Lynne Phillips, Manager, Natural Art Garden Center, Toms Brook, VA

From: Garden Chic, March/April, 2013

Lynne Phillips, Manager, Natural Art Garden Center, Toms Brook, VA
Natural Art Garden Center grew out of necessity for the owner’s landscaping business, a showroom of sorts, but has since blossomed into much more. Manager Lynne Phillips, 40, says, “We are growing each year, and doing new and different things. We’re just trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not, making adjustments accordingly. We approach things in a different manner. We don’t want to be like the garden center down the street; we want to be totally different.”

And different it is. Natural Art strives to create an art gallery feel when customers walk through the garden center. “Instead of having plants sitting like soldiers in rows, we have plants displayed in what we call islands or garden beds. So when customers come in, they see, visually, these plants go with this section or you can put these together,” Phillips says. “It’s like an instant, ‘Oh, I can put that in my front yard. I’ll take that.’”

Gen X/Y Appeal
In addition to giving customers real ideas they can use in their gardens at home, Phillips makes sure she is easily accessible to answer any questions they might have. “I’ve got customers who correspond with me on Twitter and Facebook, and they send pictures to my cell phone, asking, ‘This is my problem, what do I do?’” she says. “So I think that’s the big appeal: they know we are willing to use whatever avenue we can to help solve their problem and come up with a great solution.”

This is especially important to Gen X and Gen Y shoppers, who are just getting into gardening. Phillips says, these customers are interested in “simple, easy, neat and clean. They need and want things that fit into their lifestyle, so it can’t be something that’s really fussy.” They like to be shown “big, beautiful things that don’t require a whole lot of work,” she says.

Succulents are a popular choice, in unique and unexpected ways, especially. “We do succulents for outdoors, we do succulents for indoors, we even put succulents in hanging baskets, in pots, in containers, in broken pots - you name it, they can go in it,” Phillips says. “We have succulent wreaths and things like that we can show people - it’s similar to a living wall, it’s just a different form.”

Miniatures Sell Big
Miniature gardens are another huge trend for Natural Art. It was a challenge for Phillips to convince the operation’s owner to give them a go, but they’ve proved profitable. “Miniature gardening has been a big surprise. With a class of five people, I can make several hundred dollars in the matter of two hours on an otherwise slow day,” Phillips says. “I didn’t expect people to come in here and, in one fell swoop, spend $85 on a garden that is no bigger than 12 inches.”

It helps that many of the miniature gardening accessories - which can be used in fairy gardens, campfire scenes, volcano gardens and dinosaur gardens, to name a few - are handmade by a local artist. “That’s one of our niches for our miniature gardening: custom houses and benches,” Phillips says. “There’s all different kinds of accessories we have made, so it’s unique to us. We can put our own stamp on it,” Phillips says.

To capitalize further on the interest, Natural Art offers “Host Your Own” classes and parties for not only miniature gardening but for holiday wreaths and kissing balls, too. “Hosts” gather their friends and families at the garden center to create projects together. It brings business into the garden center in droves.

With the mission to always be on the cutting edge, Phillips turns to Garden Chic magazine for new ideas. “Garden Chic has a lot of great content,” she says. “It provides a fresh approach to garden retailing. I enjoy reading the whole magazine.”

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