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History of Garden Centers of America 1956-2002 

By Ernest Wertheim, a Principal of Wertheim, Van Der Ploeg, & Klemeyer, the father of modern garden center design.

The national nursery industry used to be very oriented to growers, which was not unusual since most of the members in the late 40's and 50's were growers or a combination grower/retailer. The words "garden center", as applied to a nursery operation, were coined in the mid 50's and only came into their own in July 1972 when the Garden Centers of America formally became a part of the American Association of Nurserymen.

Jack Schneider, owner of Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, California, was always very active in the local chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen and later served as President of the CAN. After the completion of his new garden center in 1956 he became well known in the national industry because of the innovative design of his garden center. Orchard Nursery was one of the first retail nurseries to sell garden furniture and start Christmas merchandising. The main purpose of the diversification in the late 50's was to fill the months when the plant business was very slow or nonexistent. It is important to remember that in the 50's there were not many vendors who sold items referred to as hard goods.

Mr. Channing Jones of Ortho Chemical (formerly Standard Oil) sold agricultural chemicals; being more or less a neighbor to Orchard Nursery, and a customer, he realized the potential for having the Ortho products in a garden center. I believe credit goes to Mr. Channing for creating nationwide sales of the Ortho products. In addition, he was responsible for writing and distributing a booklet that described garden center designs based on new garden center projects that were done in the 50's. As time went on other vendors entered the garden center market helping to make the garden center more diversified and less seasonal.

GCA Is Born In LA

When Jack Schneider and I attended the 1956 AAN Convention in Los Angeles, we had the opportunity to meet with AAN President John Siebenthaler, from Siebenthaler's in Dayton, Ohio. We presented our concerns about proper representation of retailers as well as better garden center design. As a result of this meeting, I was invited to give a garden center design lecture at the 1958 AAN Convention in Dallas. This was the first time that the members of the AAN were exposed to the importance of garden center design, relating to the efficient layout, labor-saving devices, and customer comfort and satisfaction. In 1957 the AAN Board of Governors rejected the proposal of the National Landscape Nurserymen's Association to include one elected member from each of the four segments of the industry {Wholesalers, garden center owners and operators, landscape nurserymen, and mail-order). During that meeting the Governors did recommend that a special joint committee of garden center owners and landscape nurserymen be appointed to study the relationships that should be most advantageous between the various special interest associations and the national associations, to work on a plan of closer working relationship between them and to consider the possibility of creating an organization of garden center owners and operators. John Siebenthaler, who at the time was very involved with the new Siebenthaler Garden Center, was appointed chairman of the AAN Garden Center Committee.

In February of 1958 John invited a group of garden center operators to his home in Dayton for a full-day conference. To the best of my knowledge the participants were: John Siebenthaler; Larry Bachman, from Bachman's in Minneapolis, MN; Frank Cornelius, from Cornelius Nurseries in Houston, TX; Merton Natorp, from Natorp Co., in Cincinnati, OH; Louis Hlllenmeyer, from Hillenmeyer Nurseries, Inc. in Lexington, KY; and Jack Schneider, from Orchard Nursery, in Lafayette, CA. During that meeting the seeds for Garden Centers of America were sown. The committee wrote a report to be presented to the Board of Directors at the AAN Convention in Dallas in July of 1958 that included the following items:

The AAN should foster reasonable membership requirements for garden centers in state and regional associations, as well as the national, so that they could become active members, which was not universally possible at the time. The AAN should sponsor a semi-annual educational meeting for those retailing through garden centers.

The garden center owners' ultimate desire was to have a full-time administrative assistant in AAN's Washington office dedicated to garden center educational and promotional programs.

A steering committee of the garden center owner members should be appointed?by region to act from that time forward a s leadership group in promoting garden?centers' interests.

This joint committee further reported that the Board of Directors in July 1958 that the garden center owners and operators had decided not to formally organize, but to continue with the landscape group as a joint committee of retailers since there was so much overlapping of interest between the two groups. With this report, Siebenthaler asked to be relieved of the chairmanship. Acting immediately on the fourth recommendation, the Board of Directors appointed the first Garden Center committee with Power Taylor, Rosedale Nurseries, East View, NY, as chairman. Other members were Robert Hillenmeyer, Hillenmeyer Nurseries, Lexington, JY, Region It; Merton Natorp, Wm Natorp Co., Cincinnati, OH, Region III; Lawrence Bachman, Bachman's, Inc., Minneapolis, Ml, Region IV; Frank Cornelius, Cornelius Nurseries, Houston, TX, Region V; and David Stump, Armstrong Nurseries, Ontario, CA Region VI.

Larry Bachman, Jack Schneider, and Its Uenaka, Cupertino Nursery, Cupertino, CA were the next chairmen. For over ten years Jack Schneider coordinated retail programs from his garden center office in Lafayette. The committee met at the AAN Convention, at the Refresher Course in Columbus, OH, and at times at the Mid Am Show, the retail program was presented at these AAN functions, all arranged by the committee. In response to the efforts of the Garden Center committee, more and more garden center operators attended the AAN meetings, and started networking when they realized they needed to become a strong organization under the AAN. After functioning for about 16 years as the Garden Center Committee, in July 1972 the committee became the official organization known as Garden Centers of America.

The first officers and directors of GCA were: President, Daniel S. Capper, Capper's Nursery, McLean, Virginia Vice President, Jack Schneider, Orchard Nursery, Lafayette, California Secretary/Treasurer, Gary Gern, Gern Nursery, Kansas City, Missouri Directors: Lawrence Bachman, Bachman's Inc., Minneapolis, MN Curtis Smith, Smith Garden Town, Wichita Falls, Texas John Morton, Morton Nursery Sales, Rocky River, Ohio.

