Growing a gardening business

  • Tue Dec 27th, 2011 9:39pm

<b>WORK IN PROGRESS | </b>Herald staff

Lili and Don Hall harnessed their green thumbs to launch Garden Gear in 1996. Now the cozy cabaña-sized shop is a mainstay in the Edmonds retail community, offering up gardening hand tools, statues, wind chimes and bird feeders.

Far from their avocation of gardening, Lili, once a mathematics professional, and Don, a manufacturer’s representative, now say they have no regrets about leaving the corporate world to run a successful mom-and-pop shop.

“It’s the people who make the business what it is,” Lili Hall said. “I have met so many nice people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Q: How, or why, did you decide to open your business?

A: I was getting tired of commuting to Seattle so I wanted my own business close to home. In the mid-1990s mail-order was becoming popular. But the problem with it was if you didn’t like something, you had to send it back. We were both interested in gardening and would take trips to Victoria where we saw retail garden shops. That gave us the idea.

Q: What convinced you that this was the job for you?

A: Initially I wanted to be a florist. Once I did the research I came to the conclusion that I could not compete with the grocery stores’ pricing. A garden shop would be close to a florist shop. When I started I had no clue that retail would be for me. I thought I would simply go buy things I like and sell them. What I have learned is that you can’t force your taste on other people.

Q: What does it take to blend your passion with your livelihood?

A: The business has become part of my life. It’s difficult because I don’t have as much time to spend gardening. But it does give me a chance to try new things. I test all the merchandise.

Q: What are the crucial elements of success for your business?

A: Perseverance, hard work, honesty and good service are key elements in a successful retail business. For our particular shop, developing a buying strategy and realizing that the shopping experience is very personal has been crucial. There are things I have purchased that I thought I would sell. Over the years I have become more selective in my buying. You have to have a theme and focus in your store.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge and how did you meet it?

A: The biggest challenge is figuring out what to buy. I scout out trade magazines, which write about things a season in advance. I look for upcoming style and color. Then I go to trade shows and look around. Every day I learn something new. I can offer different things, but the store down the street has different things too. The challenge every day when you open the door is never knowing how the day will turn out.

Q: How did your friends and family react when you told them you were getting into this business?

A: Friends were excited about us opening Garden Gear. The family was hesitant but supportive.

Q: What motivates you?

A: People are the greatest motivator for me. You never know who might walk through the door.

Q: What personal abilities do you think are needed to excel in this business?

A: Good organizational skills, a good personality, a level head and having your life prioritized.

Q: When you’re not working, how do you enjoy spending your time?

A: Gardening and poking about the garden to see what Don has done.