Old Kim, your not alone


Got a comment a couple of posts ago from a regular contributor and nursery person by the name of Old Kim. Here is the comment.

 "Driving up past Oregon’s Hines growing operation in Cornelius for the past 5 years going up the Gnos road for better plants, Hine’s acres were boring with standard old timers. Did I want to stop and inquire? I was in Boring Oregon. I’m in Wa and no one looks at the actual plant that was tenderly grown. Shoppers are snobs. Only a few care about plant adoration. Mostly the poor. I’m poor, my business is in the red with black back up. I’m in the black. My plant expertise is going down the drain. I’m screwed. Can make more money as a dim witted greater at Walmart. Ouch!"

Old Kim, you’re not alone! I have been in the nursery biz for over 30 years now. When I started there was no Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Wal Mart (on the west coast). People bought flowers in small cell packs with no blooms on them. They established better! We read Sunset Magazine because people would come in that weekend and want to do some of the things they saw in the mag. Becoming a certified nurseryperson was a big deal. Our meetings of the Peninsula Chapter of The California Association of Nurseryman we’re well attended, with entire staffs showing up. Yes, it was a different world.

So what now? What does an “old timer” do now? No one wants to fail.When I see huge corporations with all the brain power money can buy go belly up because of bad decisions it takes a little of the pressure off our small enterprise.

The nursery business has split up into different factions, with the mass producers and box stores servicing one faction and small independents servicing the other. When I started really listening to my customers and stopped thinking like an old nurseryman we started to see a change. My customers want to grow consumables, with some still wanting to landscape, but nothing like before.

We have never sold so much fertilizer, soil amendments, pest controls, annuals and perennials. Landscape shrubs and trees are dead in the water, in our area. Landscape designers are treading water. Landscape installation firms are sinking. Nurseries that serviced that crowd are vanishing. This is survival.

Everywhere is different, and what we can do here in the mountains of northern California may be different where you live. When is the last time a 20 something male came into your store and purchased $300 in fertilizers? Let me remind you we do not sell Miracle-Gro. When is the last time a fifty year old female came in and bought the same fertilizers? They we’re going somewhere else before we started carrying what they wanted. I now carry six different potting soils. Why so many? People requested them and wouldn’t listen to my spiel about why they should buy what I wanted to sell them.

An old school chum on Facebook just loves to talk about his hydroponic setup on his deck. He post’s pictures of his outdoor garden there. That's his garden in the picture. Don’t pre-judge, as it is all vegetables. He just loves the results he gets from hydroponics. Could he buy his supplies from you? Why not?

When I started in the business in the late 70's we did not sell organics. That was something the hippies we're doing in the hills growing who knows what. Sure they we're growing herb(s), but they we're also growing food to eat. Well, fast forward, and organics are the happening thing in this biz. Gee, who saw that coming? Stop listening to the so called experts in our field. They really don't know what's going on any more than you or I. Our customers will tell us exactly what to do if we will listen.

I don’t want to give advice. What makes me qualified? I am just as confused at times as you are. “The times, they are a changing.” If we don’t change with them we are doomed. As I get older I realize the change, while uncomfortable at times is vital to keeping me young at heart. What will the garden center of the future look like? I don’t know. But I want to be a part of that future and make a difference.