More information about the history of the Garden Center Committee and the start of GCA can be found in Dr. Richard P. White's book, "A Century of Service."

Building In The 70's

Beginning in 1972 the ANLA provided administrative services, and provided a Director for the GCA. A good many people served as Director, almost everyone knows Clint Albin, who faithfully held the position for many years, and Nancy Jacks Montgomery, who served the industry in many capacities, followed him. We are grateful to these people and the leadership roles they performed.

One of the first major accomplishments of Garden Centers of America, with the participation of the National Landscape Association, was to establish the Management Clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. As all of us know this yearly event has grown, with up to 1200 person now participating. In the first years the GCA Board of Directors did all the programming for the retails section and National Landscape Association (NLA) took care of the landscape programs. As time went on other groups participated, which was important because it allowed retailers to meet with growers and landscape people, and the industry began to be more unified as a group. GCA then arranged a joint Board meeting at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, California, with the Wholesale Nursery Growers of America (WNGA) with the purpose of having the growers and retailers get to know each other to establish a better understanding about the others' business. This was highly successful, because both organizations need to learn about each other to survive in today's market. This interest in what others are doing has been demonstrated during the wholesale tours at the annual convention, when many retailers attend the wholesale tour. GCA also saw the need for improvements to the retail facilities and arranged for lecture on Garden Center Design. During Bob Lederer's terms as Executive Director of the then AAN, GCA arranged to have a two-day Garden Design Seminar prior to the Louisville Management Clinic and the Annual Convention. These seminars were given by my partner, Jack Klemeyer, and myself, and were so successful that they were also co-sponsored by the state nurserymen associations in various regions of the country. This GCA idea of having seminars prior to the start of main events became a standard for ANLA meetings, and has included an Ian Baldwin University Class. The GCA Board also spent a lot of time on how to benefit from computers and the subject of bar coding. They brought in experts to the Management Clinic to show their ware at a small trade show type exhibit and explain the various uses. We all know how important computer technology has become in the daily operation of today's garden center operation.

The GCA Board of Directors, with the help of GCA members, developed a number of booklets on subjects such as Company Policy, Establishing and Operating a Garden Center, Operating Cost Studies, Retail Nursery Kit, Interviewing and Hiring Employees, Guide for New Employees, Orientation Manuals, Garden Center Job Descriptions, and a number of other subjects. The reader must realize that in the seventies and early eighties much of this information was not available for garden center operators. Our office has designed garden centers for 50 years; during that time the garden center industry has developed tremendously, and I think that GCA can take major credit for helping the industry grow. Two great achievements of GCA were the development of good programs for the various meetings, including speakers from various aspects of the retail industry and from other countries, and the Garden Center Tours.

For many years former GCA President, John Horton, was very active in creating wonderful Garden Center Tours. The tours are not only educational, but they also bring people together on buses during the visits to garden centers, and during meals, and many fine friendships have been established. A number of garden center operators have used these tours as a guide to remodel their own places with great success. People have learned to share, which seems to be one of the great wonders of this industry.

For many years former GCA President, Jack Schneider offered his vacation house in Timber Cover along the Northern California coast for a three-day Fall meeting of the Board of Directors. Located on a cliff right about the Pacific Ocean, the house provided a peaceful setting with few distractions other than the Redwood forest nearby. Everyone stayed at the house, and the opportunity to work together in the relaxed atmosphere was very beneficial to the organization; a lot of good work was accomplished there, as well as many good friendships established.

At the beginning of the Fall meeting the Board met at the San Francisco airport and spent time visiting local garden centers, and first class retail places such as Gump's, F.A.O. Schwartz, Macy's, and others. One year the tour included a visit to downtown roof gardens and another included a seminar at Pacific Gas and Electric Research Center on lighting. During those visits ideas were born that were later used for the Garden Center Tours or other educational sessions.

The six-member Board met three times a year, once at the Management Clinic, once at the ANLA annual convention, and once in Timber Cove. During the last years the Timber Cove meetings were discontinued.

International Relations

In the early seventies, during Jack Schneider's year as President of GCA, he was asked to represent GCA at the International Garden Center Congress in England. He gave a lecture on US Garden Centers, and was interviewed on BBC TV by Peter Seabrook, a well-known British Horticulturist. That was the beginning of the GCA relationship with other nations. In 1981, Jack Schneider, John Horton, and I were responsible for hosting the first International Garden Center Congress in the USA in San Francisco and San Diego. Many GCA members attended, and since then our American garden center operators have consistently attended this very worthwhile meeting that rotates to a different country each year. The 1990 and 2001 IGC Congresses in New York and Washington D.C. were primarily organized by GCA members, Fred Hicks, Russ Ireland, Don Riddle, and Dennis Burd. This year the IGC Congress will be held in New Zealand.

My compliments go out to all the persons that devoted their time and energy for GCA since its formation in 1972. If it were not for them our garden centers would not be where they are today. Although the accomplishments of the industry over the past 30 years have been amazing, we must all realize that the learning and sharing must continue in order to compete and grow in a changing industry.

The Split Into Independence

In 2002 GCA and ANLA parted ways. I wish the best to both organizations, because they both serve an industry that has many wonderful people. I am proud to have been a part of this industry for the past 65 years.

I have been privileged to work with the Board of Directors for many years and I have met some of the finest members of our garden center industry. Many wonderful friendships have been established over the years and we should all be grateful to all who have given so much of their time and knowledge to the garden center industry. - Ernest Wertheim.

History of Garden Centers of America
2002-Future
 

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