A Clean Sweep

September 28, 2010
Written by Michael Lascelle
If you’re a garden centre owner or nursery manager, you probably have your hands full with customer service, staffing and plant orders during the busy season. But as the year winds down, we all need to turn our focus toward maintenance concerns in order to be prepared for next year’s rush. In a perfect world, we would have the time and foresight to make comprehensive to-do lists, but that extra time often eludes us. So to help you out, I’ve compiled a master list of those little things that need attending to on an annual basis – just consider them a friendly reminder from one busy nursery manager to another.
 clean_sweep  
 Slow sales periods are the perfect time to make a to-do list of all those tasks that you never get around to.
 


Irrigation
Winterizing – Outdoor irrigation maintenance begins in late fall or early winter when the system is shut down for the season. The main water supply needs to be shut off and the lines drained or cleared with compressed air in order to keep residual moisture from accumulating and freezing, potentially damaging the pipes and valves.

Expanding the system  – More time and effort is spent watering plant material during the summer than just about any other activity at most garden centres, so any opportunity to expand the automatic irrigation system is usually cost-effective. Weather permitting, this is best achieved in the off-season when irrigation is not needed.

Spring start-up  – Quite often we just turn the water on, run the circuits manually, and as long as the system holds pressure and delivers the irrigation, we forget about it until we actually need it. We just assume that the timer or computerized controller will do the job when the time comes. Depending on the quality, these electronic devices have a limited lifespan and they are easily damaged by power surges, so check them over carefully (by running the system automatically) before you actually need to use them and if they have a back-up battery, replace it annually. Similarly, valves, filters and fertilizer injectors should also be inspected at this time to ensure their functionality.

Lighting
Even greenhouse-based garden stores are dark during the winter months, so if you are open in the off-season, it might be a good time to assess your lighting needs. Begin with safety concerns, ensuring adequate illumination in parking and thoroughfare areas. Then move onto retail displays, particularly seasonal giftware, where the addition of track or spot lighting can really draw the attention of customers and dramatically improve sales. Remember, we are all affected to some degree by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD or the winter blues), and a well lit store not only attracts more customers, but it will also keep them in a buying mood.

Shopping carts
Most shopping carts are made of metal and over time will require some paint touch-ups in order to prevent rusting. You should also grease the axels, ensure that all wheels are properly fastened and intact and replace cracked or damaged wheels.

Plant benches
Our plant benches bear the weight of innumerable pots and flats, they are constantly moist from almost daily watering and they often take the brunt of wayward shopping carts – it’s no wonder they’re in need of constant upkeep. Winter is one of the few seasons when they are relatively empty, and it also happens to be the best time for cleaning and repair. All benches should be pressure-washed, sterilized and checked for stability at least once a year. Wooden benches in particular are prone to wear and tear, so be sure to replace rotten or cracked pickets (or support timbers) and fasten down any protruding nails or screws that have worked their way up.

Curb appeal
When’s the last time you stood on the street and looked at your garden centre, just like a potential customer would? How your nursery looks will affect customer flow – a grimy greenhouse with poor lighting and a weedy landscape isn’t likely to attract many people. If you find your garden centre lacking, consider investing in a facelift that includes new signage, improved lighting or remedial landscaping. Improving your curb appeal is absolutely essential to maintaining the vitality of your business.

Housecleaning
Unfortunately, the combination of constant moisture, liquid fertilizers, and soil and dust from flats and pots can make for a pretty dirty workplace. And while we all do our best to keep our nurseries clean on a daily basis, a more thorough annual cleaning is usually necessary. Giftware and pots should be dusted, product with faded packaging discounted, flooring surfaces pressure-washed, shelving washed and given a fresh coat of paint if necessary, windows and glass siding cleaned … in essence, make sure everything that the customer can see is either ready for sale or dirt free.

Signage
Signs are meant to be looked at and scrutinized, so when they appear cracked and faded or the letters begin to peel, it is definitely time to replace them, rather than just clean them. We are also in the habit of constantly shifting our departments around at garden centres, which is fine – just remember to move the signage with it. Make sure temporary signs (i.e. bedding plants, herbs, summer bulbs) are washed and put away once the season ends. Don’t leave them out all winter to confuse customers.

Equipment
All the machinery and power tools we use to keep our nurseries looking good and operating smoothly – the pressure washers, blowers, lawnmowers, forklifts and tractors – also need regular maintenance in regards to air and fuel filters, spark plugs and hydraulics. Follow the specified maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer, and don’t wait for your equipment to break down before attending to it.

Greenhouse plastic
If you are using cold frames or greenhouses with inflated roofs or walls, you are going to have to replace the plastic sooner or later. Most greenhouse film is warranted for four years, with many growers stretching that to five. That said, you should be checking for tears, UV damage or wind stress and  plan for a convenient replacement timeframe, instead of just waiting for it to collapse.

It’s always difficult to find the time to clean and fix up the little things around the garden centre, but your effort in the slow season will pay off when it really counts. Doing so will ensure you have a business that’s clean, efficient and less prone to breakdowns during the busy spring and summer weekends, when you can’t afford to be running at less than 100 per cent.

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