7 Things I Learned Working at a Garden Center This Summer


This past spring and early summer I spent about 30 hours a week working as a shift supervisor/manager for a locally owned popup greenhouse retail store in my state. Now, I cannot legally mention the business’ name as I have no permanent professional affiliation with said company. Further, I must deeply express that the observations and opinions that I share within this blog post are mine. They are not affiliated with the unnamed business/brand mentioned above.

Now that the legal nonsense is out of the way, I will describe my observations and what I expected when going into the job.

Initially, I took this job after an extended period of unexpected unemployment post-college. I recall anxiously scanning through jobs in my area, looking for anything that could remotely be related to an interest or field I could potentially derive joy from. I then applied for the job as I believed it would be an easy job of pruning and tending to plants with the occasional pains of retail work.

This was indeed a large portion of the job, but I did observe interesting things when I actually began paying attention to the organization and what I was seeing when dealing with customers and plants. Despite the overall hardships of the job in regards to weather, customers, labor shortages, and truck deliveries, the job was very relaxed and educational for someone who has never worked retail or with in the business of selling plants.

No, I am not going to be giving out trade secrets or anything that may seem worthwhile from a business standpoint, but I am aiming to use this blog to educate the consumers within the gardening community on why they must be more selective with their spending habits. I say this because nowadays, just because a company is “small” or “locally based” it doesn’t mean that they stand for the ethical practices that are now considered common among most young people and mainstream markets. I plan to help list the 7 things that I observed while working at a greenhouse that taught me a lot about the gardening industry and consumer.

1. Greenhouse Companies Operate on a Wholesale Business Plan

While starting my job as a shift manager, it was my job to deal with the money and deposits like many managers do in a retail setting. I was also tasked with reporting sales, calling for more/returning merchandise, doing inventory counts, and dealing with any liability or customer complaints then referring them to people within the company higher up the chain.

It was from there that I learned that the products we were selling were produced on a large scale with conventional methods. Everything was done conventionally and the extra products that we were selling alongside the plants were all made cheaply in other countries then shipped over to be sold at a higher price.

After the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic it seems that many companies seemed to see the rise in prices due to “labor shortages” and inflation as a means to drastically raise the cost of other goods as to potentially see greater profits. To me it was wrong and unethical to sell people within my community goods that were produced in countries where the environmental standards and worker standards aren’t up to code to USA made goods, though the price seems to not reflect that.

I then learned that most gardening companies operate on a similar scale and business plan. They are trying to be the Wal-Mart of plants. As the idea is that with enough quantity people will surely not notice the lapse in quality I guess. Everyone has their ideal from a business perspective. I am sure one is more ideal if trying to create a national chain like many companies are.

2. Companies Use Cheap Labor to Make High Profits

As I mentioned previously, companies that try to build their business on a plan similar to that of the big wholesale brands such as Wal-Mart are a little sketchy on the ethical side. This is because in wholesaling, the whole idea is based off importing a large portion of merchandise from China or other third world countries where the cost of labor and materials are cheap due to the low labor costs/worker regulation laws and lack of environmental regulations.

A lot of the products that were being sold at my store such as pottery were actually from third world countries and poor quality with internal fractures, inconsistencies in the ceramic coatings, etc. These products most likely cost less than ten dollars to make, but magically as they were brought over to the United States the price jumped 4-6x the initial value. I recall hearing numerous complaints about the price of pottery for the quality that was being given.

3. Prioritize Quantity Over Quality

Building off of the prior paragraph, it seems that consumers though obviously annoyed with the lack of quality, would still prefer to be able to shop out of convenience rather than shop at different stores for a better quality or deal. I remember a lot of people getting their summer garden plants and supplies at the same shop after work as to save a trip, despite the plants not looking as good or paying double for potting soil and cheap garden gloves.

