Feature Story

Business is Blooming

Julie Drummer Leads Drummers Garden Center & Floral Into The Future

Drummers Garden Center & Floral, with Julie Drummer at the helm, is known as the local go-to shop for gardeners of all kinds. It has a reputation that was earned by hard work and came from humble beginnings. In fact, when Drummer started the business some 30 years ago, she didn’t know a lot about gardening. But she did know how to dig in and work hard.

“I was born and raised in Mankato and went to Minnesota State University, graduating with a dual major in marketing and management,” Julie Drummer said. “Honestly though, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. This was in 1988. I worked as an assistant manager in a video store and as a bank clerk while I figured things out.”

She left school with two degrees and one fiancé (now husband, Mike Drummer), which proved to be a good combination. Together Julie and Mike had a vision: a big idea for a small shop on the edge of town.

“At that time, Mike was doing some landscaping and working with nurseries. It was something he really enjoyed,” Drummer said. “I would help him find landscaping customers by making cold calls. We would drive around Mankato looking at property that seemed to need landscaping work, such as new businesses or houses. Then we would approach them with our ideas.”

“While Mike had that, I was still searching for what I wanted to do with my life. Then one day he said, ‘Well, why don’t we start a garden center?’ We had no money, so basically we had nothing to lose! We figured, why not?

“We knew location would be key. We also knew we didn’t have any money for a place of our own. So we approached Menards with the idea of starting a garden center in their parking lot. At that time, Menards was located on Madison Avenue, where Snell Motors is today. The first year they only let us put one up through the July 4 holiday. They maybe wanted to see how it would go. Well, the next year, they allowed us to rent a ‘permanent’ location from them in their parking lot right on the corner of Madison and Highway 22.”

The business continued to blossom, and so did Julie Drummer. She went from wondering what she wanted to do with her career to seeing her future a little more clearly.

“I learned a lot of it on the job because I wasn’t a big gardener at that time,” Julie Drummer said. “I was in my 20s and could pick things ups quickly. I enjoyed learning just by doing and growing new stuff myself. But I also learned from the customers’ experiences. I just never stopped learning, I worked hard, and tried different things. Basically, I didn’t know any better, so it didn’t bother me to try new things. We fell into our own roles; Mike ended up doing the landscaping side of things while I ran the temporary store. The first year we made $45,000, and we thought, ‘Whoo-hoo! We are doing this again!’ The first year we got lucky; we were in the right place at the right time. We decided let’s just hang with it and see what happens.”

Having the right timing has been a theme throughout Julie Drummer’s career. When starting back in 1990, Drummers was one of only a handful of garden centers in the region. Today, a quick Google search will garner dozens of options. The Drummers could see what was coming. So as not to get stuck in the weeds, they decided to expand.

The timing on just when to do that became clear when Menards moved to the other side of Highway 14. The Drummers knew their business fed off Menards’ business, so they wanted to move with them. By this time, they had earned enough to get their own place. So while they wanted to be near Menards, they also wanted to be separate. In 1999, they made plans to build a retail store and greenhouse on 5 acres located on Adams Street. Drummers Garden Center & Floral opened in the new space in 2000 and is still there today.

“While Mike was handling the landscaping, I took care of the retail side of things,” Julie Drummer said. “When we decided to build this store, we knew we would need to offer more than green goods since those were only available and plantable at a certain time of year. So we looked at what Bachman’s was doing just to try to find something to model it off of. We ended up buying a local florist, Sue’s Floral, and moved that into here. We eventually just eliminated the name. The goal was to be more of a full-service, year-round business. By this time, Mike was pursuing other business ventures. So we stopped doing landscaping and instead offered landscape design services, as well as a wide array of plants, flowers, (and) seasonal items, including décor, and a gift shop – really tried to be full service.”

The decision to build a large, year-round facility was also an effort to get competitors to shy away from Mankato. Increased competition was one challenge; another challenge is one that’s familiar to all employers in the region.

“If you ask me on a different day, it might be something different, but today it is labor,” Drummer said. “Mostly because we are so seasonal it’s hard to keep everyone on full time. It’s hard to find those people that are really going to come in and help out for a couple of months and then move on with their lives when the season ends. So labor is a business challenge we have. Because we are so customer-focused, finding knowledgeable labor is another struggle. We want our staff educated so we can educate the consumer. That’s always our goal. Some days we make our mark, and other days we don’t.”

While staffing has been a challenge, it is her staff that Julie Drummer credits with her success.

