“Our newest store, which will be opening this fall, will even feature a chicken coop with chickens in a section of nursery. The big boxes aren’t doing that!”

Year founded:

CountryMax began in 1984 as a small farm supply and feed store owned by the Payne family.

What is your garden center known for?

We’re known for a few things: unique, hard-to-find plants; a unique nursery space featuring our distinctive timber-frame structures and shade houses; and knowledgeable team members.

How do you set your store apart from the big boxes?

We work directly with local growers as much as possible.

Also, we’ve created an opt-in “nursery notification” email list so customers can be alerted when fresh plant material arrives.

CountryMaxOur CountryMax Lawn & Garden Life website (, launched in April 2022, features monthly updates, to-do lists, and gardening tips and tricks — much more content than you get on the product-focused box store sites. Between its launch in April 2022 and the end of the year, the site hosted more than 33,000 pageviews and 12,182 unique visitors. Emails announcing new monthly content received an average open rate of 34%, which is several percentage points above our standard email open rate and well above industry standards.

Employees have been able to use the site as a reference tool and point customers to it.

Our newest store, which will be opening this fall, will even feature a chicken coop with chickens in a section of the nursery. The big boxes aren’t doing that!

How do you communicate company goals with your team?

Since April, our nursery manager has been out traveling all our 18 stores and will through August, checking displays and training team members.

We have a monthly employee newsletter that includes a nursery update, merchandising objectives, hints and tips.

Most importantly, we hire people who love plants and gardening.

How long have you been holding events at the store?

We’ve been hosting on-site events in CountryMax stores for more than 10 years. In 2022, we really ramped up the focus on events with the addition of a full-time events coordinator.

What makes your events so successful?

We offer our events live on-site and simulcast via Zoom, all of which have been offered for free.

We have a well-established communications stream, through which we promote the events via in-store posters, social media and email. Follow-up surveys help us to fine tune topics, speakers, locations and processes.

We partner with master gardeners at the Cornell Cooperative Extension to provide highly informative expert sessions.

We also have dedicated events spaces; 10 of our stores have event spaces that can host up to 40 people, equipped with tables, chairs and projection screens.

Meet the rest of the winners:

Thank you to this year’s Lawn & Garden Retailer Innovator Award sponsors:

2023 Innovator Award Sponsors