Seven Questions With John Kinsella

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When apparel retailer Urban Outfitters, Inc. — better known for its Urban Outfitters, Free People and Anthropologie stores — announced last summer it was getting into the garden center business, it raised some eyebrows. Since then, the company has named this new brand Terrain and purchased Philadelphia-area garden center Styer’s to use as its first retail platform.

With the grand opening of Terrain At Styer’s scheduled for April, we caught up with Terrain Managing Director John Kinsella to discuss the concept, plans for the future and why a company like Urban Outfitters sees opportunity in garden retail. 

1. GG: What is the Terrain concept? Is this really a garden center?

Kinsella: Terrain is very much at its heart a garden center. We expect close to half our sales to come from plant material, and we’re going to have a great selection of tools handpicked from around the world.

The customer we’re targeting is a woman in her 40s and 50s. We know that a lot of these people aren’t green-thumb gardeners, so we want them to feel welcome and inspired, and give them all the tools they need to create beauty in their home and their garden.

And we’ll also have something for the Master Gardeners. We expect to have a really amazing collection of plants, and we’ll organize them based on some of the things we’ve learned from offering fashion to customers in terms of putting outfits together. People can see how things work together so they are excited and inspired and want to recreate that at home. 

2. GG: What makes the garden center market attractive for a company like Urban Outfitters?

Kinsella: If you look at the industry, you’ve got the big box stores and then you have 20,000 independent garden centers, most of which are doing less than $10 million a year. So there’s a huge void in the market. There’s no one taking nursery plants and all the auxiliary product categories and putting it together under the umbrella of a national brand.

We think that there’s a really big opportunity to reinterpret or reinvent the garden center, and that’s what we intend to do. 

3. GG: How will you source plants? Will you be buying in locally?

Kinsella: We’re in conversations with Styer’s existing growers. We want to create strong, long-term relationships with great vendors and growers as we grow. For example, if we had six stores in the Mid-Atlantic, it would be smart to have that same grower community feeding all the stores because they use the same plant material. 

4. GG: With the purchase of Styer’s, you’re acquiring an existing brand and modifying it. Is this the overall strategy for Terrain?

Kinsella: I think initially that’s our plan. We’d like to seek garden centers that would be a solid partner for us. At some point it might morph to be more of a real estate deal, but at this point we’re looking at partners. We want to work with garden centers that have a lot of history and also are in good locations that reflect our customer base. We also want to partner with vendors, particularly growers, to develop good long-term relationships that can do specialty growing for us. 

5. GG: How much modification will there be? Will Styer’s loyal customers recognize Terrain At Styer’s?

Kinsella: Yes, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. We want to keep the best of what Styer’s was offering and add to that.

We offered every Styer’s employee a job. We recognize there’s an amazing heritage they have created, a community of gardeners who love Styer’s. It has a strong reputation of great plant material and great service and we want to cultivate and grow that.

And as we expand, we’re looking at strategic partnerships with other garden centers who can layer onto our knowledge base about how to run a garden center well, with great plant knowledge, great service levels, great landscaping skills. We know how to create beautiful environments and great experiences, but humbly, we are learning how to run a garden center. 

6. GG: What about future expansion plans for Terrain? How fast, how many, and where?

Kinsella: We can’t really say, but what I can tell you is that we want to be thoughtful about doing this regionally. We hope to leverage the plant buying so we can stay in a climate zone or a region and then begin to saturate that and then move on. But for expansion plans, I can say we’re in conversations. We’re looking to expand. 

7. GG: In the end, how is Terrain different than other garden centers?

Kinsella: Based on our experience with the other Urban Outfitters brands, we’re looking at this new model of national-local. Most people don’t realize there’s more than one Anthropologie store out there because they’re so unique. How could it possibly be a national chain if there’s so much catering to local needs?

We will source locally to the extent that we can – plants, merchandise, food for our café. That will be driven by the actual store.

And then we want to layer in an international aspect. We have a very strong buying team searching the world for what we think is the very best product for an outdoor lifestyle, like furniture, containers, home décor, outdoor entertaining, even personal care items. Terrain will be a blend of international and national with very local. We think the combination of beautiful plants, an inspiring environment with great décor and outdoor lifestyle products is a very powerful combination.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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