I can still hear the complaints in my mind when I reflect at the checkout table, with people trying to haggle deals with me for the plants that they hand selected from our numerous selection. I always wondered, “why are you trying to buy this and haggle me down at the counter when you could’ve just bought this online or at one of the many places that sells plants in town?” but alas, they never listened to my referrals and recommendations.

4. The Creation of Unrealistic Expectations For Consumers

There is one issue that I noticed that was caused by the wide selection and variety that my store carried and that was that it gave the average shopper an unrealistic expectation in regards to the quality of plant they were getting and the “replacement” factor of our customer support. 

To set the record straight there was a lot of people who had no clue what they were doing with plants. They didn’t know what full sun was or partial shade or what plants would die on their south facing porch and what plants would rot underneath their oak trees in their backyards. It felt like no one read the tags or looked at where plants were located.

I remember an individual coming back with anger because this one perennial plant that they planted in full shade didn’t survive (even though the plant is meant to be full sun) and they felt it was obviously our fault as the quality of our plants “wasn’t what it used to be”. I would argue that the quality hasn’t changed, it was always inconsistent.

I recall always telling people who complained to grow their own plants from cuttings or seeds so that they could control the quality that they wanted, but almost all of them weren’t interested in that advice.

5. Plants Lack Functionality

It shocked me how much people would spend on plants that lacked any real purpose besides to sit there and look pretty. Some of the plants did have ecological benefits and medicinal function, but many people seemed to be unamused when I would mention these benefits to them. It was common place for people to come into the shop and spend upwards of $200 in a single trip and buy only annual flowers such as petunias and geraniums. Many of the customers didn’t know that you can save seeds from the flowers at the end of the season and plant them directly in the ground for the next season.

Overall, I was extremely shocked at what people would spend at a plant shop, especially with the plants being the price they are nowadays. Personally, I couldn’t justify the cost as many of the flowers will be killed due to the poor health of the plants and the lack of plant care/knowledge that the average flower gardener has/lacks.

6. Underestimated Importance of Marketing/Advertising

I have also learned that a lot of locally owned greenhouses have poor marketing and advertising on a chain scale. It seems that some companies rely on reputation and word of mouth, as well as the chance of people finding interest from a roadside and stopping. I find this kind of a disservice to the customer as it makes it more difficult to find establishments and remove confusion from the consumer(s) who are unfamiliar with the location and company.

7. Local Business Doesn’t Mean Environmentally/Ethically Conscious

Lastly, one thing I have briefly mentioned, but really need to reiterate is that just because you have a local business and they sell the plants you want to buy, doesn’t mean you should support them. I understand that they are there to make money, but in an era where everyone is feeling the effects of climate change, I think that businesses need to put their money where their mouth is if they plan to work in any field related to the environment.

I say this because though it may not impact them directly now, I assure you within the coming years there will be severe droughts, restriction on water rights/allocations to non-food related plants and they will literally “feel the heat”.

As the consumer, we have to be careful where we spend our money too. If you care about environmental issues such as the shrinking insect populations, impacts of herbicide on an ecology scale and the quality/control of the plants you put in your home you should really research the places you shop from. I also encourage you to think about becoming more self-reliant in the areas that you can manage it.

Support American made products when you can as that ensures that they had to abide by state and federal environmental regulations as well as ensure a degree of worker welfare. These are things that one cannot ensure if they choose to buy a product that was shipped over from another country.


After working in retail for a local greenhouse/nursery, I find that there are a few issues to lookout for when shopping for your annual garden/landscaping plants this fall and next spring. Don’t get me wrong; though I was being highly critical of my former employer, I am still very grateful for the experience. I learned a lot about running a plant shop, made great friends, and realized that I would trade a lot to just be able to work outside rather than be stuck in an office.

Beyond that, I am not loyal to any brand or corporation besides my own. I care about the environment and the overall wellbeing of humans across the globe in respect to their work safety/quality. I hope this article gave you a little more food for thought and educated you about the plant industry if you are on the outside looking in

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