By Amanda Ryder
In the garden centre industry, sometimes it’s easy to focus on the
plants and worry about the administrative side of the business in the
off-season. However, at the east coast’s Green Village Home &
Garden, owner Andy Buyting has made it a priority to develop a solid
business structure that could rival many corporate offices.
Green Village Home & Garden
In the garden centre industry, sometimes it’s easy to focus on the plants and worry about the administrative side of the business in the off-season. However, at the east coast’s Green Village Home & Garden, owner Andy Buyting has made it a priority to develop a solid business structure that could rival many corporate offices.
Green Village Home & Garden is the largest retail garden centre within the Maritime provinces and continues to expand, thanks in part to a clear and focused vision of the future. The retail garden centre has its original location and a landscaping division in Fredericton, N.B. as well as a retail garden centre in Moncton, N.B. that opened up in spring of 2008. The retail locations are full service garden centres with annuals, perennials, nursery stock, houseplants, seeds, bulbs, dry goods, giftware, home décor, Christmas products and even an ice cream parlour.
|At a Glance:
Company Name: Green Village Home & Garden
Location: Fredericton, N.B. and a second location in Moncton, N.B. in 2008
Owner: Andy Buyting
Owner Andy Buyting has worked over the years to establish a retail garden centre that, not only offers shopper’s top quality product and customer service – their company purpose is ‘Providing enjoyment, relaxation and a sense of pride’ – but also an operation that runs on well-planned procedures and policies.
The centre’s beginning
The roots of Green Village Home & Garden date back to 1988 when Andy Buyting’s parents, Harry and Annie Buyting, first opened, what at the time, was a small garden centre. Even in the early years, Andy was involved with the business and over the years he helped his parents grow the centre. The operation underwent a major 18,000 square foot expansion in retail sales space in 1997; and this growth earned Green Village the distinction of becoming the largest retail garden centre in Atlantic Canada. In 1998 Buyting took over the business from his parents and in just two years (1996 to 1998), he was able to double the volume of sales.
|Natural light brightens up the retail area.
|Buyting tries to source unique product that can’t be found elsewhere.
|The Moncton location has 10,000 square feet of open outdoor area.
|The garden centres are equipped with an ice cream parlour.
|The Green Village motto is ‘Providing enjoyment, relaxation and a sense of pride.’
But the year 2000 brought Green Village Home & Garden one of the biggest challenges that they’ve had to face to date. On Jan. 1, an electrical fire destroyed the retail store and part of the greenhouse. Buyting says this experience really proved how dedicated his staff and the community was to the business. “A lot of businesses will say that the business is the people and the fire really proved that. At the end of the day we had nothing except for a team of people that wanted to rebuild. We had no building, no inventory, no equipment – we had nothing. It was really about the staff.” In response to the fire, Buyting gathered all his employees and set up temporary offices in his house to develop a way to get the garden centre up and running. Three and a half months later, Green Village Home & Garden reopened its doors for business with a new and improved store. They didn’t let the fire set back profits either. “Our goal was to do more sales in 2000 than we did in 1999 and we actually accomplished that.” Despite the fact that the business had lost over three months of business, they were able to increase retail sales over the previous year by just $248, a number that was celebrated after a year of tragedy and hard work.
A vision to expand
From 2000 and on, the goal at Green Village & Garden has been to continue expanding, not only in a retail sense but also from a business and corporate point of view. Buyting says they’ve put a strong focus on growing the company internally and establishing strong operating procedures. “We started taking the best business practices from other industries and applying it to our garden centre.” The Green Village vision was to expand the garden centre to multiple locations and in order to do this, they needed to establish policies and practices that can be easily transferred and picked up by a new location. “We invested a lot in computer systems, inventory control systems, marketing systems and computer tracking systems all in an effort to build this type of process so that we can move it to another store and have it run very smoothly with a lot of control,” says Buyting.
In 2007, Green Village Home & Garden ventured into the landscape side of the business when they established Green Village Landscape & Design. Buyting says they teamed up with a landscaper that already had his own business and formed a strategic partnership that allowed this landscaper to license the Green Village name. In the first year alone, Buyting says the Green Village Landscape & Design operator quadrupled the size of his business and in the 2008 season, doubled the business once again.
All the long hours of streamlining to make the Fredericton location efficient and profitable paid off in 2008, when Green Village Home & Garden opened its second location in Moncton, N.B. And Buyting says Green Village doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. Future plans are to open a landscape company in Moncton and then begin mapping out plans for more locations throughout the Maritimes. Buyting says they are also looking at franchising and are hoping that this could happen as early as 2009 or in the 2010 season.
