The nursery business is a competitive game, yet one family-owned business is showing the way by combining good old fashioned customer service with digital expertise.
Westlake Nursery, in Ardeer, a suburb in western Melbourne, has been in business since 2004 and now sells over 250 varieties of plants for both in-store and online customers.
Mehmet Dereboylu, manager and co-owner knows a thing or two about plants. He and his brother Ozzie have been growing and selling plants at Victorian markets since they were boys.
Yes! Online Magazine recently spoke to him to find out more about Westlake’s growing success.
PRUNING THE CHALLENGES
As a small business, Westlake Nursery faces daily challenges that the team has met with their extensive industry knowledge and know-how.
Nurseries are exposed to ongoing seasonality, and that creates challenges for cash flow that must be managed over the entire year.
“Spring time is our busy time,” Mem said. “No one wants to go out in winter, so we try to focus on our online activities during that time. We just have to ride it out.
“And in summer you have to be careful to make sure everything is watered, or you could lose stock very easily. We have thousands of plants here, and if you don’t look after them, you’ll lose them.
“People walk in and think it’s not that hard to run a nursery, but it’s hard to keep everything alive when the temperatures soar. You can’t miss watering one plant – it will be burnt to a crisp,” he said.
“And of course, you have to contend with the extremes in weather that Melbourne is known to experience,” he said with a smile in his voice.
COMPETITION FROM THE BIG GUYS
A perennial challenge is competition. There are two outlets of a major hardware chain near Westlake, but the business can still compete on pricing as their overheads are relatively low. Also, Westlake always extends the offer to price-match any competitor’s price.
Staying in business over many years is no small feat and Westlake has managed to flourish by following some sound principles.
First up, the business puts a lot of focus into customer service.
Mehmet believes it’s their key point of difference versus the competition including two major hardware-chain stores in the local area.
“People prefer to shop local,” Mehmet said. “It’s all about supporting your local businesses. They rather come to us, as we give them more,” he said.
The tightly-knit team at Westlake believes in the fundamentals of courtesy and is certain that customers appreciate the extra care they take in everything they do.
“It’s so important to be friendly to your customers and spend time with them. Return business is key. We aim to keep our customers coming back,” Mehmet said.
“Lots of people have said that they have waited around for ages but could not find anyone to help them at larger hardware stores.”
Another key differentiator against the majors is the knowledge that Westlake shares with its customers.
“We pass on horticultural and landscaping tips to our customers. It’s an important value-add. Some people come to us with photographs and measurements and ask for advice. We take the time to consider their situation and make suggestions.
“People also come to us and ask why their plants are dying and what they can do. People appreciate the time we take to help them out and show them some options. If you’re rude, or you don’t want to help, they’ll take their business somewhere else. We want happy customers because happy customers return,” Mehmet said.
Another big challenge facing the nursery industry is remaining competitive within a modern economy according to the Nursery & Garden Industry Australia.
Westlake Nursery has moved with the times and has developed an extensive online presence.
“As we’re a small business we can’t afford a lot of advertising,” Mehmet said. Then I discovered eBay. I was a bit hesitant at first. I thought: ‘Who’s going buy plants on eBay’? Then it just blew up. Everyone started buying stuff on eBay and even if they didn’t buy, it built up awareness of our business. Then customers came out to visit our nursery.”
Westlake Nursery now has most of their products featured both on their eBay store as well as its comprehensive online store. The business also does a lot of online advertising on Facebook combined with an active presence on Facebook and Instagram.
“Every business needs a digital presence. Everyone has smartphones these days. Everyone’s Googling so you need to be there.
“I recommend that all small businesses get involved in social media. It’s a very effective way to raise awareness and helps people to research before they buy,” he said.
“Although we don’t sell that much online, after all, not all plants can be shipped, but a digital presence is very important to our business.
To ensure the success of their online presence, Westlake has invested in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services to improve their search engine ranking.
“It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. We recently had 10, 000 views in just one month. That’s not bad for a small family business. SEO pays for itself. If you don’t appear on a search for nurseries in Melbourne, then no one would know we’re here.
The crew at Westlake have big plans for the future. Their vision is to extend their customer base in the wholesale area and move to a larger site. Given the business now has all the fundamentals in place, there’s every reason they’ll realise their dreams.
Westlake Nursery was recently named one of the five small businesses to receive an Optus small business Big Ups award – an initiative dedicated to giving small businesses a helping hand.
As the Victorian small business winner, the nursery was recognised as the most worthy of receiving $15,000 worth of local advertising to boost its business profile and tell their unique story.