“I have a very loyal core group of full-time people,” Julie Drummer said. “From management down, I can’t thank them enough for all they do. I rely on them. Some have been with me for 20 years! So they are a big part of the success of Drummers Garden Center. They have been doing it for so long; they are very knowledgeable and hard working. They really help us move forward and continue to grow. I do have a core group of seasonal workers that I rely on, too. A lot of those folks are retired, so the seasonality of it doesn’t bother them. Or for some, this is just their second job from April through June. It’s so great to have a steady group of people that know our structure and can just jump in each year and help out right away. We have about 60 total employees, but again, many of them are seasonal.”

Drummer admits there has never been a season like the season of 2020; however, her business actually benefitted from the COVID pandemic. Gardening turned out to be what people turned to to get through the pandemic.

“COVID taught all of us a lot, and it was no different in the gardening world, which seemed to help people get through the crisis in a way,” Julie Drummer said. “What else could people do but work on their house and be outside? So it increased sales quite a bit. This year the same thing is happening. Business is good, and we’ve been open the whole time. Thankfully we didn’t have a problem with COVID here. And now that vaccines are available, we feel even safer.

“It’s also neat to see a lot of new gardeners coming in that are learning and new homeowners that are finally putting in a garden. House plant sales, too, have increased dramatically because people want to put some green in their lives.”

Indeed, industry research shows that sales revenue for the retail garden sector increased by 8.6% between spring 2019 and spring 2020. This spring is growing at that pace, as well. It’s not all pandemic related, though, as stats show that retail gardening has seen an upward trend in the year-over-year growth rate of average sales revenue over the past couple of years, moving from a 4.62% increase in revenue in 2018 up to an 8.79% increase in revenue in 2020. The significant growth spike between 2019 and 2020 shows the positive impact the recent gardening boom has had on this sector.

At the end of the day, pandemic purchases or not, Julie Drummer says the southern Minnesota region has embraced the vision she and Mike Drummer had 30 years ago and has been unwavering in its support of the family-owned, locally owned operation.

“I think it’s great the community continues to support local and small business. It’s not really a surprise, but I guess I am just grateful when there are other options out there, and the community chooses to continue supporting small, locally owned,” Julie Drummer said.

In turn, Drummers supports local causes as much as it can. Its reward program is somewhat unique. Like other rewards programs, it offers cash back after a certain amount of purchases; but in their case, the customer may choose to give the money to a charity of choice. Another commitment Drummers makes to the community is protecting the environment. Sustainability is an important part of Julie Drummer’s business plan. She is committed to being “green.” So, besides just growing a lot of plants, there are a number of ways the business practices sustainability.

Looking to the future, Julie Drummer hopes to add another greenhouse: “We always seem to be short on growing space.”

In many ways, Julie Drummer says she is still learning, even after three decades at the helm. There is one lesson, in particular, she likes to pass on to others.

“There are always two sides to a story,” Julie Drummer said. “It’s good to listen to both sides before you make a serious decision. Starting or owning your own business can be really stressful. So you learn to just breathe and take a step back, and maybe you’ll see things that you thought were really big problems are not that big, and you always seem to get through them.”

Growing a business has been only one part of Julie Drummer’s life. She has also been growing a family. She and Mike Drummer have two sons: 18-year-old Jacob Drummer is now a student at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. He is in the pre-veterinarian program.

“He has wanted to be a vet since second grade,” Julie Drummer said. “We’ve had many animals over the years – chickens, turkeys, dogs, even a gecko. Just the whole menagerie!”

Her 15-year-old son, Noah Drummer, is a student at Mankato East High School and enjoys helping out with the family businesses as time allows.

In the off season, the Drummer family likes to get away together. They share a cabin on Lake Francis with Julie Drummer’s sister. Time is well spent there fishing, relaxing, and reconnecting as a family, just continuing to grow.

Proud Words From Julie’s Partner

Mike Drummer appeared on the cover of Connect Business Magazine in September 2007. At that time, he had this to say about Julie Drummer.

“My wife runs it (Drummers Garden Center & Floral) and does a fantastic job. She is honest and devoted to customers. She provides service at a reasonable price and gives customers attention. In the spring, we still carry flowers and other products for customers out to their cars. Customers can get their questions answered. That’s how we compete with the discount stores. Even in the beginning she ran the garden center part and I was out landscaping, except for May, the peak month for garden center retail.”

The Essentials

Drummers Garden Center & Floral
281 Saint Andrews Drive
Mankato, MN 56001
Phone: (507) 388-4877
Web: drummersgardencenter.com

Photo by Jonathan Smith

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine