McDonald Garden Center: An Ongoing Obsession with Quality Plants

McDonald Garden Center began in 1945 as a partnership between brothers John and Kenneth McDonald. Expanding throughout the 1950s with a diversity of plants and products made the operation a full-line garden center. Then, in 1973, local native Eddie Anderson and his wife Sara purchased the garden center.

McDonald Garden Center has been committed to serving the residents of Hampton Roads for more than seven decades, offering a wide selection of annuals, perennials, edibles, trees and shrubs, houseplants and garden accessories and offering local gardening knowledge. This local plant retailer continues to flourish and in January 2012 was passed down through the generations Mark Anderson, Eddie’s son and the current McDonald Garden Center president.

“My grandfather began tinkering around with greenhouses in his backyard,” says Mark. “He got started growing African violets. As the business developed, my dad, Eddie Anderson, got involved and was doing most of the truck deliveries to grocery stores and retailers. In 1973 my dad purchased the original McDonald Garden Center, which is our current location in Hampton, Va.”

For 40 years Eddie and Sara ran the business, growing it to include two added locations in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Eddie is still active in the business, with Mark taking over executive leadership in 2012. “My dad does a lot of the visual merchandising and horticultural training,” explains Mark. “He creates beautiful displays with plants and lifestyle settings. And he’s working hard to teach us about what he has learned through his experiences. He has a passion for plants, especially houseplants and tropical plants. He is also very involved in the purchasing and production of our plants.”

Business in Bloom

McDonald Garden Center still operates three year-round, full-service garden centers throughout the Hampton Roads area. The Hampton location also houses a 12-acre production facility, which supplies locally grown, fresh plants to all three stores daily, while a 17,000-square foot glass greenhouse in Virginia Beach offers year-round growing and nursery capabilities. McDonald also offers a full-service landscape division. The company employs about 100 people year round, which jumps to more than 300 in the spring and summer.

“In spring 2010 we rolled out an exciting addition to the brand with the introduction of McDonald Garden Markets,” reveals Mark. These seasonal Garden Markets offer local communities the “McDonald shopping experience” right in their own backyard. Fourteen Markets were strategically located throughout Hampton Roads, offering all the necessities for spring and summer outdoor living in the convenience of customers’ neighborhoods. These seasonal locations pop up at the start of spring and remain open throughout the gardening season.

In addition to focusing on business growth, McDonald Garden Center is active in the local community through a variety of environmentally focused programs and charitable events. The company has been awarded several times for its green efforts, which often support the wellbeing of Lynnhaven River. “We promote rain gardens that help educate people about reducing runoff into the rivers,” Mark notes. McDonald Garden Center is also very involved in the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, donating more than $25,000 a year to this organization through the annual Make a Scarecrow Event.

Always Growing

The economy has been tough on many businesses over the last few years and McDonald Garden Center has had its share of ups and downs. “We’ve been focused on maintaining profitability,” says Mark. “We’re trying to reconfigure pricing strategies and adjust to the market situation. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. For now the focus is to continue to be the place for gardening in our area, to inspire our customers by sharing our knowledge and helping them to be successful.”

Maintaining relationships has been an important component to staying profitable as well. McDonald Garden Center is involved in ECGC, an alliance of 11 garden centers across the country that has been in operation since the 1980s. Members participate in meetings throughout the year to discuss the state of the industry and share industry information. “We can identify trends and it keeps us on our toes,” explains Mark. “We hear about the ideas that are successful and we offer feedback to members. The advantage is that none of these businesses are in competing markets or are in direct competition.” McDonald Garden Center also partners with Family Business USA to help facilitate transition within the business and exchange advice relevant to family-owned business operations.

Mark has remained cautiously optimistic throughout the recession. “It’s going to be a long, gradual climb,” he reports. “For us, we are looking at where we can get more growth and focus on those key areas. We are always are looking to expand our expert staff, as our people are the key to our success.”

Mark’s team is dedicated to the family business the same way he is, and everyone is working together to ensure the business carries over to the next decade. Whether or not the business stays in the family remains to be seen. Mark’s three sons (ages 5, 6 and 7) are starting to learn about the business. Whether they join the family tradition in a few decades or not, McDonald Garden Center’s legacy of quality plants and knowledgeable service will continue to nourish the region’s gardeners.