The word partnership comes up a lot in conversation with Matthew and Renee Wood, owners of Wood’s Greenhouses in Asbury, New Jersey. First, they’ve been partners with The Home Depot as an exclusive grower supplying annuals for stores for more than two decades.
They’re also partners at their farm. He’s the president, overseeing the growing side of the operation, and she’s vice president, in charge of merchandising the product in Home Depot stores in western New Jersey.
They’re also married to each other, going on 18 years.
This partnership sets them apart in the horticulture industry, as well as their commitment to customer service. “Our service is dialed in and we’re on point every day,” Matt Wood says. “We put the best product forward every day.”
Wood’s Greenhouses was founded by Matt’s dad, Randy Wood, in 1983. As a college student, Matt worked in the greenhouse to earn money during breaks. After his sophomore year, his dad asked him to take over the business so that he could retire. Although it meant leaving college, Matt says it was “definitely the right decision” for him. He learned the business over the next two years, then took the reins in 1998.
Twenty years later, the business has grown six times over. Most of that growth is due to the relationship with The Home Depot that began with two stores in 1996, and is now up to 15, all within about an hour’s drive of the nursery. Twelve of the stores are in the New York metropolitan area.
Wood’s Greeenhouses supplies annuals grown on 6.5 acres of greenhouses on a 165-acre property. In spring, they grow annuals like geraniums, begonias and impatiens for the Vigoro and Proven Winners labels. In fall, mums and asters are the main crops. At the end of 2017, they purchased an additional 144 acres primarily to grow mums and to further expand the business.
A sustainable business
All that growth makes sustainability initiatives even more important to the business. Like most growers, Wood’s merchandisers recycle as much plastic as they can, returning trays from the store to the farm, cleaning and disinfecting and re-using it, all to keep the plastic out of dumpsters and landfills.
Wood’s Greenhouses is also nearly neonic free, down to just 2 percent of products using neonicotinoids to control plant-damaging pests. They’re exploring biological controls this season in hopes of getting that number down to zero. This is in-line with The Home Depot’s commitment to eliminate neonicotinoids in plants sold at its Garden Centers.
Commitment to Customer Service
Like Matt, Renee didn’t set out for a career in the horticultural industry. She worked as a director of marketing and public relations in New York, when their son and daughter were born within a year of each other and she decided to work closer to home. She trained for the merchandising role at the business and soon took it over.
She now oversees a team of 30 merchandisers and four district managers and is in all of her stores each week. This commitment to customer service is core to the partnership at Wood’s Greenhouses, according to Renee. “You have to be able to marry both the grower and properly trained merchandisers. Because no matter how beautiful it looks in the greenhouse, if there’s nobody to water it, the plant will not sell.”
In the Garden Center, merchandisers are responsible for the care of the plants, including watering, pruning and feeding. They display the flowers in a way that makes sense to the customers, grouping together sun-loving plants and those that do better in shade. “Customers may not know what plants work together,” Renee says. “When we group the plants, we try to make it as easy for the customers as possible to understand what grows with what.”
Wood’s merchandisers maintain inventory, writing the orders, specifying product down to the color. Even with stores fairly close together, there are differences in demand. “Our merchandisers are trained to read the volume and velocity of the store,” Renee says. “They are able to drill down and speak to what the customer wants.”
Some customers have typical suburban landscapes with half acre or larger yards, while others live in condos with patios and balconies. “Our younger customers in these areas want containers that are ready to go on their porch or patio. They don’t want to buy soil and worry about storing supplies,” Renee says. The Drop-n-Bloom containers that are ready to go from garden center to patio perform especially well in these stores.
Knowing her customers sets the merchandisers and Wood’s Greenhouses’ business model apart. “It definitely gives an independent garden center feel to a big box store,” Renee says.
Although they’re not officially Home Depot associates, Matt and Renee Wood are just as committed to the goals of the company. “We are unique in the industry in that we are a husband and wife owned company and we are both in the stores every week,” Renee says.
“We are owners that are invested in the store level of the business. We take our partnership with the Home Depot very seriously.” Or, as Matt puts it, “Just like the associates, we bleed orange. Home Depot’s success is our success.”
Spring black Friday experience
Growers make as much as two-thirds of their annual business in the eight-week spring gardening season from mid-April to mid-June. Every weekend counts, and a run of bad weather can ruin not only a season, but an entire year.
For Wood, Spring Black Friday marks the beginning of gardening season.
“Seeds and plugs arrive the first week in December. We have grown the plants and shipped them to the stores and finally, the customer is going to see color in front of the Garden Center. In the north, this is the pre-season for gardening, and it’s time for customers to start thinking of spring.”
The biggest gardening weekend is Mother’s Day. In the north, “Everybody buys plants for Mother’s Day,” Renee says. “It’s all about getting a really great gift for a really great price.”
That’s when she fills her stores with colorful hanging baskets, Drop-n-Bloom containers, pre-planted window box inserts and trays upon trays of eye-popping, candy-colored annuals. “As a grower, that’s what we get excited about.”