Plant Material – Deciduous Shrubs as well as the Outstanding Website Development Award.

As the garden centre continues to grow and evolve, it’s likely that they’ll see more awards come their way. When asked what has been one of the keys to their success, Lindsmith says it’s their ability to adapt to change and make the proper adjustments. “Retailing isn’t the same as it has been, it’s been changing in the last few years, especially with the economy and everything. I think it’s important to be able to recognize what the customer wants and go after it.”

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