Bad weather has been a struggle for Preston Greenhouse & Garden Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Early in the season, the grower was delayed in planting and it skewed the numbers badly, says founder Steve Mercer.
“This is probably our worst year in 25 years in the greenhouse just because people couldn’t get stuff planted this spring,” he says. He says last year’s weather wasn’t “the best in the world as far as rain was concerned,” either.
In recent years, Mercer has seen a significant increase in interest in foliage, indoor plants and succulents. Vegetable plants are still strong, but due to the bad weather, the numbers aren't showing that.
Mercer recently hired a garden center manager and converted the end of one greenhouse into a full-service garden center this year, which he says has greatly increased traffic.
The greenhouse’s customer base is almost entirely retail, with a small percentage of wholesale. “But we’re in the process of significantly increasing our landscaping division at this point because that’s where the majority of customer demand is right at the moment,” Mercer says.
Looking forward, Mercer says a recession is most likely on the horizon, but that’s not necessarily bad news.
“As long as it doesn’t become a recession like we had in 2007, 2008, a recession actually tends to help our business because the more people stay at home and don’t vacation, the more likely it is that they’re going to commit to doing landscape projects around the house,” he says. “So as long as it’s not a huge downturn, it might be healthy for our business.”
Like many in the industry, he says the biggest challenge is getting labor to capitalize on the work that’s out there. He says his landscape division alone walked away from $750,000 last year and will probably turn down $1 million. “It’s very disheartening to have access to all this work and not have access to enough labor to be able to capitalize on it,” he says.
But none of that is going to stop Preston from growing. Right now, the operation has seven greenhouses ready to be built, and Mercer believes the sky is the limit for the new garden center. “The garden center that we built was basically just a stop gap measure to get our foot in the door,” Mercer says. “We plan on building a much bigger garden center. Our ultimate goal is to be a Top 100 garden center down the road.”