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How To Start a Garden Center Business in 7 Easy Steps

The popularity of home gardening is on the rise. The industry has grown consistently in recent years, and almost 38% of households say they plan to do more gardening activities next year.

If you have a green thumb and a passion for sharing your knowledge, now’s the perfect time to plant the seed for a successful garden center. 

If you’re wondering how to start a garden center business, look no further. 

Read on to find out what makes a great garden center, what startup costs you can expect, and a step-by-step guide on how to start a garden center business.

What’s the Difference Between a Garden Center and a Nursery?

Sometimes people use “garden center” and “plant nursery” interchangeably. However, in terms of business models, the two have a few distinct differences.

  • Plant nurseries tend to be in large spaces and focus on growing and selling plants, including many specialty plants, either directly to other garden centers and greenhouses or to consumers. Some nurseries specialize in vegetables, trees, fruit, and various other plants.
  • Garden centers are general gardening retailers, selling not only plants but gardening equipment like rakes, pots, soil, fertilizer, and more. Many garden centers do not grow their own plants but source them from nurseries. 

What Makes a Garden Center Startup Stand Out?

Gardening stores are a niche and largely seasonal business, yet there’s lots of competition. You need to make sure your business is unique to get a slice of the pie. When coming up with an idea for your garden center, consider how you’ll stand out in these areas:

  • Selection: Offer a wide selection of flowers, fruit plants, herbs, and houseplants so your store becomes a one-stop shop for everything green in any season. You can also expand your offerings to include popular gardening tools, accessories, and decorations.
  • Expertise: One of the biggest reasons people flock to smaller, independent garden centers over big-name hardware stores is the people — your staff. Make sure your employees know their plants and what’s in season. 
  • Local connections: Many garden centers thrive on forming relationships with other businesses such as local artists or eateries, which helps establish their brand and widen their customer base. 
  • Convenience: Leverage technology like a modern garden center point of sale (POS) system to offer contactless payments, quick item lookups, online sales, and other features that help your staff provide a great experience.

Start a Successful Garden Center Business: 7 Steps

Starting a garden center may be challenging — but it’s worth it. Garden centers are a great way to connect to your local community and support a sustainable and fulfilling activity.

Here are the seven most important steps when considering how to start a garden center business.

1. Create a Business Plan

Before you dive headfirst into the nitty gritty of opening a store, do your homework. A business plan is a document that lays out what your business is, who it serves, and how it will achieve success. Consider it the foundation of your new business.

A typical business plan includes:

  • Summary: A short elevator pitch for your garden center, including who you are, where you plan to open your store, and your short and long-term goals.
  • Company overview: A high-level outline of your business operations, including your chosen business structure and target market. It should also include some history about you and any relevant industry experience.
  • Services and product overview: A summary of the various plants and gardening equipment you plan to offer, along with any services. More than a list of items, this is your chance to demonstrate why your selections will bring value to customers.
  • Market research: Demonstrate that you’ve researched other stores in the area, what they offer, and how you can compete with a unique concept.
  • Marketing strategy: Show how you plan to reach new customers and keep existing ones. For example, the types of media you’ll use. 
  • Budgets and finances: Establish a firm understanding of your startup and operating costs, and how much revenue you’ll need to earn to stay profitable.

A business plan can take a lot of time and effort to write — but it’s worth it. It’s like a north star for your business and can keep you grounded on the path to success.

Related Read: The Best Business Plan Checklist for New Owners

Garden Center Startup Costs

If you’re starting a garden center for the first time, you’ll need a firm understanding of the startup costs. Average garden center startup costs range from $20,000 to $80,000. Typical costs include:

  • Real estate and rental costs
  • Utilities
  • Permits and licenses
  • Building work (construction of greenhouses, etc.)
  • Payroll
  • Plants, soil, and equipment
  • Products you’re selling
  • Marketing (website, paid ads, etc.)
  • Software and technology (for accounting, sales, inventory management, etc.)

Don’t forget labor costs. Garden centers require much more physical labor to set up than other retailers.

2. Establish Your Niche

As part of your market research, take some time to figure out not just how you’ll be better than other garden stores, but how you’ll be different.

Establish what atmosphere you want to have in the shop. For example, do you want to be an expert on native gardening in your region? Or maybe you want to specialize in greenhouse plants and supplies. You have options.

Even if you plan to offer general garden store products, try to think of other ways your store can be unique, like hosting gardening workshops or having an attached cafe. These ideas will be the seeds that grow into your brand, so be creative!

