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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Virtual Shopping

This is the week that always starts Mimi and me thinking about all the projects ahead of us. I usually wake up early on one of the mornings this week with a huge desire to undress the Christmas tree and shove it out the front door and into the back of my truck. Once the decorations from the tree and around the house are put away, the blank slate gives us no choice but to let our minds think beyond Christmas day. It’s a little sad to see it all gone and over with at first, but it brings in a lot of excitement at the same time. January is the month that we basically plan out the next year… at home and at the garden center. January is usually the month that Mimi and I, along with Mark Patrick, go to market to set the stage for the new year with the products we buy. Our store is re-created every year by the latest trends that we find at market. Mark and Mimi somehow always know what trends will be there before we go, and they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want the Sunroom to feel like. The fun part is that there are always surprises that we never dreamed of to add to the mix. I love to watch those two in action at market. I can walk into the same showroom that they are buying up a storm in and not see much that impresses me. They have the ability to see things with different eyes. They pair some things from one show room with a few things from other showrooms and magically create a trend that feeds on itself, until the four or five days of buying turns into the defining look of the whole store for each year. We have been going to market like this for 25 years, and it still mesmerizes me to watch them in action. It’s truly mesmerizing and fun!

If you haven’t experienced market, it’s hard to envision what it looks like. In the middle of downtown Atlanta, there are three giant buildings, each around 20 stories tall, that literally have everything you’ve ever seen for sale. Most of the time I hang with them to see what their magic wands are putting together for the next year’s look. I even try to give my input from time to time. Sometimes I get lucky and find something they didn’t see or something I really want to try to sell. Sometimes, when I interrupt them to show them what I found, I’m so far off base that they look at what’s in my hand and then at me like a stranger with three heads, and then in a kind way go back to the track they were on, without saying a word. I can just see by the looks on their faces that it’s time for me to go wander around somewhere else. In that case, I’ll hand over the credit sheets and credit cards and move on. I like to go to some of the floors we never go to just to see how widespread this market goes. This gives me a chance to see where trends are generally heading. There are entire floors with all things to do with beach life. Some host all things to do with cabin life, which includes the furniture for rustic cabin living, like big, dark heavy cabin furniture. Here you will find lots of moose dressed in plaid, and I can’t get out of that area fast enough! There are packaged food floors, baby clothes floors, adult clothes floors, floors of umbrellas, floors of hipster stuff with gadgets and widgets so foreign I can’t even figure out what they do, but it’s fun looking. It’s fun walking into a hipster showroom to watch the hipsters’ faces silently, but loudly, say, “Who’s going to deal with this old guy?“ I assure them that I won’t be needing any help, and they always seemed relieved. In the hipster showrooms there are some incredible inventions, mostly of recycled materials.

I’ve seen entire lines of clothing and home ware products made of nothing but recycled plastics taken from the sea, and it’s marketed that way. I’ve seen showrooms of nothing but cannabis related things for those states that have gone legal. They will have books about it, clothes made from it, greeting cards, partaking devices made of beautiful blown glass, and Christmas ornaments for anyone wanting to go with the marijuana theme one year! There are showrooms with nothing but coffee table books on any subject you can imagine, such as cookbooks, travel books, music, photography, dogs and, of course, gardening. I usually get hung up in the book rooms for a while. I know I will eventually wind up here again with Mimi and Mark, because they use garden books to put a colorful sparkle into our own showroom. I now know that books are often used as inspirational decor in a room done right. They buy the books for the content, but the colors on the binders and covers are a major part of that decision. There are floors where nothing but artwork is sold at prices that allow us to resell them at our place. The artwork goes all over the place from botanicals, birds, automotive, abstract, antique maps of famous cities and on and on. I love watching Mimi and Mark in action when it comes to buying the artwork for our store. It usually happens after the other products have been bought, because it has the ability to pull the entire store together. I’ve never seen them miss on their art buying. Because I don’t see everything they’ve put together by that point I am completely lost as to what art pieces will work. I still like to add my two cents by pulling them over towards a print that I think would look cool. Sometimes they humor me, and sometimes I get the stink eye.

There are also two floors of nothing but garden center related things. This is where everything you’ve ever seen in a garden center gift shop comes from, such as hammocks, patio furniture, gloves, trowels, gazing balls, solar lit things for the yard, fire pits, concrete and pottery and so on. These floors I am comfortable on. I’ve been coming here even back when my parents were buying for the stores. I recognize a lot of faces on these floors from fellow garden center friends to the people who have worked in the show rooms for this long. I know what to buy in this area and usually make some headway to save them some time. There are floors that have only temporary showrooms, or booths, really, which are people that are showing their new inventions and crafts. I assume the most of these hope that if they have a successful show, they will one day to get picked up by the big permanent showrooms. This is where I love to spend hours. We do these floors together because you never know what you’ll find. There are new ideas in high design furniture, birding, jewelry, hats… you name it. Someone every booth is hopeful that they will write orders, and then, hopefully, be able to fill these orders when the time comes. I enjoy this area because usually the person sitting in these booths are the artist or creator of the things being sold. I love meeting these people as they are full of excitement and hope that their idea will work. Their stories are always interesting. You have to be pretty brave to have reached that stage of the marketing game, and I like brave people.

Sometime during the day I’ll find a place to sit down for a minute and try to line up a fun night out, which is not hard to do in Atlanta. The restaurant scene there is just incredible. Sometimes we are in the mood for a planned evening out, and sometimes we just wing it. We’ve never been disappointed. As tempting as it is, we try not to let it take us too late into the night because we start our shopping early the next morning and keep writing orders until they start serving margaritas and shutting the show rooms down. Going to market with Mimi is like a hike in the mountains. I have trouble keeping up, but I never let her know. I just go her pace and sleep really well at whatever cool Airbnb we have chosen for that trip. We love the Airbnb route so much better than a hotel, because it gives us a chance to explore parts of Atlanta that we would otherwise never see. Atlanta is really a beautiful city, especially in some of the older residential areas. They love their gardening in some of the older neighborhoods. Our drive home gives us six hours to virtually place all the mix coming in before the customer rush comes our way in March. That leaves us two months to get the products in, pay for it, put everything together, price it and display it, in the order that we so carefully planned out. We use this time to discuss any hiring and personnel issues, plant material placement, landscape company equipment and issues… lot of big picture things that we rarely get two six hour periods to think tank. This is my favorite part of the entire trip. Some of the biggest decisions about our business have been made during those twelve precious, uninterrupted hours. We simply can’t find uninterrupted time to focus on big issues during go time. This year, for the first time in my business life, none of this is going to happen. People come to market from all over the world, both vendors and buyers. This would be the worst place to get trapped for one week during the pandemic. We will instead, go to market virtually, as most vendors are offering virtual shopping for everyone’s safety. I have complete confidence that Mimi and Mark will be able to put something amazing together in spite of it all. A new year and a new look is coming our way. It’s always exciting for the teams at Mississippi’s garden centers to put their new plan into action. Most importantly, we are most excited to experience your reactions to our latest finds. Around mid-March, I hope you’ll visit all of our local garden centers to see what inspires you for this new year. We all have talented buyers, but we also have our different angles, and that produces unique shopping experiences for you, our customers. It’s fun to get out and see where the trends are going…one of them will be for you!

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