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store profile
Putting customers first at English Gardens

This Michigan garden center, nursery and florist thrives with a customer-centric culture.


by Cynthia L. McGowan

     At English Gardens, a seven-store garden center and nursery in Michigan, creating an exceptional experience for customers drives every decision, from product choices to service offerings. Including full-service floral shops in five locations is a key way the company enhances the experience and ensures customers’ every need is met.

     “Everything’s focused on the customer experience,” confirms Frank Janosz, vice president of live goods purchasing and floral operations, and one of seven family members who are shareholders in the company. In return, customers have rewarded English Gardens with their loyal business and by voting it “Michigan’s Best Garden Center” for several years in a Detroit News survey.


huge array of products and services
The English Gardens locations, which range from 25,000 square feet to 6 acres, have six departments where customers can purchase thousands of items for their gardens, lawns and homes:
     • Nursery: Products include annuals and perennials; roses, evergreens, trees and shrubs; soils; mulches; fountains; and garden art.
     • Garden Center: Wares include tropical, foliage and blooming  plants; plant containers and stands; garden supplies; patio furniture; and home décor items.
     • Outdoor Living: Patio furniture, barbecue grills, pottery and decorative containers, bird feeders and garden décor are found here.
     • Florist: The five floral shops provide blooming plants; fresh arrangements, bouquets, consumer bunches and single stems of cut flowers; wedding and sympathy flowers; permanent designs; delivery; and Teleflora flowers-by-wire service.
     • Landscaping: Michigan Certified Nurserymen and professional designers provide full-service landscape design and installation. The company also helps do-it-yourselfers with free ready-made landscape plans and other services.
     • Christmas Centers: Customers can find permanent and fresh-cut trees, wreaths and boughs; lights and accessories; and trim and decorations, including imported handblown glass items. (Read more about English Gardens’ Christmas merchandising, below.)
     The stores offer lawn consultation services, plant diagnosis, soil testing, free in-store presentations on a variety of topics, free trunk liners to keep customers’ cars clean and much more.

hiring and training
     Having a knowledgeable, well-trained staff is key to offering such a large array of services. At the busiest times, spring and Christmas, English Gardens hires as many as 200 more people to meet the demand. Their duties include caring for plants, running the registers, stocking shelves and interacting with customers on the sales floor.
     Some of the seasonal hires are college students and retirees who return regularly, but others are new each season. The company seeks out workers who enjoy helping people, remarks Melissa Kaspari, human resources manager. “Passion is very important, and if they happen to be garden lovers, that is all the better,” she explains. A background in retail, garden centers or horticulture is ideal.
     All new hires go through an orientation session before working in the stores, and they then receive on-the-job training. English Gardens also provides ongoing training to year-round employees, including education events before spring and Christmas to get the staff ready for those busy seasons. In addition, “We encourage continuing education of our employees with such certifications as Master Gardener, Certified Green Industry Professionals, etc.,” Ms. Kaspari reports.
     Suppliers also provide training, especially when they bring in new or unusual plants. “Some of our vendors have programs where our staff can become certified in selling their products,” Mr. Janosz remarks. “We embrace those programs and seek them out.”

secret shoppers
     The company culture and employee training emphasize the importance of taking care of customers. “We’re very customer focused,” Mr. Janosz underscores.
     Secret shoppers help the company make sure its customer service efforts are hitting the mark. English Gardens has contracted with a company to provide the shoppers, who report on how quickly they were greeted, how many times they were greeted, who asked them what they were looking for, who took them where they needed to go and so on. “Our staff knows that we embrace our customer service and, therefore, drop everything and go take care of the customer,” Mr. Janosz confirms.

staying ahead of trends
     The secret shoppers also provide feedback on merchandising and products. “They give us input on displays and what motivated them and what they really liked,” Mr. Janosz explains.
     The company brings in new products often to pique the interest of repeat customers—some of whom return at least seven times a year. “It’s all about the customer service experience,” he reminds, “and part of that service experience is seeing something new, whether it’s a new display or a new idea or a new trend, and they don’t want to see just the same old thing every time they walk in.”
     English Gardens’ buyers stay on top of trends by attending trade shows in the United States and Europe, and perusing trade journals for new products. The company also is a member of two retail groups for garden centers, sharing ideas and product information with the other members. In addition, when staffers are in other cities for trade shows or industry events, they check out local garden centers.

