Sophisticated Retailing in History’s Shadow
Just down the street from where George Washington once lived, this historic Philadelphia neighborhood of small independent boutique stores and trendy restaurants is home to one unique garden center. In an unusual off-street setting, an open lot between centuries-old buildings, the plant sales area of Laurel Hill Gardens meanders its way down a slight hill to the store interior, a former blacksmith shop that served the iron needs of neighbors going back to the days before the American Revolution. All of this history gives the store's grounds a warm and genuine feel.
The garden center complements the early-American roots of the area with a distinct "Brit" feel that calls upon the local neighborhood garden centers in London. Indeed, this is what Laurel Hill prides itself in being in its own community - the neighborhood garden center.
Owner Joe Ascenzi originally purchased the property as a holding facility for the B&B material used in his landscape business. It soon became apparent that this heavily travelled main street location was misappropriated. Drawing attention from passersby, customers would come in, asking to purchase entire sections of material. So out went the B&B, in came annuals and plants in pots. "He kind of fell into it," says Manager Anna Prinzo. In 1981, Laurel Hill Gardens was born.
It still holds true that the garden center's material, displayed in a fashion that customers could easily replicate at home, sells itself. Displays impress with attractive vignettes and lots of high-quality plant material, either in bloom or exotic foliage and variegations. Customers enjoy the rarer options, and delight in green goods they don't typically see, shown in uncommon ways.
In a community that holds living "green" in high regard, Laurel Hill's customers favor natives. They also enjoy growing their own food organically. Not only does the garden center offer a full line of organic fertilizers and controls, it brews its own compost tea. A compost tea shed type of setup signed "Good Ol' Joe's Homebrew Compost Tea" is cleverly decorated to fit in with the vintage feel of the operation. Customers are welcome to pour their own fresh brew in gallon containers, and an information sheet explains the compost tea's benefits and how to use it.
About 90 percent of both the green goods and hard lines offered at Laurel Hill are sourced locally, from Pennsylvania. Not only does the community appreciate this local focus, it keeps costs down for the garden center.
Because most of Laurel Hill's customers are urbanites with compact spaces, small-scale vignettes and container gardens are popular among the displays. They allow shoppers to envision the products exactly as presented to fit perfectly in their own space. "We design here in the garden center instead of just rows of plants because it allows people to see how the plants work together," Prinzo says.
The hottest trends, like vertical gardening, terrariums and container gardening, are what suit Laurel Hill's space-strapped customers. Many customers come in to buy green goods to change out their planters seasonally, and the garden center's landscape division offers container change-out services.
Miniature Garden Displays
The landscape business remains key at Laurel Hill today. During the slower retail seasons, the landscape division is booming. "December is 95 percent retail because we do a ton at Christmas. The guys who work landscape come over to the garden shop to help," Prinzo says. "In the summer off-season, we're more dependent on the landscape side."
So not only do the displays have to appeal to the retail customer, they have to show the potential landscape customer how their space can be transformed as well. Landscape-inspired vignettes intermingle benches and bistros with antique objects - all priced for sale, of course - and magnificently planted mixed containers. Each turn shows customers something unexpected.
The beauty of these "miniature garden" displays, as Prinzo calls them, is augmented by the charm of the neighboring building, once a horse-drawn carriage house, as a backdrop. With most of the homes in the neighborhood more than 100 years old, the unique shopping experience that Laurel Hill provides is just the type of environment the residents of this community appreciate shopping in.
Space Allocation -
8,600 square feet
Outdoor Garden Selling Space:
8,000 square feet
Indoor Garden Selling Space:
600 square feet
Parking - 6 spaces
Social Media -
Annual Sales - $500,000
With such a small city space to work with, Manager Anna Prinzo has to be creative in directing Laurel Hill's merchandising. "It means keeping displays smaller, going vertical when we can, rotating things out more often - whatever it takes to keep it interesting and get as much product out there as we can," she says. "Because of our small space, moving things around is one of our main merchandising strategies. Sometimes, it feels like we're moving things daily."
Many of the garden center's customers are working with small spaces, too, so offering products that work in these areas, and showing customers how they work, is the goal. "We try to keep plant sizes manageable and have a great assortment of pots at all times. We also put a lot of focus on plants that make sense for the site conditions in our local area - lots of trees and buildings mean lots of shady gardens."
Anna likes to insert elements of surprise in her displays; it gets customers thinking outside the box. "We ultimately try to create displays that give our customers ideas and inspiration that they can take home with them," she says. "My favorite way to do that is to use plants that work well together, that can thrive in the same conditions, but maybe not the first ones you'd think of for a certain type of garden need. Everybody knows if you have shade, you can plant hosta, but they may not know about brunnera or anemone. It's nice to show people they do have more options than the old standbys, and it's great to highlight that with our merchandising."
When Anna needs inspiration, she turns to Garden Chic magazine. "It is breath of fresh air," she says. "I love how it's shedding light on all the ways that this industry can attract people in my generation and younger to the world of gardening."