Reimagining The Grower-Retailer
Everything changes. The economy. Customers. Consumer tastes, wants and needs. Few businesses survive over the long haul without adjusting to these changes, sometimes significantly.
Hole’s At The Enjoy Centre is a grower/retailer in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada. This business has been through change before, transitioning from vegetable farmers to ornamental growers and home and garden retailers more than 30 years ago.
In 2011, the operation reinvented itself again. Co-owner Jim Hole and his family moved the business to a new site and opened a new production operation and garden center as part of a larger facility called The Enjoy Centre.
Hole’s still grows the bulk of its own bedding plants and brings in trees and shrubs and indoor plants for retail. But now, customers can also partake of offerings from a variety of other businesses that lease space in The Enjoy Centre, including a restaurant, a deli, a food store, a bakery, a wine store, and a spa. And a few more complementary businesses are coming down the pipeline. The goal? Appealing to a new customer that no longer seems to see the traditional garden center as a comfortable option.
GG: Why the decision to leave the familiar grower/retail model and really reinvent your business?
Hole: Everybody in this industry is concerned about attracting that next generation. How do we get them engaged with the garden center so that’s where they go for garden products?
Our thought was a lot of younger people won’t go to a garden center because they think it’s something that’s typically for older people. We thought to get them to engage with us we would have to offer something different. We could see consumers wanted more of a lifestyle experience. They were demanding more than simply plants and accessories for the garden. They wanted a place to have coffee and sandwiches and really have an uplifting experience in the facility. So we decided to build The Enjoy Centre.
GG: How do you describe your business now?
Hole: We are trying to retain what was good from the past with the garden center, but it’s a component within The Enjoy Centre. This is a one-of a kind facility that’s a departure from what you see here in Canada or the U.S. You’re more likely to see something like this in Europe. It’s 242,000 square feet total with about 80,000 square feet of production with flood floors and hanging basket systems. The central marketplace is our garden retail area. Within that space on two different levels are a store that sells home décor, one that sells kitchenware, a deli with local meats and cheeses, an organic food store, a wine store and even a spa. And we just signed an agreement with a store that sells specialty cooking oils and balsamic vinegars.
The garden center and the greenhouse are the anchor components — no doubt about it — but the other businesses complement what we’re trying to achieve. It’s all about lifestyle.
I think it’s fairly seamless moving between the garden center, the bedding plants, the trees and shrubs and the other businesses here. There have been some challenges — you never have everything worked out from the beginning — but I think that’s worked out fairly well.
GG: How has the changing consumer base changed your market? What are consumers looking for now?
Hole: We are seeing a shifting demographic among our customers. The older clientele is still our bread and butter, but the younger people are coming now. They’re engaging in gardening, perhaps simply by buying a pot plant or some other houseplant arrangement and finding out it can be done easily. It gets them on the road to becoming avid gardeners and we’re not losing them to the chain stores.
GG: Do you do anything else different with the growing operation or garden center outside of having the other businesses to attract new customers?
Hole: We use the marketplace for events. The space is very popular — it’s booked almost every weekend. We have this big, high-quality greenhouse retail space. From mid-April to early July, it’s dedicated to retailing bedding plants and a few hard goods. Come July, it’s converted to event space. We call it the Moonflower Room.
Last Friday, we had 650 teachers in here for an event kicking off the school year. On Saturday, we had 350 people in for a wedding. We have another room downstairs that had 150 people for a wedding, and our restaurant had 50 people for another wedding. Twice a year, in April and November, we host an event called Make It! which is 120 booths with artisans and handmade goods. We had 10,500 people come through in four days in November and about 9,000 in three days in April. It brings a younger demographic — 80 percent women, ages 25 to 40 — it’s the people we’re trying to reach. Parking is the biggest challenge now.
It’s a departure from the traditional garden center, but we’re under the same exact pressures as all the other independent garden centers. We have to be different.
GG: What do growers need to be doing to manage through this rapidly changing environment?
Hole: Uniqueness and quality will sell. It’s more difficult for the growers, but it’s that value-added bit that will give you an advantage in the marketplace. It may be a little better container or a better tag or maybe just a little decoration in the container. That may be a pain for some people — you have to look at labor costs — but that can separate you from the competition. Unique plants can give you an edge, too. If you’re growing the commodity stuff — a pack of yellow pansies — you’re not going to be able to sustain that unless you’re extremely efficient with razor-thin margins.
GG: What evidence have you seen that you’re on the right track with all of this?
Hole: Recently I saw a couple of younger women in their late 20s or early 30s here in the store. They purchased some bread and some other goods. Then they put two plants on their cart. I would guess these two women might not have come to a garden center for those plants. But coming in for fresh bread and having a coffee and getting a plant I think reduces the intimidation factor. Maybe that’s their first plant purchase ever. Now, at least, we’re an option for them, a place they will consider going to.