GN-MR-3-JUNGLE JIMSby Kelly Gates
Most garden centers have a slew of tasks to keep them busy from season to season. But Jim’s Jungle Garden Center of Billings, MT has an annual routine that is more laborious than most.
Each March, each greenhouse, every display rack, individual cashier stations and all other accouterments that make the business function, are completely assembled anew. Then, at the end of July, everything is deconstructed and stored away until the following year.
“Because of the way we operate, we have to set up and tear down everything each year,” said Steven Pottenger, co-owner of Jim’s Jungle Garden Center. “My father started the company at an old building where he could simply lock up at the end of the season. A couple years ago, he was forced to move out as the building was purchased by someone new. We moved everything to our satellite location where not having to pay year round rent would allow us to keep our prices low.”
Pottenger and his wife Kelly found a parking lot in a high traffic area in Billings and asked the landlord if they could sell plants from there. Since the main building on the property was an unused movie theater and the parking area was vacant as well, a deal was struck for an annual four-month lease.
According to Kelly, the setup is perfect for the family. It also works well for suppliers.
“We spend a lot of time in the winter months deciding which plant material we will sell the following spring,” she said. “In February, we gather in our living room with our kids and use pricing guns to price chemicals, pots and other hard goods. Then, when we have our greenhouses in place in March, suppliers show up with plants, unload and we’re ready to start selling.”
Jim’s Jungle Garden Center sells many standard annuals, perennials, hanging baskets and other containerized flowers. But, because many of the local growers supply big box stores with the same type of plant material, Steven and Kelly opt to also stock other varieties that make their outlet unique.
“We buy from a supplier in Walla Walla who has unique perennials and grasses, for instance,” said Steven. “We are constantly trying to find different suppliers who can offer up new products. And, we carry some of the tried-and-true items too.”
Another way the Pottengers differentiate their operation from larger retailers is by hiring knowledgeable workers.
According to Kelly, some of the employees at Jim’s Jungle Garden Center have been there for more than a decade. Most have an extensive background working with plant sales.
“Billings and the surrounding areas are in an environment that is hard to grow in, so it helps to have Steven and occasionally, people from the local county extension office, come out and hang plant care information or help our customers individually as needed,” she said. “During our off season, Steven spends a lot of his time volunteering, pruning and tending to landscapes at non-profit organizations.”
Together, the co-owners of the garden center set up, tend to the retail business and tear down at the end of each season.
With roughly 2,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses and outdoor displays to boot, they have enough to keep them busy from the first day they open until closing in July. Shade structures are used as needed and cashiers are sheltered under shaded awnings.
This year, a potting station will be added at the site for shoppers who need assistance arranging and placing plants in containers.
“Many of our clients are getting older and aren’t able to get down to the ground to plant annuals and perennials,” said Kelly. “With our potting station, they will be able to bring in containers for us to plant or they can grab a few scoops of soil and plant their own pots here. We hope the new addition will make the process for convenient for them.”
Along with facilitating the actual planting process, Jim’s Jungle Garden Center is also centered on offering potting products that make the most sense for its core consumers. Rather than heavy, clay or ceramic pottery, the company carries lightweight plastic pots that can be easily lifted and moved, even with soil and plants inside.
It is innovative introductions like these that have prompted people to return to the parking lot plant purveyor year after year. That, coupled with the Pottengers’ commitment to selling unique, high quality plants at affordable prices, is sure to keep them coming back to Jim’s Jungle Garden Center for many more years to come.