Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, located in Richmond, Virginia, offers visitors of all ages an enticing experience all year long. This historic property features 50 acres of awe-inspiring gardens, shopping and dining. Themed gardens, a conservatory and more invite individuals to explore and immerse themselves in all things nature.
Its mission is connecting people through plants to improve communities. The mission also stresses the Garden is “a primary resource for learning the botanical world — its beauty, heritage and significance to the web of life.” Enriching lives is the goal of this destination.
The Garden Shop offers a 5,000 square-foot retail space, which is housed inside the visitor’s center and is open all but two days of the year. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers a refuge from the hectic daily lives for many and The Garden Shop does as well. Tricia Wherry, gift shop manager, has been with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden for almost two years. “I love the working environment of a botanical garden where I can step outside at any time and be inspired by what I see, smell and hear,” she said.
Approximately 400,000 visitors come to the Garden annually. Wherry said that at least half of the visitors stop in The Garden Shop. “Our shop is unique in the way that it is very large for a botanical garden gift shop; it is more of a full-service garden gift store with everything from handcrafted vases, housewares, beautiful children’s games and puzzles to all the garden reference books and tools that you will need for a successful garden,” she said. Since there is no admission fee necessary to peruse and purchase items at The Garden Shop, it appeals to locals as well as Members of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
There are four full-time and two part-time employees, along with 68 volunteers, who play a very important role at the Garden Shop. Wherry noted that the shop has two busy seasons each year. One from April through May and the other between November and December.
Top-sellers include a real butterfly wing earring, sourced from a regional vendor, travel Snoozies sourced from a gift market, and Sally Ander botanical soaps, also sourced from a gift market. Additionally, customized products do very well according to Wherry. The shop offers a logo area that displays t-shirts, postcards, magnets, mugs, kets, and more all with the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden logo. This section is popular with the tourists and offers consistent sales revenue for the store.
Other items include a Richmond map tea towel from catstudio and a calendar featuring images of the gardens throughout the year. The magnets and postcards are top-sellers in the custom merchandise offerings. Top selling categories in this store include textiles, personal care and jewelry. Other popular items include puzzles, pottery, and of course, its custom logo offerings.
“We like to keep our displays fresh and eye catching while offering something that extends the experience of the Garden for our visitors,” she said. “We try to stay true to our Garden’s mission by supporting what is happening around us. For instance, when our rose garden is in full bloom we have a rose display in the shop offering mugs, books, soaps and even rose lip gloss!” Merchandise displays are updated monthly and also when inventory levels dictate a change, Wherry shared.
What Wherry and her staff have done well is to incorporate the experience of the visit within the confines of the Shop and its curated product mix. “We see our store as an extension of the visitor experience. We work hard to know what is going on out in the garden and bring relatable merchandise into the shop,” she said. “This year we are hosting a Wind Waves and Light exhibit by George Sherwood in our Garden and we will support this exhibit by offering kinetic energy items including outdoor spinners and stakes inspired by movement in the Garden.”
Wherry considers return on investment (ROI) and price points when selecting product. “I take shipping and tariffs into consideration as they are huge boundaries and weigh into the importance of deciding whether to carry a product or not. Since the tariffs have been in place, we have used more local sources. And that has worked out well even though the price points are a little higher,” she emphasized. “Because those products are local and we use signage to indicate that to our customers, it works and it really is all about marketing products appropriately.”
Just like any other retail store, she has to monitor inventory and any overstock items. “Everybody has issues such as this. We look at our sales reports and make pricing adjustments as necessary, including mark downs,” she shared. “We also utilize higher store traffic times to sell those marked down items. The bi-annual PlantFest that the shop coordinates is when we showcase any blowout sales, as there are a significant number of visitors. Since the pricing benefits The Garden, we try to establish a good profit margin.”
Some of the merchandise is directed toward impulse buys — usually the lower price points — and some for local members who want specialty products and will pay the higher priced items. She also considers a story behind a product. “In marketing, stories sell, so we look for products with a story and that always relate back to The Garden’s mission. If it doesn’t relate to the mission, we pass,” Wherry said. There are three key points Wherry shared about product selection: It must be relevant, timely and offer a good price point.
When working with vendors, she suggested buyers should negotiate free shipping and consider buying for an entire year for certain products. “This helps offset tariff costs and allows you to always have your best-sellers on hand to restock inventory,” she noted. Additionally, when working with bigger companies she advised using drop shipment options for larger items.
Wherry attends AmericasMart for product purchases and inspiration, but is also focused on local vendors. She shared how important it is to establish the right local connections — network and meet with local vendors. “Always have your business card on you, even on personal time,” she said. “You never know when you will need it. I’m always looking for new vendors and product, no matter what I’m doing.”
The Garden Shop Special events also entice shoppers to visit the store. “We have trunk shows and makers events with local artists and supplies. We had our first annual Holiday Makersfest this year and it was a huge success! Our second is planned for Mother’s Day 2020,” she said. These events transition into successful retail sales for the store.
Wherry noted that The Garden Shop began offering product on its website in October, so if there is an item a visitor didn’t get in-store, they can order when they return home. “It’s really exciting to be able to offer this now to customers,” said Wherry.
All proceeds from its store go directly to support the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s educational mission.
**Please contact Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens for updated information on these events. With COVID-19 closures, these events may have been postponed or canceled since the writing of this article.
2020 Events at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
Here is a sampling of events you will find this year. For more information, or to view the entire lineup, visit www.lewisginter.org
Wind, Waves and Light: Art in Motion by George Sherwood | April 24–October 18
Unconventional exhibit features large-scale, stainless steel sculptures that move and change with the wind. Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
M&T Bank Butterflies LIVE! | April 17–October 12
Experience the wonderful world of butterflies! Butterflies LIVE! is an indoor exhibit in the Conservatory and is geared for all ages. Get up close and personal as hundreds of tropical butterflies feed, flutter and take flight all around you. Explore their origins, preferred habitats and life-cycles.
Spring PlantFest | May 1 & 2
This is a bi-annual plant sale Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden hosts.