museums&MORE Winter 2009
Shop in the Garden

Walking into The Shop in the Garden at the New York

Botanical Garden, I was awestruck at not only the size of the store itself and the sheer magnitude of products available, but also the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff.

Housed in a 7,500-square-foot pavilion constructed of natural materials, it captures the sights, sounds, fragrances and textures of The New York Botanical Garden. The exterior combines New York state bluestone walls, airy stretches of open glass and a sweeping gull-winged” roof, punctuated by skylights with a graceful design to give the space an open, expansive atmosphere. Inside, the colors and textures of the Garden are echoed by such rich textures as antique wood, natural-fiber rugs and other handmade materials.

“Shop in the Garden is a unique garden-lifestyle store,” said Ellen Bruzelius, director of special projects for garden retail and business development. “It includes one of the nation’s finest horticultural bookstores and a specialty plant shop. It also offers a wide assortment of garden ornaments and tools, garden-inspired items for the home, botanically themed jewelry and personal care products, nature-inspired toys, games and more.”

Lifestyle Purchasing

Founded in 1891, the New York Botanical Garden itself is one of the world’s greatest collections of plants, a leading educational center for gardening and horticulture and an international center of plant science. Featuring 50 gardens and plant collections across 250 acres in New York City’s Bronx borough, the Garden is a National Historic Landmark and is also home to the nation’s largest Victorian-style glasshouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

“We have 750,000 visitors per year to the Garden, with the holiday season, the annual Orchid Show in winter and spring being our busiest times,” Bruzelius said. “Purchases at Shop in the Garden support the Garden’s pursuit of excellence in horticulture, science and education.”

The Shop offers something for everyone, whether it’s home décor items or accessories such as bags, hats, stationery or toys and games for kids that can inspire a life-long love of nature. Bruzelius said they offer a much wider range of products than a typical “souvenir store,” and expand on the garden theme to include many unusual items that can’t be found elsewhere in New York, or even in the U.S.

“We attend trade shows both domestically and in Europe, and a good proportion of our products are custom, either developed together with vendors and licensees or designed in-house,” she said. “Many are unique because they are inspired by botanical illustrations from works in the Rare Book Collections of our LuEsther T. Mertz Library, one of the most important horticulture and botany libraries in the world.”

Bruzelius said they focus on a “lifestyle” approach to purchasing, offering a variety of products across a broad range of categories. This approach reflects an understanding that although they offer garden products geared to serious gardeners, they also recognize that there are people who are not themselves avid gardeners but who love everything having to do with gardens and nature.

The Shop has developed a range of New York Botanical Garden products using historic, botanical imagery from the Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Rare Book Collections, such as placemats and coasters, stationery items, silk scarves and a whole range of tabletop items from silver dinnerware to glasses, as well as cachepots and vases.

“We also offer a variety of items imported from Europe that are not widely found in this country — if at all,” she said. “These range from planters from Italy and Portugal, to vases from Germany and the Netherlands, to jewelry and holiday ornaments.”

Among T-shirts, postcards and the like, best-selling products are items that relate to exhibitions, such as The Orchid Show. During The Orchid Show Bruzelius said they sell over 5,000 orchids in a six-week period. They also realized there could be demand for relatively inexpensive, highly illustrated, books about the equally popular “Holiday Train” shows, so they developed two books in three years. At least a year and a half lead time was necessary to photograph, write and edit text, print in the Far East and bring the titles
in by boat.

“Our first Holiday Train Show book, ‘All Aboard!’ sold so well we not only reprinted, but published a new one three years later,” Bruzelius said. “We respond to what is selling and endeavor to provide our customers more through unique products they can’t easily find elsewhere.”

Reaching Beyond

Looking at the unique product selection and hearing the story about why certain products were purchased, it was clear to me that the Shop was truly a customer-oriented environment focused on personalized,
attentive customer service. They have seven full-time employees, including managers, and five part-time.

Regular staff meetings and morning announcements educate staff about new procedures and new merchandise and handouts are also used to inform them about upcoming events
and exhibitions.

“We keep sales consistent through design — people respond to good design,” said Bruzelius. “We change our display frequently to keep the Shop fresh and interesting to visitors, many of whom are members and regular visitors. In addition, we do send out e-mails and mailing pieces.”

As is common with most destination retail stores, the biggest challenge the Shop faces is being completely dependent on the institution’s visitation, without being able to pull in passing foot traffic like other retail stores. However, they are trying to build a nation-wide customer base through a newly designed and expanded Web site,

“Since opening our beautiful new home in 2004, it has became obvious that Shop in the Garden could and should have more ‘reach’ beyond its physical location in the Bronx and that an e-commerce presence that really reflected the shopping experience onsite would help that to happen,” Bruzelius said.

And indeed this has proven to be true, as their customers online are a cross-section of the nation, from NYC to Washington state. The e-commerce Web site also helps the institution build a national membership, as customers are able to purchase a membership online and receive their shopping discount immediately.

While I admit that visiting the Shop in person is an experience that can’t truly be duplicated through a Web site, it is exciting to know that at any moment I can transport myself back to the Shop in the Garden. With just a click of the mouse, I can have unique gift selections at my fingertips — or my aspiring green thumb. M&M”

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