3. Secure the Right Licenses 

Once you’ve got your business plan and some great ideas under your belt, it’s time to get into the details. A typical brick-and-mortar garden center will need three types of licenses to run legally.

  • General business license: Virtually all retailers need this license to sell goods to consumers. You typically get it from the Secretary of State or your local government.
  • Zoning approval: A zoning permit shows that you are approved to use your land for a garden center.
  • Nursery license: In many states, you are required to have a nursery license to sell plants and seedlings. 

The exact licenses you need (and where apply) vary by state. So make sure to check in with your local government or visit the Small Business Administration website for more resources. 

4. Choose the Right Location

A great location contributes to the success of a new business. Garden centers in particular need a lot of space with enough areas for plants, bags of soil, tools, and (of course) your customers.

To attract new customers, look for a large space near a main shopping hub. If you plan to build a greenhouse, make sure your lot still has ample parking.

5. Leverage Technology

Running an independent garden center can be tough — especially with so many big box stores competing for your business. 

Leveraging a garden store POS system is an easy way to deliver a better customer experience, manage inventory, and boost profits. The right technology partner can help garden centers in a few unique ways:

  • Inventory tracking: Create custom SKUs for unique products, manage serialized inventory for high-value tools, and track your inventory levels in real time. This will help prevent shrinkage and ensure your most popular items are always in stock.
  • Reports and forecasting: Look at sales data to get actionable insights into your most popular items and spot trends so you can exceed customer expectations.
  • E-commerce: Online sales are a great way to reach new customers while offering a modern shopping experience. Just make sure your website and inventory management software are connected to ensure your stock levels are accurate.
  • Flexible payments: Let your customers pay any way they prefer, whether it’s cash, credit card, or digital wallet. Flexible payment options are an easy way to remove friction from the shopping experience.

The features in a modern POS system are vital for keeping small and independent retailers competitive. Make sure your technology isn’t just doing the bare minimum for your business. 

Related Read: 8 Ways To Make the Most of Your Retail POS Data 


6. Market Your Business

Marketing is an exciting chance for you to share your brand and your expertise with the community. Unfortunately, marketing can often fall by the wayside when starting a new business. But trust us, giving your marketing a little TLC will pay off in spades (no pun intended). 

A consistent marketing strategy will help your business grow by attracting new customers and bringing old ones back. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Website: For many customers, your website is their first impression of your business. Even if you don’t plan to offer online sales right away, having an attractive and informative website is important to building trust with potential customers. 
  • Google Business Profile: Many people search for garden centers near them, and keeping your Google Business Profile up to date is how you’ll show up in those results. Make sure to periodically check in with your listing to ensure things like store hours, location, and phone number are still accurate. 
  • Social media: Regularly post on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to build your brand. Remember, posting on social media is more than just showing what you have, it’s telling your story — so try to focus on informative or entertaining posts (while also highlighting current deals).
  • Newsletters: Have customers sign up for a newsletter where you can post educational material on seasonal plant varieties, offer exclusive discounts, and highlight new products.

Regardless of what types of media you use, remember that consistency is key. This will help you rank well in web searches and ensure your customers don’t forget about you. 

7. Create a Loyalty Program

Running a garden center can be a challenge because it is, by nature, a seasonal business. To counter that, setting up a customer loyalty program is a great way to turn one-time shoppers into repeat customers. 

Modern POS systems let you tailor your customer loyalty programs to fit your business model. For example, customers could earn points every time they buy seasonal plants, which can be redeemed on certain garden tools. With customers earning points in the spring, they’ll be more likely to come back to you in the summer or winter to redeem them. 

Members of your customer loyalty program are likely your biggest fans. By tracking the sales data of loyalty members, you can also figure out what they’re buying most and use that information to craft meaningful offers just for them.

Set Your Garden Center Business Up for Long-Term Success

Now that you have a better idea of how to start a garden center business, what are you waiting for? 

With some careful planning, creativity, and a green thumb, you can earn a living while bringing more life into your community. And with the right technology partner in your corner, you’ll have the tools and insights you need to stay successful.

Comcash has over 25 years of experience in helping small businesses thrive. Our cloud-based solution empowers new businesses to reach their full potential thanks to features like real-time inventory management, sales reports, and easy payments.

Ready to start your garden center business? We’re here to help.

Schedule your free demo today.

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