Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Something to suit everyone
Retail

Like a good wine, Altra Nursery gets better with age

By Karen Smith

This immaculate boutique nursery in Sydney’s South has managed to stay afloat when other nursery businesses in the area have disappeared through the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the rising number of big box stores, the last El Nino, and the COVID19 Pandemic. So what is it about this nursery that we see it go from strength to strength, including their most recent expansion that has doubled the size of their nursery? I am about to tell you!

The minute you enter the business, you are impressed – not only by the quality and enormous variety of plants for sale but also the way the entire place is always immaculate. Of course, like all businesses, there will be days when deliveries are coming in and the place is being cleaned. It may not look 10/10 on those days, that’s to be expected, however that doesn’t affect the quality of their plants or the good service their staff offer. Deliveries come in, plants are checked for good health, priced, placed in the appropriate areas, and its onwards and upwards to creating a beautiful and welcoming experience for their loyal customers. During the week, every plant on site gets looked at, checked for pests and disease, and good health, and all displays are cleaned and remerchandised.

Pot painting activity was popular with children
Pot painting activity was popular with children
Suppliers offered great support
Suppliers offered great support

Having been in business for close to forty years, Altra has earned its good reputation by placing its value on quality stock, well experienced and knowledgeable staff, and their customer service which is second to none. They have taken cautious steps over the years to stick to that principle, sticking to the fundamentals and not getting in over their heads. Slowly they have built the nursery up, building on the brand.

The coffee and cakes were a big hit
The coffee and cakes were a big hit
Lots of collectables
Lots of collectables

This business trades on its expertise, attention to detail and the relationships they develop with their customers. Extra people are employed to take customer’s goods to their cars to complete an enjoyable experience. It’s a word-of-mouth business as it receives no passing trade, being tucked away in a cul-de-sac. They have the mix right.

Many of their staff are long term employees with one having worked there almost since the business began, and others around the twenty-year mark. This speaks volumes, not only of the owners of the business but the rapport they have developed with their staff and their customers. Altra has approximately thirty employees with a mixture of full-time, part-time and casual staff with a mix of ages.

Their variety of stock includes native and exotic plants, rare and unusual plants, and they regularly travel long distances to source that little something different. They also grow a range of plants, particularly in the unusual lines and collections.

Altra has a strong relationship with their local community
Altra has a strong relationship with their local community

So why did they decide to expand? According to two of the owners (there are four owners in this business) David James and James Douglas, the time was right, the space became available and the expansion has allowed them to stock a larger range of pots and trees to suit both consumers and the landscape trade. David James said he has a landscape background and he thought catering to the landscape sector is now a viable proposition for them as lack of space made that difficult in the past. This is good news for local landscapers as there are no wholesalers in the region. Delivery is available in the wider Sydney metropolitan area, and probably anywhere, for a fee.

A small café has also been installed, much to the delight of caffeine addicts such as me. Some of us like to have a coffee and ponder what treasures we can purchase. At this stage, the café will operate on weekends and they will see how that goes as to whether they require it to be open more often. I can tell you the coffee was terrific and many visitors were treating themselves to tasty delights!

Something unusual for the cactus lovers
Something unusual for the cactus lovers

To celebrate the expansion they hosted a ‘Grand Opening’ with lots of prizes and discounted plants and pots, as well as having celebrated speakers including horticultural legend Graham Ross. Visitors travelled from afar, some driving three hours to attend.

The support from their suppliers was impressive, with representation from Searles, (from Queensland), Northcote Pottery, Brunnings Garden Products, BioGuano, Fothergill’s Seeds, Richgro, and PGA (came up from Melbourne), who all helped make a success of the day with lovely displays and answering questions from the public. The Lions Club also provided the obligatory sausage sizzle.

Here are some comments I received from some of Altra’s customers.

Plenty of shade plants
Plenty of shade plants

Local customer Susan Whibley said, “Altra has been my go-to nursery for many years with their knowledgeable staff and high-quality plants. I find it a welcome calm oasis every visit.”

Sylvia Troccoli said, “Today I went to Altra early to purchase pots, potting mix and plants. I was served by Ben Karanikas who asked if I would like to have it delivered and would I like it today. I was thrilled and also very excited about my lovely purchases. I couldn’t believe it when ten minutes after I arrived home, my goodies arrived and Caleb Gough was kind enough to carry them around the back to my garden. If that’s not good service I don’t know what is.”

Jennifer and Chris Wykes, who live in Shoalhaven Heads said, “Whenever we come to Sydney, we take the opportunity to visit Altra as we have been purchasing from them for years. Their quality and diversity of plants is terrific.”

The turnout of people on the day, when the weather was looking ominous, is a testament to the following that this business has. How good is it to see an independent garden centre in expansion mode, when all we hear about retail is quite the opposite? Like a bottle of vintage wine, Altra improves with age. Congratulations, you have a talented team!

All images supplied by Karen Smith

Main image: Something to suit everyone

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