We’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a great customer experience.
Barton Springs Nursery has an excellent reputation as both a nursery with amazing plants and products, but also as a business with a great vibe that customers love to soak up. I sat down with Amy Hovis, co-owner of Barton Springs Nursery to discuss the key to their success. In January of 2021, Amy and William Glen took on ownership of the long-time nursery.
Barton Springs Nursery has always been a beautiful site tucked away in the midst of the city; however, Amy and William have transformed it from not only beautiful but an experience with a distinct vibe.
How do you approach customer experience as a whole?
- I wanted it to feel like a destination more than just a garden center. A place you might even dress up to come to with a date or with family on a Saturday, like a botanical garden.
How did you enhance your vibe from more traditional garden center, to something unique, that felt like a destination?
- I was deeply influenced by my experience living in Paris. That city had so many beautiful and intentional gardens for the public and they are very social spaces, like parks or community centers. As you worked in the garden or strolled through it, you’d be with people reading books and children playing and you might start conversations with them as you did so.
- And the beauty of the gardens elevated the experience. On that scale, Austin kind of lacks such spaces and
"that’s what I wanted to bring to Barton Springs. Something special that will make your whole day feel better because it’s a beautiful, welcoming, peaceful place."
What were some of the specific components you focused on to bring this elevated experience?
"I thought about it terms of multiple senses: scent, sight, and especially sounds."
- Gardens offer us all kinds of amazing smells. So just by keeping the grounds clean and healthy, the smells of the plants are special.
- Visually, a clean, organized business is key. It’s a reflection of how you feel about your space. I also saw the intentionality of this when I lived in Paris. It’s an old city and things get dirty fast. But every morning the first thing shop owners do is scrub floors, steps, and windows. Now I notice this in all of my favorite businesses no matter where I go, and I see how it allows customers to have a better experience.
"They aren’t distracted or trying to make sense of the clutter. They’re thinking about the product in a more relaxed and enjoyable way."
- From a retail perspective, I make things easier on the customer with organization. I like to cluster monochromatic color schemes, but allow variety in size, texture, or shape. It’s organized difference. This allows your eye to stay relaxed.
- Sound is also a huge component. Obviously, here in Austin, we have so many birds. So our grounds already have amazing natural sounds. But I introduce our own touch with music. In different areas, like the topical house and the green house, I have different music playing. Even the crunch of the gravel we use heightens the experience.
Every time I visit I find your staff extremely knowledgeable. How do you foster that?
- We are always looking for knowledgeable staff but we also educate. We have “plant of the day” in the morning for employees, done by our manager who is extremely knowledgeable. Staff loved it so much that we are now bringing it to customers too, in the afternoons.
- But investing in employee success by supporting them is key. We give them sections to work, and it’s really gratifying to see them progress very fast as their knowledge of their section grows day by day.
With the success of Plant of the day, will you be bringing that online in any way?
- Yes! We are starting a video series. We have a videographer, and we’ll be dong two a month to start with.
What other things do you do to enhance the experience and communicate better with or educate customers?
- We started a Genus Bar, staffed with an expert and a microscope. You can make an appointment to learn more about your plant and its care, or for design consultation. You can bring in pictures of your yard or a project, sign up for a 15 minute slot, and shop before and after your appointment. So the idea is more intentional one on one time with someone you know is really well educated on the topic.
- We also want to extend that educational component out in different directions. For example, we are preparing the greenhouses to be open to the public too. We want kids and interested customers to be able to see what we are doing and how we are doing it.
- We also offer lectures, Garden Sparks. And with our opening of the greenhouse, the Genus Bar,
"it’s all about creating a community of learners and friends. We want to build community while building knowledge. And it goes both ways - some of our customers are extremely knowledgeable plant nerds themselves."
You became part-owner of Barton Springs about a year ago. What was the one thing you felt made biggest transformation?
- Organization, as obvious as it sounds. Raking, clean edges, well-cared for plants, and all the little things that tidy up. Even cleaning the pots! It seems so silly but no one wants to buy a pot that’s already dirty. The little things that get overlooked are so important.
Have you been noticing new buying habits? The pandemic had us fall in love with plants.
- I think what happened here in Austin (and to me personally) is that we were forced outside. We all started socializing in our yards. And that really sparked a renewed care for the garden. I had to straighten up the yard, but didn’t have to worry about cleaning the house! Which was really nice. But we all realized how good we felt outside, and we started investing more in our spaces with plants. They are a great way to improve any space, especially outdoors.
What about new customers?
- Definitely. And from all over the city. We’re in a very residential area, and we have so many loyal customers from right here in the neighborhood. But I’ve definitely seen a rise in new customers. Different languages, different styles, and it’s really wonderful. It’s what we wanted.
"A destination that welcomes everyone."
Story behind The White Horse
You may wonder why we call Barton Springs Nursery "The White Horse." Years ago the property was used as horse stables. When Amy and William took over, Amy envisioned a large white horse statue at the entrance. Months later after many emails to co-workers of various white horse statues in attempts to spread of her vision, a customer visited and told a story of colt she had on property that died and when she visits she has this sense of peace. She then showed a picture of the colt, which was white. Amy's vision will now become a reality with a white horse statue to welcome customers as a omen to the past and the future.