by Courtney Llewellyn

Health and safety come first, but business does have to continue for those who are open, and that includes garden businesses. Many garden centers and greenhouses are having very profitable springs, but they need to continue to play it safe.

Stuart Cofer of Cofer Home and Garden shared his strategies for success with Extension Specialist Amy Fulcher of the University of Tennessee during a recent Zoom meeting.

“We knew we had to do everything right from the get-go, adopting all the CDC rules as they came out,” Cofer said. Some of the changes he implemented included having just one way in to the store and one way out; keeping doors propped open so staff and customers don’t need to touch them; putting staff pizza parties and big staff meetings on hold; cross-training more employees; and using curbside pick-up service for customers. He recommended using the Remind app as a tool to communicate with your team.

Other tips mentioned in the meeting included how to properly take off and put on gloves. Removing them, grab them at the wrist, pull them inside out and then wash your hands. Donning them, do that list in reverse. Those wearing gloves also need to be conscious of everything they touch.

Money handling is also a topic of concern. Contactless transactions are ideal right now; customers can pay online beforehand or use apps like Venmo, CashApp or PayPal. If your business isn’t set up for that, credit and debit card payments are next best, followed by physically handling cash last. Installing clear barriers to protect both cashiers and customers is highly recommended. If you do need to accept cash, try to get customers to use exact change – and try to provide cash that’s been out of circulation (for 3-5 days) to reduce the chance of it possibly transferring the coronavirus.

Another suggestion mentioned creating easy to purchase product bundles of items that usually go together to limit handling of multiple objects. Note that if any item in the bundle is subject to sales tax, then generally the entire purchase is.

“You can tell we’re getting a lot of the customers from the big box stores because they’re afraid to go to those places because they don’t want to get into a crowd,” Cofer said. (Fulcher mentioned one business in Tennessee that has to close their doors one day a week just to catch up with online orders.) Cofer added that curbside service has started to slow down as people feel more comfortable coming into the store, including more senior customers. He did caution others to be careful with promotions, as you don’t want people rushing to your store and congregating.

And while Cofer said his business is having a great spring, with profits up on the year, he doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring. Until the industry does know what the future holds, continue with safety precautions.