A consistent style
In order to establish a clear Green Village brand, Buyting says they’ve strived to build a garden centre that could be easily replicated in appearance. This helps ensure that the locations will use the same number of employees and can be run using the same management practices. A central office now controls the two retail locations and the landscape division. This is where all the finances, all the bookkeeping and the inventory control are done and the office staff is also responsible for controlling the phone lines as well. “We take the phones out of the stores so that the retail staff can service customers like they should be, not answering phones. We can also serve people on the phone better because when they call, they reach an automated service. After about eight seconds, a live person picks up who is knowledgeable and can answer 95 per cent of the questions that may be asked.”
This leaves more time for staff to manage and serve the extensive retail area. All of the future stores will be modeled after the Moncton location which has 47,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of indoor retail space, 7,000 square feet of warehouse and offices, 10,000 square feet of covered outdoor area and 10,000 square feet of open outdoor area, bringing the total selling space to approximately an acre in size.
The garden centre features a European style that’s open and full of natural light. The whole building is a greenhouse structure from front and back. The outdoor retail sales area is covered by an open-air system where the poly ceiling can be opened to the sky to take advantage of beautiful summer weather. On rainy days, the roof can be closed, sheltering customers from the elements. “That’s one of the biggest benefits. With the covered sales area outside, when it rains we are still very much in business and the competition is basically shut down outside. We keep the rain off people’s heads so we’re really busy,” says Buyting.
The garden centre has a well-researched approach when it comes to the type of shopper that frequents Green Village Home & Garden. “We obviously welcome everybody but we are very focused on who we target to,” says Buyting. “We take the approach that people that walk in the store have either consciously or subconsciously decided to spend a little bit more to treat themselves or they decide to spend a little bit more because we provide them with a level of service or the quality of product or the selection of product that they are looking for.” The demographic they are looking to lure into the centre are generally shoppers that are a little more mature and have disposable income to spend on something they are passionate about.
To cater to this group, Green Village is particular about the type of product that they carry on store shelves. Buyting says he travels as much as possible to source unique product and look to imports in order to get something his customers can’t find elsewhere. Customers can’t compare products if no other retailers have them and this also applies to larger sized pots or plants. “We try very, very hard not to compete head-to-head with Wal-Mart and those guys and we will go to long lengths not to be head-to-head with them.” Green Village Home & Garden is also a member of The Garden Centre Group Co-op Corp., a buying group that allows them to get products not normally offered to a garden centre that buys independently.
Empowering the staff
During peak season, the two Green Village locations each employ a staff of 45 while the landscape division has 24 employees and the central office has a staff of five. Buyting says he’s a strong believer in the importance of training staff and the company hosts 12 education sessions a year that retail staff must attend. Most of the time the training is done internally where managers will teach staff new selling techniques or employees from various departments will share their favourite products with the group. Green Village has also brought in guest speakers to address the staff as well. “We budget a small percentage of our revenues to go towards education. We consider it almost a failure if that expense line comes in under budget because we want to spend that money and we want to spend that time,” says Buyting. Managers also have their own education budget so they can take part in outside training programs that are over and above the monthly training sessions.
Buyting encourages and empowers his staff to deal with customer situations on their own when possible. The garden centre has a ‘No Customer Left Behind Policy’ that states that every customer leaves satisfied with their own experience. The frontline staff is permitted to deal with a problem that has a value of up to $30. If a 16-year-old employee is able to give a customer a $30 dollar pot in response to a complaint without running around the store for a manager, Buyting says “it will blow their socks off.” The customer policy that states they will always err on the side of the customer because they appreciate that a shopper’s time is worth more than a $30 pot. Buyting says a staff member will never be reprimanded for making their own decision on a $30 issue, but they might be if they bring a $25 problem to a supervisor. Similarly, the managers are empowered to make their own decision on any problem under $150. The garden centre also operates under a legal clause that states if a customer problem reaches Buyting, as owner, then no matter what, the customer will get the product free and the staff has to abide. Since Green Village began this policy two years ago, Buyting says he’s only had to deal with two problems, which allows him to spend his time focusing on the business, not dealing with issues.
This focus on keeping customers happy hasn’t gone unnoticed by shoppers. Buyting says their customer service is the one thing they get the most compliments on with product selection coming in a close second. When the Moncton location opened its doors, Buyting says he was amazed at how many letters and e-mails he received commending the business on their service, which he credits to the attitude of his employees. “There’s no one staff person that knows everything, but it’s the attitude and the willingness to help out, the willingness to spend an hour and a half with somebody.” When a staff member makes the extra effort, they are awarded with a gift card or a company jacket and that story of their extra effort is passed around at meetings. “If someone goes far beyond, we celebrate, we talk about it.” This has helped Green Village create a file of legendary customer service stories.
It’s safe to say the success of Green Village Home & Garden can be credited to both: how system-oriented the business is behind the scenes and at the same time how customer-focused the garden centre is in the retail area. The garden centre knows where it’s headed in the future and has been able to put in place the essential tools and processes needed to get there. Buyting says it best: “If we are going to be a big company than one of the rules of thumb is you have to start acting like one early on.” The company has created the perfect formula for growth that’s sure to keep them expanding for years to come.