Neighbors Home & Garden Center

By Nancy Moffett

What began as the Hellertown Agway in 1990 has since blossomed into Neighbors Home and Garden Center, rated as one of the top 100 garden centers in the U.S. by Nursery Retailer magazine. How did this family-owned business get and keep its reputation for quality, variety and customer service through the years?

Sitting on seven acres of what once was farmland, Neighbors was the creation of Andrew and Gerry Panick. According to their son and general manager, Glenn Panick, Andrew came from the steel industry and had to learn the gardening business from the ground up. The building was built in an astonishing three months to function as an Agway store. Its wrap-around porch, low-slung roof topped with a cupola and a horse weather vane has a country market flair that invites shoppers to come in and browse.

In 1995 the Panicks re-formed the business as Neighbors Home and Garden Center. They still carry the Agway line, along with a large inventory of products related to garden and home that are divided into five major departments: Lawn and Garden, Nursery, Power Equipment, Pets and Patio Furniture. Gerry Panick chose the name Neighbors to personify the friendliness and service customers would find there.

Today the company is still family-owned and run. In addition to Glenn, his sister Teri Williams runs the patio furniture and gift departments, while her husband Leo oversees power equipment. “And there are several other family members involved,” Glenn explains, “including nieces, nephews and grandkids at times.” Glenn joined the company in 1993 after having worked as a photographer in New York City. “I started learning from the ground up, working in the warehouse,” he explains. During the busy gardening season, Neighbors has a staff of about 35.

Walk into Neighbors, and you’re greeted by a boutique corner, artfully arranged with jewelry, scarves, handbags and other personal accessories. This alcove is part of an extensive gift department that makes shopping for home décor and items such as candles and cards a convenient part of any visit. However, the main focus is on practical items for gardening such as tools, fertilizers, grass and vegetable seeds, natural pest control products, potting soil and a full line of organic fertilizers and supplies. “People are planting more vegetable gardens,” Glenn explains, “and are interested in organic gardening as well.” He cites books like “Square Foot Gardening” for sparking interest in container gardening, an area where business has increased by 30 to 40 percent in the last few years. Neighbors also carries a large selection of mulches and topsoil in bags or bulk. According to Glenn, these are the core items that draw customers from across the Lehigh Valley and also from New Jersey, as the store is located close to I-78. Another “meat-and-potatoes” item is propane tank refills.

Elsewhere in the large store are pet food and supplies (including for horses and fish), and feed and supplies for farm animals such as chickens, turkeys, hogs, sheep and goats. The inventory is comprehensive with many brands represented.

Power Equipment is one of the most impressive departments. According to the store’s website, this is one of the largest showrooms in the Lehigh Valley. Lawn tractors, mowers, chainsaws, leaf blowers, trimmers, snow blowers and more are all in stock representing brands like Cub Cadet, John Deere, Troy-Bilt and others. Glenn says this area draws many customers due to its extensive offering.

Outside, a large nursery is filled with annual and perennial plants interspersed with planters, bird baths, pottery; concrete fountains and statuary…even pond supplies. The farm’s original barn houses the Patio Shop. A visit inside shows exposed stone walls, massive beams and rafters and has that distinctive, old-barn smell. It holds a large selection of patio and outdoor furniture that flows onto an attached deck. Patio accessories include umbrellas, cushions, firepots, lamps and more.

Although Neighbors has a good formula for success, Glenn says retail is a challenge in these days of instant shopping and easy comparison pricing using smart phones. “Overhead is going up. while margins are going down,” he explains. To stay ahead, the management team meets during the off-season to review past performance and plan for the future. “We set goals and talk about how to meet them,” Glenn explains. One of their strategies is to stage both the inside and outside sections to be appealing to customers. The other is to offer friendly, knowledgeable service. And, he says, “Our pricing is comparable to Home Depot and Lowe’s.”

Neighbors also regularly holds events like grill demonstrations, pet adoptions and a Spring Open House to attract customers. And, their Facebook page is loaded with useful gardening information. During the winter holidays, they carry a wide selection of wreaths, garlands, trees and seasonal decorations.

“Every day when I walk in the door, I look forward to working with people and solving their problems,” Glenn explains. “We work to understand more about our customers than just selling products.” It’s that attitude of service that has won Neighbors two Morning Call Readers’ Choice awards and a 2012 Best in the Valley award. But, their customers’ thanks and praise are the best testament to Neighbors’ continuing success.

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