Sandra Richter appreciates the customized advice she receives from being in the Proven Winners Destination program.
Photos courtesy of Sandy’s Back Porch

Sandra Richter, founder and owner of Sandy’s Back Porch Gardens in Belleville, Illinois, says her business is “here for the consumer,” as opposed to serving landscapers. Over the past years, that has meant expanding production space to add more annuals, hanging baskets and tropicals to their line. 

The annuals category specifically, Richter says, has been a massive growth market for the business over the last few years and throughout the pandemic. In 2019, she says she started working with Proven Winners after seeing a video featuring one of their displays. After an initial conversation, the business moved to becoming a Proven Winners Destination Garden Center.

“We’re plant people at a garden center,” Richter explains. “And sometimes merchandising is difficult for plant people … because they might be good at taking care of the plant, but aren’t always good at visual merchandising.”

As a Proven Winners Destination garden center, Sandy’s Back Porch Gardens receives displays, as well as merchandising and plant selection guidance . Over the winter, Richter said she worked directly with Jessica DeGraaf from Proven Winners to nail down what they would feature on the displays. DeGraaf shared what worked with other garden centers so that Sandy’s Back Porch could apply those strategies to their own store. The program also included digital advertising that helped bring in customers when COVID hit.

“This really helped us nail down what we’d be displaying as far as merchandising,” Richter says. “You knew what product you needed to have in. You knew what every season you’d be switching over. It gave you a year-long look at how we are going to change the garden center and rotate product instead of just doing it on a whim.”

She adds that Proven Winners’ top-10 list of annuals also helped her business decide what to grow and how much to grow. The breeder’s Supertunia, for example, came recommended and Sandy’s has been showcasing them at the front of their greenhouse since partnering with Proven Winners. Supertunia varieties are vigorous growers that are heat tolerant and do not require deadheading. Richter says the Supertunia simply outperform any normal petunia they sell at Sandy’s Back Porch.

“We never had the tools to be able to plan like this,” Richter says. “And Proven Winners gave us the tools to be able to do that, and grow.”