Christianne Laing says she was pretty confident in 2014, when she morphed a longtime landscaping career into a brick-and-mortar gardening store in downtown Cambridge, that she could pull it off.
She’d done a lot of research, working “with various different people who were trying to help me.”
There were naysayers, of course, who said she’d never make more than a nominal profit, at best.
Today, as Laing’s Avid Gardener at 135 W. Main St. marks five years in business, she points to hard numbers showing she has far exceeded profit expectations.
“I knew I could do it, it was just whether or not people would support it,” she said one recent day at the shop, that carries a wide variety of locally-made products, gardening supplies, potted plants and – during the warm season that’s now gearing up – garden plants on an outside back patio.
“I have a really good solid base of local customers who consistently support me,” Laing said.
The Avid Gardener was previously located at 214 W. Main Street (now Galleria 214). It had been there since 2014.
As she looked out the shop’s wide windows at Main Street, she said just because Avid Gardener has done well doesn’t mean support for it – and downtown overall – couldn’t be stronger. She especially extends a charge to people who live nearby, to shop local.
“I would like to see a larger portion of Cambridge people shop downtown,” she said.
On Avid Gardener’s client list today are the Village of Cambridge, for whom she creates flower baskets that hang along Main Street in the summer, and The Vineyards at Cambridge, which tapped it to help landscape the new upscale neighborhood for the 2018 Parade of Homes and called Laing again this year for hanging baskets.
“We do a lot of containers downtown, which I am really excited about,” Laing said.
For the past three years, Avid Gardener has partnered with Cambridge High School, working with horticulture students to grow flowers for the hanging baskets downtown.
“It’s a nice way to interact with the school and to (teach kids to) take some ownership in the community,” she said
In the shop, in addition to high-quality gardening tools, Liang sells fertilizers, seeds, gardening gloves and rain boots year-round. She carries Wisconsin-made soaps and lotions. And she offers services that include tool sharpening and repotting of houseplants.
She said she tries to focus, in the store, on offering unique gifts, and items that have a practical use “so it’s not just a pretty thing that sits on a shelf.”
And she tries to carry goods from women-owned and small companies.
But she said the best-selling item, though, is the live plants available on an outside patio in the spring and summer.
Some are grown at her family’s farm in rural Kroghville, north of Cambridge. Others she buys from area growers. Most, she said, are from a 50-mile radius of Cambridge.
“I think I’m known for the quality of the plants I offer,” Laing said, that she often travels hours away to personally pick out.
“I choose a lot of the plants myself, which mean taking the extra time to drive to a grower, rather than just saying ‘can you send me 10 hanging baskets,’” she said.
She said she believes her pricing is comparable to other regional gardening stores. And she said if she doesn’t have something a customer seeks in stock, she’s not above going online for them and finding a competing store that carries it.
During the holiday season, Laing crafts handmade wreaths. She spends about a month every November making wreaths and estimates that she hand-crafts 90 percent of what she sells. “Sometimes I have to buy them from another supplier, but I try to make them all,” she said.
She also offers classes that include wreath-making and vegetable gardening basics. On April 27, she offered a free information session on CBD products and on May 8, will hold a class, with a $30 fee, on how to fashion a succulent planter out of a wine bottle.
Laing said she believes the key to Avid Gardener’s success is customer service — personally interacting with customers. She calls that “huge.”
“Lots of times, you end up becoming friends with your regular customers,” she said.
She said it’s an extension of the Main Street merchants who, generations ago, intimately knew who shopped from them.
“The grocer over there,” she said, pointing out the window to a nearby storefront that was a long-time grocery store. “He knew your son was graduating from high school. He knew that because you saw him every day. No one at a big box store knows how many kids you have, or that your mom died, or any of that stuff.”
“Sometimes guys will come in and say ‘what does my wife like?’” and if they live locally, she’ll usually have an answer, Laing said.
Laing will celebrate Avid Gardener’s fifth anniversary with a Five on the Fifth! event on Sunday, May 5, from 12-4 p.m. at the shop. More information: (608) 423-3991