“If it stays warmer than normal, like the weather service predicts, I‘ll have fairly good sales in January,” says Mike Shirley, owner of Golden Hills Nursery & Feed in Globe.
According to Mike, the mild climate makes this a good time to plant bulbs, shrubs and trees however, the great near-term benefit for winter gardeners is in the activity of gardening itself.
“They can get outside instead of being stuck indoors,” he says.
With the coronavirus raging and cold temperatures taking hold in many parts of the country, the benefits of being outside in Arizona cannot be undersold.
Mike has been in business for 46 years and in 2020 Golden Hills Nursery & Feed had its best sales year ever. From February through December 2020, monthly sales exceeded the prior year, surpassing 2019 annual sales by the end of June. Mike was “swamped” by customers looking for goods associated with landscaping their yards — fruit trees and shrubs, vegetables and flowers.
“Roses,” he says, “I sold a lot of roses this year.”
Beginning with a Passion
“If you study things too much you’ll never do anything,” Mike says as he surveys the hilltop business.
Mike opened Golden Hills Nursery in 1974 with the help of his mother, Ann Shirley, a retired schoolteacher and avid gardener. He had no prior retail experience.
They began by selling plants on the front porch of Ann’s home on Golden Hill Road; the cash register was in the kitchen. Two years later they moved up the hill to the current location. The first years were the hardest, Mike recalls.
“I knew absolutely nothing, but we did it” he says, “just because we loved plants.“
In 1984, Mike and his sons built a greenhouse and ten years later added poultry and feed to his business. He credits the development of the Crestline area, in the valley behind Fry’s, for spurring the economy for 10-15 years and helping his business gain traction. When the housing boom subsided things slowed down.
“I stuck with it doggedly,” Mike says. “Fortunately my wife has had a job at the mines all that time so income level’s been steady.”
Over the years together, he and his wife Linda raised three kids, all college-educated with kids of their own. Over four decades in business, they’ve acquired a wealth of literature on plants and horticulture.
“There is still a lot to learn,” says Mike. “Plants are endless.”
Growing Through a Pandemic
Today the cash register is behind plexi-glass. Mike will be 80 years old in February. He’s cut out his feed business, the big bags at least, but still sells poultry. He sold a lot of baby turkeys this year.
“This year people were doing a little panic buying,” he says, “kind of in a frenzy.”
Prior to the pandemic, nationwide, retail gardening sales were projected to grow at over 4.5% per year based on growing health consciousness and concern for self-sufficiency in regards to food production. However in the spring of 2020, with the reality of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders set in, retail sales surged 8.6% higher than the previous year according to a study of U.S. Census Monthly Retail Trade Report data.
On a sunny afternoon in December Mike looks around at his dwindling inventory and lush winter garden and reflects upon how a global pandemic led to record sales for his small business. He attributes some of the uptick to safety concerns — people who want to stay out of big stores during the pandemic and are now shopping locally for their landscaping needs.
The nursery business he says, is a bit of a bellwether. Prior to the pandemic, Mike noticed a trend toward families to “flying all over god’s creation,” on expensive vacations. Now people are staying closer to home. He harkens back to his boyhood in Miami and a time when going on vacation meant getting outdoors. People had lots of picnics. It was a good time, he says, but stops short of projecting past or current trends into the future.
“I can’t say about next year… might be a dud,” Mike says, “It’s just the way it is in business.”
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.