Venturing Off the Beaten Path to Carve Out a Niche
To excel with a truly unique garden center in the Portland area is a bit of a tall order. Between that certain Bohemian buzz of the renovated city and the lush growing climate, gardens and decent garden centers are not unique here. Yet The Garden Corner accomplishes its goal in Tualatin, OR, an enjoyable drive south of the city. "Eclectic" is surely this store's middle name, with a willingness to even be a bit weird in the name of expression. This piece of retailing art-in-the-works succeeds.
Owner Jonn Karsseboom takes the rather uncommon position of putting a product out front as the garden center's speciality - and store theme. The Garden Corner is home to what they have determined, we suspect correctly so, is the world's largest hanging basket. Jonn is passionate about hanging gardens, right down to designing and building his own original basket shapes and sizes. We suspect a book from the maestro is not too far off.
Jonn is unapologetic about his mission to be different, as evidenced by his making the local news with the unveiling of "The World's Largest Hanging Basket" from the store last spring. The 16-foot-high, 10-foot-wide, 2-ton structure is a monument to Jonn's affinity for the unusual and to his passion for hanging baskets. Local Don Sprague of Garden Gallery Ironworks constructed the wrought iron frame. The design functions like any other hanging basket, with foliage sprouting from the top each season.
Even in all its super-sized glory, the behemoth basket doesn't outshine the more subtle results of what Jonn calls "garden rebellion." The Garden Corner's wooden pathways beckon visitors through lush plantings of trees and shrubs and curve through shaded and sunny areas that hold surprises. Around one bend, a serene fountain fills the air with the gentle, tinkling sound of trickling water. Planted-up baskets are colorful ornaments dangling from the arms of a wrought iron tree, and potted plants sit regally on a stone table. "It has to be a little bit discovery, a little bit fun when folks come through," Jonn says.
'A Work in Progress'
Since the garden center is completely outdoors, Jonn had to find a way to create intimate spaces to display hardgoods, such as pottery, birding supplies and other small merchandise. "It's always a work in progress," he says. So he angles green roofs to create outdoor spaces throughout the garden center. "It's just a short, small area, but I can also keep merchandise out of the weather just enough," he says. "You'll see little pavilions throughout. It's just an experiment, but it allows us to carry things in this outdoor environment."
The Garden Corner is cleverly engineered to break apart and move as Jonn's creativity demands. Even the wooden walkways are designed to be repositioned. "We move things," Jonn says. "We create shortcuts. We add to it. I'm not a big one on too many straight lines, as you can tell." Walking through the garden center, bits of Jonn's colorful, quirky personality can be seen. Cardboard cutouts of employees wave at customers as they look for the perfect basket to plant up. A table displays "The World's Smallest Hanging Baskets," although Jonn admits this title hasn't been verified. Instead of the typical "Ring bell for customer service," a sign proclaims, "Hourglass out of time? Push this button, and we'll come like flying monkeys!"
Passion for Baskets
Looking past the appeal of the lighthearted signage and whimsical displays, The Garden Corner has ample offerings in pottery, fountains, garden art, and trees and shrubs. But it is clear Jonn's heart lies with hanging baskets. He and his staff plant and maintain more than 1,000 baskets for businesses and homes in the Portland area. It is the garden center's niche in its competitive market.
As you might expect, The Garden Corner's baskets defy the norm. Edibles, such as strawberries or lettuce, are planted in rustic twig baskets, as a gopher figure peers curiously out of another basket filled with ornamentals. The staff has also been known to create fairy baskets with dwarf conifers, miniature benches and a resident fairy or two.
The Garden Corner shares its passion by offering hanging basket workshops every weekend. A recent workshop showed customers how to make a "gnome-friendly" basket, and another taught them how to create a bird-loving basket, complete with a birdhouse. "Anything you can imagine we try to put into a hanging basket, we do," Jonn says.
And he is not alone in his quest for non-conformity. Jonn says he works with a staff of "garden rebels," who want the common gardener to have uncommon choices. Maybe they aren't fighting for freedom or social justice, as have iconic rebels throughout history, but Jonn is much like rebels of the past in at least one way - he moves others to action.
Space Allocation -
Outdoor Garden Selling Space:
Covered Garden Selling Space:
12,000 square feet
Parking - 56 spaces
Social Media -
ANNUAL SALES -
Less than $1 million
"When I can combine color and humor, it creates our magic," says Jonn Karsseboom, Owner of The Garden Corner (pictured right, in back). The perfect example: a table bursting with red blooming annuals punctuated by a sign that reads, "Are you a sexy red?"
Another favorite is a sign urging customers to fortify their plants' roots: "Did you get your root powder, or shall we pray for your plants?" It sits next to a collection of angels to drive the point home.
From Jonn's merchandising perspective, each display must collectively project only one message. "I'm very simple," he says. "My focus is simple. The message is simple - is it fragrance, is it butterflies, is it blue - anything past that gets lost."
To ensure The Garden Corner's displays and messaging, and everything else, are in tip-top shape, Jonn relies on photos instead of his own eyes. "The challenge is, we walk by something so much that we don't notice it. That's when we use a camera and take a picture," he says. "Suddenly, we'll see things in the photo that we don't see in real life." The garden center takes photos for weekly postings on social media sites, and in them, Jonn and his staff will notice clutter collecting in corners or signs hanging crookedly. They move quickly to fix any concerns.
Wowing customers is another essential component in The Garden Corner's merchandising. "If you buy a 10-foot-tall, 300-pound windchime or a $25,000 fountain, that's a 'wow,'" he says. "But you have to watch that balance between 'wow' and 'selling' stuff." Everything is for sale, of course, but a windchime of that size or a fountain with that price may never sell - and Jonn's OK with that.
For new ideas to add to his creative arsenal, Jonn looks through the pages of Garden Chic. "It is an idea magazine. I like the mission to inspire," he says.