Dutch Mill Magnolia Berbee sells Ohio grown flowers copy

May 2022
Sharing the Local Love By Teresa McPherson

Find out how two IGCs are partnering with local businesses for mutual success.

Supporting local businesses is more than a buzzword in the garden center world — as small businesses themselves, IGCs are reliant on many other family-owned businesses for sourcing product and for community support.

Here, two independent garden centers share how they partner with local businesses for mutual success.

Why is partnering with local businesses important to you?

Bob Berbee, owner of Leo Berbee Bulb Co./Dutch Mill Greenhouse in Marysville, Ohio: As a small family business, I feel strongly about supporting local businesses. We would not be where we are today if it weren’t for the customers who have shopped in our local business. As our community grows, people have choices, and we always hope that they choose to come back to our local business. It is a way to form real connections — when you shop in a small business, you might meet the owner or see their children working. You get to know people. This is not something you would experience in a big box store. We live in the same community as our store, so we walk the walk — we go to other local businesses and we show up to community events. That is the support that people will remember.

Jake Scott, garden center manager at Piedmont Feed & Garden Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Here in our area, local businesses are independent businesses. As an independent, family-owned garden center, we are a small part of the landscape that is the lawn and garden retail industry. We are no different than other local businesses that need the support of the area they serve.

A local honey supplier at Piedmont's market.
A local honey supplier at Piedmont’s market.

We believe that partnering with other local businesses is beneficial to our customers and our business model. Now that we seem to be on the other side of COVID restrictions and our customers feel comfortable being back in our store, we have brought back our education series and workshops. These events help to empower our customers to become life-long gardeners.

We use these events to also build connections with other local businesses. An example is our most recent event, Living Soil, Healthy Garden. This event was held here for our customers but hosted by a local soil-testing business to educate customers on the importance of soil testing and the benefits of living organisms in our soils. We saw an increase in sales of goods such as soil amendments, and the soil testing business was able to advertise his services — something we do not provide. At the end of the day, partnering with local businesses brings in people that either business may not have otherwise reached.

What do you look for in a business to partner with?

Berbee: It is important to get to know other businesses. We look for reputation, of course — if they have historically supported local events or businesses, that helps. On the flip side, we also love to support new businesses — even just dropping off a plant saying “Welcome to town” is a great way to start the partnership.

Dutch Mill Pop up class at local restaurant Leons Garage copy
Dutch Mill held a pop up class at local restaurant Leon’s Garage.

Scott: When looking for other businesses to partner with, we start by looking at the values and mission of that business. Do they align with our mission, “To enrich the lives of those we serve by connecting them with nature through knowledge, products, and services?”

An example of this is our partnership with a local cut flower farm this coming summer. We have seen the desire from our customers to purchase fresh cut flowers in season. We started by looking at farms in the area that offer this service and took time to talk with them about their passions and reasons for serving the area they serve. We found a great connection with the farm through their mission to grow sustainably and give back to the land they grow on. The owners strive to enrich the lives of their customers through the joy of cut flowers.

How do you support other local businesses?

Berbee: Some examples of this: In March of 2018, we started a local vendor market. We offered local independent businesses space to set up for a one-day market that we called Root 4 Local. We have had this event three years (we had a pause in 2020-2021) At our 2022 event, we had over 50 vendors — and it is a great way for people to come to one place and support many small businesses.

We also love offering a new businesses ways to promote — giving a new coffee shop or food truck the chance to promote their business by having a “pop up” at our store is always a fun partnership. We also have gone to other locations with our product for events and sales … cross marketing is a great way for local businesses to gain new audiences. This fall, we are planning a Fashion Show with a local clothing boutique — pairing houseplants and clothing together!

Piedmont holds educational events to help empower customers to become life-long gardeners.
Piedmont holds educational events to help empower customers to become life-long gardeners.

Scott: We support other local businesses by partnering with them for special events or workshops, as well as by hosting “pop up” events at various times throughout the year. During the holiday season, we host a poinsettia party and Christmas open house. At this event, other local businesses and makers can set up booths showcasing their locally made products. Some of these businesses have products that we sell to our customers year-round, such as our local honey supplier. Other businesses have crafts and things that they can offer to our customers that we may not carry or have in-store.

What do you think IGCs (or other small businesses) can do to help support each other?

Berbee: Get out there and actually support local businesses…. It is easy for a business to put up a sign that says “Shop Local,” but are they actually doing the same? Yes, we all order online and shop at the larger grocery store, but it is important to get to know the local businesses in your area. We are actively involved in our visitors’ bureau, we offer tours and events in our facility. This is a great way to get to know other businesses in the area. Welcome the field trips, shop at your local farmers’ market, order coffee for your staff from the local coffee shop, invite local small businesses to have pop ups in your store. Any way that you can connect with your community through businesses and families you are greatly impacting local business support.

The IGC community is very supportive of each other, but getting outside your store and partnering with other local businesses can really make a difference.

Scott: Independent garden centers and any small business can help others out by always remembering at the end of the day, we are all locally owned and operated and we all serve the community we live in. If a customer comes in looking for a good or service that I don’t supply, I recommend another local business that I know does. We have to be supportive of one another.

Shop other local businesses. Take the time to introduce yourself to the business owners around you. Join the local chamber of commerce and be an active part in the decisions that affect your business. Host events that allow other businesses to shine and see that you care about their success as well.

Teresa McPherson

Teresa McPherson is the managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer. Contact her at [email protected].