Twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t much on the south end of town.
As Sheree Wanner tells it, there were open fields pretty much all around. That’s why when she and her then-husband opened the doors to Camelot Gardens, many thought they wouldn’t last long.
“There was nothing out here. People had to drive way out of the way to come here,” Wanner, the owner of the garden center said last week, adding the business was technically located outside city limits at the time.
Now, Wanner has been in business for a quarter-century, her general manager Trina Donahue by her side for just about 23 of those years.
There have been ups and downs, but the business is still going despite having had to jump many hurdles over the years.
The first of those hurdles were the beginning years, when owning the business was tough. She and her husband, who ran the business together for the first 10 years, did research, seeking out advice from Denver-area garden centers and creating a business model by picking some their favorite things from other successful garden centers. That’s easier said than done.
“There are a lot of mistakes — a whole lot of mistakes,” Wanner said of getting started. “And I feel like people make a lot of mistakes in their life, but they learn from those. And so I’ve learned you just have to put a whole lot of time into it fixing those mistakes.”
Wanner said in those first years, Camelot Gardens was a “failing business” that needed a lot of changes and fixes.
Donahue said she lived here for two years before she even knew Camelot Gardens was located where it is, at 16612 S. Townsend.
Then something changed, Wanner said. Development started happening suddenly on the south side of town. It was what she had hoped for; but with that growth came some challenges of their own.
“At first it was a little scary,” she said, noting Walmart, with its own garden center moved in right next door. Then Home Depot set up shop across Townsend Avenue from Camelot Gardens in 2003.
“(Walmart) made it quite clear they were going to put use out of business,” she said. “The general manager at the time would come and visit us and let us know. Then all of a sudden we get a Home Depot, and if you go to any of the garden center industry shows, they will tell you that 85 percent of the garden center business goes to Home Depot and Walmart. And we’re literally sandwiched in between. But somehow we’ve still made it.”
The most recent serious hurdle, from which the business hasn’t still fully recovered, Wanner says, was the economic recession that began in 2008. She said because fewer people were buying homes in Montrose, the need for garden supplies dropped.
Despite all that, Wanner says the business is still going, and at 67, she said she wants to continue the operation into the foreseeable future.
Wanner and Donahue know how to stay competitive in the business, which is what helps it to keep going. They know they can’t match the prices Home Depot and Walmart offer, but they can set themselves apart in other ways.
“Instead of competing price-wise with the box stores, we decided we had to offer customer service and unique products, something different than what they were going to offer over there,” Donahue said.
They say they offer safer, more organic choices for the home gardener. They also stock tropical house plants year round and have a fully stocked gift shop, things they say you can’t find at the big retailers.
But at the end of the day, the thing that really sets the store apart after 25 years is the care that goes into helping customers. Being a small business, they can take the time and make the effort to go above and beyond for their customers, many of whom they’ve had for years.
“What we try to do is that we make certain that everything we sell helps our customers be successful,” Wanner said. “They’ll come in here and have a question, and hopefully they’ll leave knowing exactly how to take care of (their plants).”
Justin Tubbs is the managing editor of the Montrose Daily Press.