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Jackson’s Home & Garden

Perfects the art of living well

Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, May 1, 2008

Back in 1983, when Bob Jackson wanted to buy a small lot adjacent to another piece of Dallas property that he owned, he ran into a problem. The lot was home to Lemmon Avenue Pottery, and the 83-year-old owner wouldn’t sell the property unless Jackson also purchased his inventory of Italian pottery. To sweeten the deal, the man offered to take Jackson to Italy and introduce him to the factories that made the pottery.

Robert and Marilyn Jackson with sons Forrest and Hunter Jackson

“Most people have been farther on an Easter egg hunt than I’d ever been before I went to Italy,” Jackson said. “I had never traveled, but we went and we had a marvelous time.”

Jackson and his wife, Marilyn, viewed art, visited landmarks and soaked up atmosphere. But it was their factory visits and seeing how beautiful ceramic and terra cotta pots were made that prompted a major life transition.

“When we were on the plane coming home, I told Marilyn, 'I think I want to do this the rest of my career,’ and she said, 'I think I agree with you,’” Jackson said.

The couple already owned several businesses in the Dallas area, including dry cleaning, fur cleaning, leather cleaning and uniform rental services. Jackson spent four years selling off their other interests, while putting more and more energy into growing the new venture.

The company went through several transformations — from Lemmon Avenue Pottery to Jackson’s Lemmon Avenue Pottery to just Jackson’s to Jackson’s Home & Garden. As the name changed, so did the product mix.

Today, pottery is only about 10% of Jackson’s Home & Garden’s business. Outdoor furniture accounts for about 25%; outdoor kitchens, grills and fireplace accessories and services are about 30%; and gifts, live plants and garden accessories make up the remainder.

Although he’s a far cry from dry cleaning these days, Jackson’s philosophy for success hasn’t changed a bit.

“Business is business; I don’t care what you do,” Jackson said. “I read a book by Stanley Marcus called 'Minding the Store’, and there is a key phrase in there that we use during meetings with our employees: 'If a customer is wrong, pretend.’ That’s what we do.”

Designed as a destination

Jackson’s offers a mix of outdoor furniture, outdoor kitchens, grills, gifts, accessories and live plants.

The Jacksons had moved the business to its present 2.3-acre location in 1986, building a 12,000-sq.-ft., Williamsburg-style showroom. Although they had offered a limited amount of outdoor furniture for some time, in 2005 the family greatly expanded their commitment by building a two-story, 25,000-sq.-ft. addition to the existing showroom and buying deep. Since then, their outdoor furniture sales have been rapidly growing in all categories, with cast aluminum being the largest and fastest growing. They typically keep a large inventory at an off-site warehouse for fast delivery.

“The mix has been pretty constant,” Jackson said. “We depended on our reps initially to tell us what was selling; we took their word, brought in the product, and the rest is history. It’s been really good. So we’ve been really thankful for that and for the great favor shown to us by our customers.”

Vignette includes neutral colors and plenty of accessories.

Jackson has become a world traveler since that first trip to Italy. He and several buyers in the company travel far and wide to source new products. For example, it took him three years and a trip to India to find the hammered copper and brass watering cans which are now a top accessories seller.

This season, Jackson is particularly excited about a new line of high-end tables from Italy, called Borgo de Mastri. “They are beautiful with stone tops and steel bases,” he said.

Jackson’s House & Garden draws customers from throughout the region and as far away as San Antonio. They come both to see what’s new at the ever-changing business and for its big events. An annual Spring Open House, held this year in late March, kicks off the outdoor season, and the business also hosts an annual Christmas Open House.

“Christmas is a big deal here,” Jackson said. “The original showroom becomes pretty much all Christmas products. We leave most of the other products in place and put up trees and decorations around them.”

In addition to lighted trees and other holiday products for sale, Jackson’s offers a home service in which an employee goes to the customer’s home, trims the tree with lights and ornaments from the store, and then goes back and takes it all down after the holidays.

The business offers other on-site customer service, including construction of customized outdoor kitchens and complete fireplace maintenance from cleaning to chimney repair. On the other hand, Jackson makes a point not to offer design services or have a designer on staff.

“We sell to interior designers, decorators, landscape architects and landscapers, who come in and buy at a discount from us,” he said. “We don’t go out and compete with them. We welcome them; they bring us a lot of business.”

People first

Garden statuary and wall art features.

Jackson is an entertaining man of many words, but with sales up 19% this year, any talk of recession gets short shrift.

“I personally think the media is on a feeding frenzy to make the economy look like it is going in the tank,” he said. “We encourage our employees not to dwell on what they are hearing and not to talk about it with customers.

“It’s like the old boy who had an old car and wanted a new one,” Jackson continued. “He said, tomorrow when I get up I’m going to start saying all day long, 'I don’t have a car, I don’t have a car, I don’t have a car, I need a new one.’ He did that and the next day he got up and sure enough he didn’t have a car, someone had stolen it.”

Jackson is so adamant that employees not talk negatively about the economy that he seems only somewhat facetious when saying that if any of them do and he hears about it, they may be out of a job.

He is just as adamant when it comes to praising his staff.

“We are blessed with great employees,” he said. “The people here make the business.”

Many of the 55 employees have been with the Jacksons for years — the head buyer 27 years, a manager 23 years, the store manager 17 years. Jackson pays well and provides both insurance and a retirement plan.

“We try to take care of our employees because they take care of our customers,” he said.

Gift items provide shoppers ideas. Table set with colorful layers. Cast aluminum furniture is a top seller.

The emphasis on customer service at Jackson’s starts with name tags and personal attention.

“I’m very thankful for my employees and their attitudes,” Jackson said. “Some time back, I sent two employees to one of our competitors. They walked through the entire showroom and nobody ever spoke to them. I sent a manager out and the same thing happened again. We, of course, let everyone know in our staff meeting about it and that that’s why we are friendly to people. It is very important that we take care of our customers and let them know that if there is anything we can do for them, they just need to ask.”

Live plants, pottery and garden accessories continue to boost the bottom-line.

Jackson spends much of his time on the floor talking with customers, especially on weekends, as does the couple’s son, Forrest, who as general manager handles the business day-to-day. Marilyn is on hand as necessary to handle human resource issues.

All of the couple’s three sons grew up working in the family business, although the oldest, Barrett, left after college to become a stockbroker. Their youngest son, Hunter, works in the Jacksons’ wholesale distribution company, which supplies other garden stores with pottery, ceramics and cast stone products they manufacture as well.

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