Spring is coming into bloom and that means that our beloved McDonald Garden Markets will be starting up in a neighborhood near you! Each spring, our Markets provide a piece of the plants, products, and education that our year-round locations have to offer. As we enter our 12th season, we have asked our owner, Mark Anderson, for his perspective on our Garden Markets.
In the spring of 2009, McDonald Garden Center pushed to launch the first Garden Market ever in Hampton Roads. Now in 2022, we will have 10 Markets that spread across the Hampton Roads area from Williamsburg and the Peninsula to the Southside of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Our goal with the Garden Markets is to offer simple convenience, quality products, and the McDonald shopping experience to communities throughout the spring season when gardening is top of mind.
Mark has given us some insider information on how our Markets started, what is so unique about them, and what the future holds for the McDonald Garden Markets!
- Can you give me a brief history of the garden markets? How they started, why you came up with the idea, who was involved, etc?
Independent Garden Centers across the country appeared to be struggling with customer counts in the early 2000’s. As I started to speak with some customers that had not shopped at the stores in a while, I noticed a recurring trend. They told me “I just don’t have 10-15mins to drive out to your store”.
It was 2009, we were coming out of the great recession, labor was plentiful, shopping centers were overjoyed to have beautiful flowers in their parking areas and I had a great team looking for a challenge.
I can’t say it was all my idea, there was an outfit in Minnesota that was doing something similar. We also had experience with maintaining plant centers at the base commissaries in the 80’s and 90’s which made us believe it was possible.
- What makes the garden markets so unique?
Simple and Convenient. Our Markets are less intimidating and friendly to beginner gardeners because they have the help of our experienced employees.
- Is every garden market the same?
We are constantly trying to hone in on the subtleties of each market. Some seem to have a strong demand for shrubs, some it’s all annual color. Williamsburg wants anything the deer won’t eat, and the oceanfront and bay areas demand coastal selections that can withstand the salt and flooding. We cater to Hampton Roads by being specific.
- What is your favorite part of the shopping experience at our garden markets?
It’s simple! Whether you’re a garden pro or a complete novice, you can find something quick.
- How do you choose the locations for the garden markets?
I try to identify areas as close to neighborhoods as possible. I want customers to have quick and easy access so they can have more time to enjoy their personal garden but still have the ability to handpick their plants.
- Have you ever thought about expanding outside of the Hampton Roads area?
Sure, but then I pull back and realize that part of what makes McDonald Garden Center so great is the value we bring to our customers by keeping our focus on plants that perform best in Hampton Roads.
- Why are garden markets only available in spring?
I wish Hampton Roads could support 10 more year-round garden centers. I tested a fall/ Christmas market and it was not as successful as our spring markets, but I’m not saying there isn’t an opportunity or two out there to have another year-round store.
- Which location has been the most effective (profitable?)
I’m not sure my accounting is good enough to tell you that. What I can tell you is that one doesn’t work well without the others. The Markets work best as a group of stores rather than independent locations. Each provides their own selection of products specific to the neighborhood it resides in, but work as a group to show our products to the Hampton Roads community.
- I heard most of our Garden Market employees have returned, can you tell me more about that?
The Market managers take a lot of pride in their markets, and a few have been with us since we began in 2010. The staff is a tight-knit group and get to know each other well from spring to spring which is why we have a 60-75% return rate!
- How do you ensure that our Garden Market customers are getting the same expert advice and overall experience they have come to expect from our year-round stores?
We try our best to deliver a high level of expertise in the Markets. Jimmy Naggy is the regional manager who is an expert horticulturist and one of the best communicators I have ever seen. He does a great job with training and ensuring that customers get great advice.
- What does the future look like for the Garden Markets?
I would love to see a Garden Market easily accessible to every neighborhood in Hampton Roads-my lucky number is 14! As long as convenience plays such a large factor in the overall shopping experience, I think the model is a home run.
If you are as excited about the Garden Markets as we are, check out our locations page for updates on when our markets are opening near you as well as hours and phone numbers to give them a call. We hope to see you there this spring!