Since my father, Phil Goers, took over our family business from his father, Vern, in 1990, a lot has changed in our industry. The housing boom in Hinsdale that took place in the 90s meant that people needed to landscape their new construction and we were one of many local places to shop. At that time, there was not only Vern Goers Greenhouse, but several other local garden centers as well.
The greenhouse business is a luxury industry, meaning people don’t need plants in order to live. Once the recession hit, many family owned, long-running businesses, just like ours, closed. Even much larger chains closed, as recently as last year, from feeling the effects of the economy. It also didn’t help that along with the recession, a boom of big box stores have popped up around smaller independents, like us. These larger stores can buy much larger quantities and therefore generally have lower prices, though not in all areas.
The greenhouse industry is a tough one to be in, whether or not the economy is doing well. We rely on a variety of factors in order to have a great year. Not only do customers’ spending habits influence us, but the weather is also plays a major role. With living merchandise that needs to be cared for, there are many ways the weather can affect your crops. Not getting enough water or getting too much, as well as having a cold spring or a really hot summer, all plays to the part of your merchandise and your customers. So for us, there have always been outside factors affecting our industry, the recession included.
When the economy took a turn, Phil began to make changes to help prevent permanent damage to our business. One of the downsides of our business is that your merchandise is alive and has a specific life cycle. Typically we throw away 1 of 6 plants. In a time of recession, this waste can really hurt. In order to prevent this, we had to re-evaluate our purchasing. We made sure that whatever plants we bought were high quality that would thrive in our customers’ gardens as well as on our shelves.
We are also fortunate to have wonderful and loyal customers who come back throughout the year to purchase plants for their home. In order to gain more customers, we started trying out new and different marketing techniques, especially online. Since my siblings and I have entered the business, we have created and maintained our website, blog, and social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. We have also used other marketing tools such as events and classes, an e-newsletter, online deal coupons and mailers.
Another great resource has been the Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce which we have been members with for more than 35 years. I have become very active in the chamber in the past few years and have gotten great results from their resources that are available to members, and at the various networking events. We already pay for the membership, but we are now putting it to use and it has benefitted our business.
As for the future, the industry is once again growing. With health movements like eating organic and “farm to table” so popular right now, our edibles sales have greatly grown the past few years. You have more and more new gardeners out there trying to grow their own tomatoes and herbs.
We also see a change in our industry with how garden centers are operating. Our paper and pen techniques are going out of style, and it’s only a matter of time before we have to make the switch to computers…though I like to think the handwritten receipts help keep the charm of the days when Grandpa Vern was still running the place.
Throughout this recession, our family has really pulled together. We have all put in the extra time and work, and in the end we are still going strong. When your business already greatly depends on the weather, a recession is the last thing you need to deal with. However, just like with the weather where a hot and dry year like this one can be disastrous, we simply need to keep looking forward, to the next season. Our mums for this fall are some of the best we’ve had in the past few years, and the poinsettias are already started for the holidays. In our business, you just need to keep on growing.