Chilton's Garden Center trying 'not to copy what the big boys are doing'

May 03, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

If you ask Angie Chilton, co-owner with her husband, Harold, of Chilton's Garden Center, how the newly opened store came to be, the short answer might be something like, "Well, one thing led to another."

The longer, actual answer, however, involves, first, her son Michael's renting of the building next door on Harrodsburg's Danville Road (U.S. 127 south) to house his race car.

Then, the Chiltons, who have had a lawn care and landscaping business in Harrodsburg for more than 16 years, decided to dump their extra mulch in front of their son's building, Angie Chilton said.

"We sold so much of it that when this building (next door to the mulch pile) became available, Harold said, 'Do you want to open a store?'


"It threw me for a loop."

So far, Angie Chilton said, the venture has been a success.

"We're getting a lot of lawn care business just by selling the mulch."

Selling mulch and soils in bulk

Selling mulch and soils in bulk is one of the more popular and unique offerings of the new business, said store manager Paul Brooks.

For one thing, said Brooks, bulk mulch and compost costs from a half to two-thirds as much as bagged mulch. Secondly, the customer knows where the mulch is coming from.

Mulch is made from pallets, he said, and chemicals could have been sitting on the pallets while they were being used. Chilton's mulch is made of "excess pallet materials," Brooks said, which have not been used at all. Therefore, there is no chance of contamination from chemicals.

But what Brooks, a transplanted Englishman with extensive experience in the garden center business, has brought to the store goes much beyond mulch. The store has the "largest selection of herbs in central Kentucky," Brooks said.

In addition, the store sells larger plants than are common in chain garden centers, such as Lowe's or Wal-Mart, Brooks said. Chilton's plants are mostly three- to five-gallon, which means they are better established. "They're a better buy for your money," he said.

"Across the board, we try not to copy what the big boys are doing," Brooks said. "A lot of thought has gone into sourcing what we carry. We have the best value for the money in the area. We have experienced personnel with years of experience in lawncare and garden centers."

Store carries pond supplies

The store carries pond supplies and is in the process of acquiring aquatic plants. The store also has a large selection of Mexican patio items, including chimineas, pots and planters. Chilton's purchased the stock of a store in Scott County, whose owners decided to return to Mexico. Brooks said he'll be making a couple of trips a year to Mexico to replenish the store's stock.

"There's no one in central Kentucky that has the range and volume that we carry," Brooks said of the store's selection of Mexican pottery.

Because the store is an independent retailer rather than a chain, it does a better job than the "big boys" of making sure that plants and trees sold in the store are well-acclimated to the Kentucky climate, Brooks said. That means, largely, that they have to be from either Tennessee or Kentucky, because of the state's unique climate which is not entirely southern and not entirely midwestern.

Offering the proper plants is the right thing for the customer but also for the business because it means fewer dead plants are returned. Chilton's offers a full, one-year guarantee on anything it plants and a 50-50 guarantee on things the customer plants as a "goodwill gesture," Brooks said.

The store is trying to "get it right" by carving out a niche in world of giant garden centers, Brooks said. Such items as pond supplies and plants and bulk mulches and soils are things that people currently have to drive to Lexington to get, he said.

Brooks ran garden centers for large chain in England

Before coming to the United States, Brooks ran 18 garden centers for a large chain in England. After coming to Kentucky with his wife, Theresa, who has family in this area, Brooks was a live nursery specialist and a garden center manager for Lowe's.

He said the European garden market is different from that in the United States.

"Here there's a lot more emphasis on trees and less on flower gardening," Brooks, a difference he attributes to the smaller lot sizes and denser population in European countries.

Chilton's Garden Center is located at 1000 Danville Road in Harrodsburg. The phone number is (859) 734-2021.

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