by Kelly Gates
When Chris and Lynette Shonnard took over a struggling Corvallis, OR floral shop and garden center back in 1984, they had their work cut out for them. The nursery division was a mixture of some plant material purchased from suppliers and other material grown in-house. There was too much emphasis on the floral division. And, there was no landscape division at all.
According to Chris, each of these things — and many more — changed as the couple began breathing new life into the several year old company.
“We quickly realized that we weren’t making much money growing for ourselves, so we stopped that and focused on selling flowers and plants purchased from outside suppliers,” he said. “We still kept the floral business to cater to our loyal customers, but that was cut back to take up a smaller percentage of our time and energy.”
Because Chris already had landscape contract certification, and because customers frequently asked for help designing and planting, a landscape division was created in 1988. This same year, the Shonnard’s opted to change the company name to Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist & Landscape.
A few years later, the main facilities got a complete makeover. Since there are only 1.6 acres of land to work with at the Corvallis site, the greenhouses, retail space, florist shop and all other structures were torn to the ground and rebuilt as a more user-friendly, efficient property for purveying plants.
With a new corporate blueprint and a new name, it was time to up the company’s marketing impact. The owners stuck with some of the traditional forms of advertising they had been using for years, but layered on a heaping helping of social media as a means of reaching as many people as possible with information about the new-and-improved operation.
“We are in a small town of around 50,000 people, so newspaper advertising is still effective in the right amounts,” said Chris. “We also advertise on the radio during our peak months. And we have a strong direct marketing campaign that involves an awards program that went from zero to over 6,000 members in just two years.”
Everyone who signs up for the Shonnard’s awards program receives emails several times each month. The emails contain gardening tips, information about upcoming seminars and newsflashes detailing new plant material that has just arrived at the store.
The company sends postcards in the mail with special discounts as well. It also has staff members who update the Shonnard’s Facebook page regularly with similar information.
“One of the things we alert people to is when our cactus and succulent supplier is coming to drop off his unique collection of these plants,” said Chris. “We’re one of the few people he supplies and we offer plants for dish gardens and terarriums, so when we let our customers know these are in stock, it gets really busy here in a hurry.”
Chris and Lynette try to keep a wide assortment of unique plants in house, along with a diverse array of staple annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. They also offer a custom-order service for anyone wishing to purchase a plant not commonly carried there.
According to Chris, having the ability and willingness to track down virtually anything a shopper might want is just one more way to offer amazing customer service and keep people coming back year after year. So is offering complementary products and services that meet a customer’s every demand.
“When we started landscaping, people began asking for landscape maintenance, so we offered that too,” he said. “We install a lot of water gardens, so we carry a lot of water plants. We even host seminars in front of our own water gardens here so we can teach people about how to plant and care for their water plants on the spot.”
The Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist & Landscape property also houses a number of display gardens with a vast mix of plants, shrubs and trees in each one. These displays double as hands-on learning tools during seminars — like a tree pruning class held annually, complete with pruning demonstrations using trees growing directly in the company’s show gardens.
As the owners and their staff teach customers each year, they too learn better, more efficient ways of managing a growing business.
“When we added a shade structure to reduce amount of watering we needed to do, we turned off the automatic sprinkler system and did only hand watering for those plants,” noted Chris. “As we hand watered, we not only cut our water bill in half, but we paid closer attention to each plant and had virtually no loss. Now, we plan to expand the shade structure to two to three times the size to bring about even greater efficiencies.”
The Shonnards also plan to pave the walkways at the garden center, making it easier for customers to cart around plants. And, they hope to make their indoor displays more mobile by adding casters or putting them on pallets that can be moved about more often to keep the space fresh and new for shoppers.
“These things might seem like subtle changes, but they make a big difference to us and to our customers,” said Chris. “We’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do over the years and these lessons are what have helped us thrive, regardless of what the economy is doing at any given time.”
For Shonnard’s, the extra effort translates into better offerings for customers too.
by Kelly Gates