floral services meet a need
     Offering floral services is another way English Gardens takes care of customers, Mr. Janosz describes. The company’s goal is to be customers’ go-to destination for all live goods, whether they want plants for the garden or arrangements for the home. “We look at it as supplying a need,” he confirms.
     The company’s floral shops provide flowers for about 60 weddings a year and also have a thriving sympathy business, with referrals often coming from funeral directors. Mr. Janosz points out that handling such emotion-laden events requires employees who are skilled, sympathetic listeners and adept at asking the right questions to ensure clients’ needs are met. “You don’t want to let them down,” he reminds.
     Floral training emphasizes those one-on-one relationship- building skills, Mr. Janosz says. In return, the floral shops have built a following of loyal customers. “They say, ‘I have to go to English Gardens because that’s where I’ve always gone for my special occasions,’” Mr. Janosz comments.
     The floral buyer, Laura Jacoby, sources products directly from growers and also from local wholesalers. Products are delivered daily for maximum freshness. Custom arrangements are the top seller, followed by bouquets, single stems and consumer bunches.
     Customers can have arrangements made while they shop in the store, or they call ahead or order through English Gardens’ website, www.english The company reports that phone orders compose 50 percent of the shops’ business, walk-ins 40 percent and the website 10 percent.

spreading the word
     The website is just one way English Gardens gets the word out about its products and services. During the peak season, the company participates in a weekly direct-mail campaign to area households. Year-round, it emails news about events and promotions to a subscriber list of more than 57,000 customers three to five times a week. English Gardens also has a Garden Club that offers members special promotions and discounts for a $20 annual membership fee.
     The company participates in bridal shows, home-and-garden shows, and community events, and is a member of the chamber of commerce in its areas. In addition, one of the company’s owners appears on a local television news show’s weekly gardening segment to provide tips and advice to consumers. English Gardens also sends speakers to community groups’ events for a $75 fee. Such appearances help cement English Gardens’ reputation in the community as a horticultural expert.

customers come first
     The common thread among all of English Gardens’ services, products and efforts to stay on top of trends is its commitment to customers, Mr. Janosz says.
     “Everything is all about the customers,” he affirms. “Whether it’s products, whether it’s services, whether it’s phone calls, literature—it all has to be about them and how they respond and react to what we’re doing.”



  english gardens  

LOCATIONS Seven locations in metropolitan Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.
OWNERSHIP Family owned
SIZE Varies by location; largest is the 6-acre Clinton Township location, with a 19,000-square-foot garden center and florist, 133,000-square-foot outdoor nursery sales area, 20,000-square-foot enclosed greenhouse and 12,000-square-foot warehouse
EMPLOYEES 130 to 260, depending on the season
FLORAL EMPLOYEES One to three per store
GARDEN SERVICES Full lawn and garden services in all locations
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral shops in five locations, offering custom designs; delivery; sympathy, wedding and event services; and Teleflora flowers-by-wire service


keys to success


CUSTOMER SERVICE Customers are the key focus at English Gardens. Employee training emphasizes the importance of customer care.
PRODUCTS The company keeps on top of trends to ensure customers can choose from new and unique items.
GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about English Gardens through direct-mail and email marketing, the website, word-of-mouth and community participation.


resurgence in edible gardening


     Frank Janosz, vice president of live goods purchasing and floral operations at English Gardens, has observed a resurgence in edible gardening in the past four years. “It’s certainly a huge trend right now,” he says.
     English Gardens has seen sales increases in vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, Mr. Janosz reveals. Although the difficult economy is partly the reason for the growth, he doesn’t think it’s the only one. Consumers’ interest in knowing where their food comes from and the popularity of farmers’ markets have spurred attention to food gardening, he believes. It’s also a family-friendly activity.

  merchandising for christmas  
       In early November, English Gardens’ stores change most of their products and merchandising displays to Christmas, the company’s second-biggest season after spring.
“We’re not just getting into it in a casual manner; we’re in it for the true ambiance of the season,” remarks Frank Janosz, vice president of live goods purchasing and floral operations. Customers are greeted by a winter wonderland of themed trees, greenery, decorations, lights, floral arrangements and more.
The company takes care to make the changeover to Christmas without disturbing customers. “We don’t want them to have a bad shopping experience because we happen to be in transition,” Mr. Janosz says.
The company sells so many permanent trees and lights that it has them made to its specifications. Holiday services include commercial and residential holiday decorating.

Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.