In 1986 the Mickman brothers of Mickman Brothers, headquartered in Ham Lake, Minn., opened a Garden Center to complement their already-existing landscape and irrigation divisions. While many landscape and irrigation companies have tried their hand at garden centers and nurseries, it often proves to be a difficult venture.
Particularly since the recession, many garden centers have not only closed their doors but brought bankruptcy or hard times on the overall business. But Mickman Brothers has found continued success and we recently spoke to the company’s general manager, Jeff Sutter, about what makes their center work.
Know what you’re getting into. A lot of landscape contractors assume that because they know a lot about plants that they could easily run a garden center. But there’s so much more to it. “It certainly helps to know a lot about plants but the retail business is just so different from contracting that I would assume that’s the main reason many get over their heads,” Sutter surmises. “It takes an entirely different set of management skills. We’ve had some bumps in the road along the way but we’ve learned how to be a good retailer and how to run that part of the business differently. To succeed, you really have to understand retailing.”
Blend skills. What makes a garden center successful is the perfect combination of retail savvy and horticultural expertise, Sutter says. Unfortunately, as Sutter said previously, many contractors come into the business with just the horticultural background. Still, that’s not to say it’s not an important component. “The horticulture expertise and technical knowledge is what’s going to set you apart from the box stores,” Sutter says. “Being able to answer questions and use that horticulture background is a value-added service and very important. The key is to also blend that with retailing.”
Cross-market at all times. With five divisions, Mickman Brothers, is constantly cross-marketing their services. The irrigation division may drive business to the landscape division and vice versa. Of course, having a garden center is a prime opportunity to cross-market. Adds Sutter: “It’s a great opportunity to talk face-to-face with a customer about our other divisions and the variety services we can offer them.”