Over ten years ago, a major highway in Middleton, Wisconsin, was diverted from running in front of The Bruce Company’s garden center to behind it.
When this highway was moved, it split The Bruce Co.’s property in half. The landscaping company rediverted and took the majority of their operations to a neighboring city. With the city continuing to develop around their 16-acre parcel, president Seth Nicholson says parts of their 69-year old operation were becoming a bit of an eyesore.
While they’ve enhanced and added wings to the garden center over the years, parts of the original building are still almost 70 years old. Wanting to be a part of the city’s plans to further develop the area into a destination venue, The Bruce Co. approached them about redeveloping the property.
“We either fight that or we collaborate with them and figure out how it’s a win-win for both,” Nicholson says. “That’s where we went to the city and said, ‘What are you guys thinking, here’s where we’re at.’”
At first, the company had considered moving their retail center somewhere else, but the city was adamant that they stay.
“When we went to our city planning meeting, their response immediately was, ‘You cannot go anywhere. You have to stay here,’” Nicholson says. “Every one of them went around the room and told their experiences with Bruce Co. as they grew up here or live here currently or I used to work there. City officials said you can’t go anywhere, you’re such a staple and a big part of our city.”
They came to the consensus that constructing multi-family apartment buildings would add value for both parties. In order to develop and continue their legacy, while not creating a distraction for their current business, The Bruce Co. partnered with some developers and property managers they know and trust to run the apartment building side of things.
“We’re also looking at a hotel, office buildings, some restaurants that also enhance and tie to our retail experience,” Nicholson says. “It makes it not just the retail center. It actually gives plenty of extra exposure from these other businesses.”
The Bruce Co. plans to handle all the landscape construction and continue to manage the maintenance of the development.
“We want to make sure that this development really showcases outdoor living,” Nicholson says. “The other big focus is how do we add more green space. We’re going to do more underground parking, add some park areas. We really want to focus on it being added green space, added outdoor living, so that it really replicates what it’s always been.”
Nicholson considers this redevelopment a restart for all of them and an opportunity to show brick-and-mortar businesses can still be successful.
“If we can attract customers, our hopes are that we can have some other retailers around us and be able to add to that experience,” Nicholson says.
Aside from developing their surrounding acres, The Bruce Co. plans to re-construct the 25,000 square-foot garden center and greenhouse. Nicholson says they’ve had to get more creative to generate more value per square foot in the garden center, including more vertical displays and a more open floor plan. The new garden center will also have an improved layout with a better flow to benefit the customer experience.
Nicholson says they’ll have more covered space that is less jeopardized by weather and idea-generating displays to make the garden center more of a destination. The company also hosts a number of events throughout the year to attract the community and give back.
Although the company has signage to help with brand recognition on the new highway, Nicholson says they have had to shift their tactics.
“We will continue to have more and more challenges on visibility once structures and buildings go up in block more of the garden center,” Nicholson says. “Our biggest focus is how we had to switch from how we marketed some of our products. We shifted from the impulse and convenience shopper. We’re really pushing and focusing more on the destination center.”
With the new space, customers can come and walk around and enjoy spending time in the store versus a quick in and out.
Over time, The Bruce Co. will move all their operations to the secondary location. Nicholson says it will be a six to eight-phase project spread over 10 years.
“It’s going through the process of transitioning operations very delicately, so you don’t interrupt your current day-to-day and especially with the economy as it is and how much business we’re looking at,” Nicholson says. “The garden center is at record sales right now and record traffic, and then same with our landscape construction and management is at record growth and record backlog. We’re trying to find the balance of let’s not interrupt operations and let’s start planning to the process of transition.”