It is with great delight that RDA Moreton Bay introduces our first “Get Inspired” story – Gena and Ross Campbell of Redcliffe Garden Centre. I popped in to the Garden Centre to chat with Gena and Ross recently on a beautiful Tuesday morning. The Redcliffe Garden Centre is such a lovely environment and as always customers were popping in, wandering around and asking for advice on a variety of horticultural problems and the famous Garden Centre chooks were pecking their way around the ground.
NG: Your website tells me that you have been here for 15 years. Have you always been in the plant nursery business or was this a complete change for you?
RC: Yes we have been here for 15 years now. We started out in completely different careers – I was a builder and Gena was a nurse. However, we were always “associated” with the land and/or gardening growing up. Gena grew up in New Zealand and her parents always had a big beautiful garden. I grew up with a family orchard. This business was a complete change for us.
GC: When we bought it, it was a small run-down plant nursery and we have spent the past 15 years building it up and trialling different things as we have gone along.
NG: I come here a lot and know that it is a business that has clearly grown (pardon the pun). Was that a deliberate strategy or more of an evolution?
GC: Yes it has been a deliberate strategy but we have had help in developing it. The strategy is underpinned by the knowledge that a successful business, a successful retailer cannot afford to stagnate and must be prepared to change. We are always changing, and our customers tell us that they love that. Even inside the shop we move the various collections around often because that keeps it fresh. In the homewares/giftware range, I order the stock and one of our staff oversees merchandising it and she does a terrific job.
RC: Out in the garden part of the operation we changed things too. About 18 months ago we divided the nursery into sections and moved to a strategy where I do the buying and each staff member is put in charge of a section and its their job to look after it and merchandise it. That strategy has really paid off. The staff love both being part of a team but having responsibility for their own section of the business. They take ownership and great pride in how it looks and functions. Obviously it’s important that the way the plants are presented appeals to our customers; and it does. Gena and I receive compliments on how good everything looks so often and that makes us happy and proud.
Of course, not every strategy works, and you must be prepared to try things, work hard at it but change direction if it clearly is not working.
NG: How do you talk to your customers apart from the obvious, that being, here in the garden centre?
GC: We use Facebook a lot. Before I go on a buying trip or to a gift fair I ask people what they are looking for and what they are liking at present and would like to see in the shop. Currently we are looking at stocking books – I was thinking beautiful coffee table books. When we started talking to people it became clear that they wanted interesting, unusual and quirky, not the everyday type of garden book with pretty pictures.
NG: Successful businesses and successful business people don’t exist in a vacuum; they have support systems. What has been the most valuable support to you, in your business, that assisted you in achieving your success?
GC: In the early days I particularly needed help with choosing stock for the homewares section. I worked with an interior designer to get that right. We worked with her for several years and she was very useful in that she could get me outside my comfort zone. She really opened my eyes.
RC: The other great support for us in the business is mentoring. We work with a couple, who are business mentors and in doing that we are also a part of a wider mentored group. The couple split the “duties” with one focusing on the financial side of the business and the other on the design side. We meet with them regularly, but they also conduct an annual audit on the business where they visit and audit everything from the displays and promotion through to the financials.
GC: The mentors get us to try new things. They are great for bouncing new ideas and for challenging the way we have always done things. But you must be prepared to listen to what others are saying – advisors and customers.
NG: What is the thing you like best about this business?
GC: I love that we have been able to create somewhere special for the people who walk through the door. Someone said to me a long time ago that we are helping to change people’s worlds.
We love to welcome new customers, but we love to welcome back repeat customers. I love that our garden centre is a haven for people.
RC: Yes, I love the relationships that we can build in this business – building trust and honesty. We have had relationships with some of our suppliers now for 15 years and those relationships are built on honesty and trust.
And our staff; the relationships with our staff are so important. They are a critical part of the success of this business. We love that we can give them some ownership over parts of the business and that where we have done that, there has been great improvement and success. And that allows us to have some time to work on other parts of the business and occasionally have some time off. My father, who was in business his whole life had a belief that he shared which was “that if you can’t trust your staff to run your business then you have the wrong staff or a big issue”.
NG: What then is the most challenging thing?
GC: The media – they are so negative. The scaremongering that goes on about weather and climate and online shopping. Its awful. Every year, without fail, in about September they run stories about the upcoming long, hot, dry summer and we have even had people who believed there was not going to be any rain again.
NG: what is it like being partners in life and partners in business? Any challenges there?
GC: You must have good communication – and you need to set aside time for that. We ensure that every Monday we either have breakfast or lunch out together somewhere. You would be amazed at how much we get done during those meals.
RC: You need to value each other’s areas of expertise. Gena is better in the office and working with the giftware range; I work with the garden side. I do a lot of forward planning of the stock and then the staff take care of it in the centre. A lot of the time people don’t see me here as I am getting stock and working in our other business RGC Imports.
NG: Has there been any one lesson on this journey that you would like to share with others?
GC: Don’t be afraid to change.
RC: Respect what everyone involved in your business brings to the business and be appreciative.
NG: Do you have a favourite plant or group of plants?
GC: Well I don’t like the smelly things (bags of fertiliser) but I do love how things are changing all the time.
RC: I enjoy all the plants, but I particularly like the succulents and the more architectural plants.
GC: Everyone loves the chooks and they love everyone, especially the children. They are bantams and there are four of them: Betty who is two years old and Claudia, Stella and Beatrice who are all six years old.
RC: The girls are “working chooks”! And they are great workers – key staff members. They are entirely responsible for keeping the garden weed free and we don’t have to use pesticides because the girls eat all the insects. The introduction of the girls is an integral part of the “grow at home” culture. So many of our generation grew up with chooks in the backyard and growing fruit and veggies. Then it seemed to skip a generation or two, but now it is back in a big way. The girls even put themselves to bed in their hutch of an evening.
NG: A big thank you for talking to me, being our first “Get Inspired” story and sharing your experience in business here at the Redcliffe Garden Centre. Any closing thoughts to share?
GC: You need to have goals but patience too. Make lists and then let things happen.
This business for us was never about the dollars. It was, right from the first day, about so much more than that. It was about lifestyle and people and enjoyment …. We worked hard to achieve the goals and the dollars followed.
RC: Sometimes the decision to make a change is the scariest part.
You will find Redcliffe Garden Centre open every day at 47-49 Snook Street, Clontarf, Queensland. Phone them on (07) 3889 3211 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org Or go to the Redcliffe Garden Centre Facebook page.
If you would like to be featured on “Get Inspired” give me a call on 0437080986 or by email at email@example.com.