Strader’s Garden Centers
Strader’s began as a seller of home garden products, primarily shrubbery and flowers. Today, the company’s physical expansion is mirrored only by the breadth of the items it carries. Strader’s offers a full lineup of landscaping and gardening supplies, lawn care products, mulches, fountains, pond suppliers, trees, flowers, vegetables, lawnmowers and grills. “We’re much more diversified than the average garden center,” Barnett says. “When somebody comes into the store, most of the time we’ve got the product they need.”
Strader’s is able to offer such a wide range of products in part because it operates its own wholesale division and grows its own plants. Two wholesale centers are located in Grove City and Powell, Ohio, where Strader’s cultivates annual flowers, vegetables, garden mums and poinsettias for Christmas.
The company grows nearly 85 percent of the plants it sells through its wholesale division. “We want to do more of our own growing because of the control we have over the product,” Barnett explains. He says that ensuring that quality is a matter of regular maintenance, proper fertilization, knowledge about watering patterns, recognizing which plants are prone to disease, controlling insects and using the least-volatile materials to protect the plant. “We have excellent growers that monitor everything that goes on there and make sure the crop growing out there is the best we can do,” he adds.
Marking its 60th
Controlling quality has always been a top priority for Strader’s, so it is fitting that the company is marking its 60th anniversary by constructing a third wholesale center that will allow it to grow even more of its own product. The third wholesale center is expected to open in Delaware, Ohio, by the end of September. It will feature a 9,000-square-foot main building and about four acres of covered greenhouses.
Strader’s has already begun growing some plants in the completed greenhouses with the hopes of having product ready for the winter season. Unlike the other wholesale centers, the third location will be devoted to perennial plants, which Barnett says require low heat and are relatively easy to grow with little technology.
Once opened, the third wholesale center is expected to boost Strader’s distribution operations. Most of the plants produced by Strader’s wholesale centers are sold at its own stores, but it also supplies other area garden centers. The company, however, is not implementing new logistics or distribution technologies at the facility, instead favoring to utilize existing systems it is familiar with.
Home gardening is a seasonal business. The primary planting season in Columbus lasts from May to June. By July, Strader’s growing operation is already slowing down. When fall arrives, the company moves into mums. Christmas season is soon to follow as Strader’s unloads 10 containers of artificial trees and truckloads of real evergreens delivered from tree farms in North Carolina, which has twice the growing season of Michigan trees and results in a lusher Christmas tree with deeper greens, Barnett says.
The company’s slogan is, “We change with the weather.” With every new season Strader’s becomes like an entirely new store. “It happens as quickly as we can make it happen,” Barnett says.
Seasonal rotations are not only a reaction to shifting demand, but also an opportunity to introduce new products. That became even more important as Strader’s expanded its lineup from flowers and shrubbery to encompass the entire yard. Gas grills were one product the company began to carry as part of a trial following a seasonal turnover. Now grills are one of its biggest sellers and Strader’s strives to stay relevant by offering the latest grilling products, such as the popular Big Green Egg.
With the next seasonal change, Strader’s plans to begin offering pet supplies. Barnett says customer reaction will determine whether Strader’s keeps pet items around or expands it further in the future. “We just noticed the trend is going that way, people like their animals,” he adds.
Like its products, Strader’s employees are mostly seasonal. The company has around 125 full-time staff members between its six stores and two wholesale centers. That number jumps to as many as 300 when factoring in part-time summer workers, many of whom are college and high school students working over the break between school years. As a result, Barnett’s decades-long tenure with the company is an exception to the typical short-term employment for most workers.
But those full-time workers who do have longtime experience are the people who make the biggest difference at the company. They are the ones who customers rely on for expert knowledge. Barnett says Strader’s approach is that if a customer comes in and wants something, it is not necessarily what they should have. Some people are prone to coming into the store, looking at a label and then buying the product without considering how it fits their garden’s situation. Then they get home and wonder why it doesn’t work.
Strader’s experts can bridge that knowledge by helping customers find the right products for their applications, even going so far as to have customers come back with lawn samples or captured bugs to diagnose the issue. It’s a level of service that customers have come to rely on. Many regulars now come into their local Strader’s Garden Center and ask when a specific employee is working next because they trust that person to answer their questions.
In addition to serving as the local resource for all things lawn and garden, Strader’s participates in community outreach efforts. In recent years, the company has supported Columbus-area organizations and programs such as community gardens, Habitat for Humanity, the London Correctional Institution and Marion Correctional Institution prisons and the Tolles Technical Center.
Strader’s is focused on growing one step at a time and does not want to overexert itself with expansion. Barnett says the company would like to open more retail locations – likely in the region north of Columbus – but that it first needs to have more control over the products it sells. With the third wholesale and growing facility nearly ready to open, the company is on its way toward reaching that goal.