By Kerin Magill
When Connie Marshall’s Realtor told her last fall that she should accelerate her plans to sell the Ocean View birding store she’d owned for 26 years, she said, “I wasn’t thinking that way.” She had a long-term plan, and that wasn’t quite what she had in mind.
But, “The market is hot now,” her Realtor said. So Marshall sold — much more quickly than she expected — the building that she’d bought and turned into Wild About Birds, a destination for area bird enthusiasts.
Then, she had to rethink her next step.
“I’m going to call Amy,” Marshall recalled thinking of Lord’s Landscaping owner Amy Hughes. “They’ve been lovely throughout the years, to send customers to me,” Marshall recalled. “I tried to do the same,” she said. For example, if someone came into Wild About Birds and wanted to plant something to attract hummingbirds, she would send them to Lord’s.
“I said, ‘Would you be willing to hire me and let me help you open a birding division within Lord’s?’ If I remember correctly, there was a ‘Yes, let’s do this!’” on the other end of the phone line.
So as of Feb. 1, Marshall is “The Bird Lady at Lord’s Landscaping,” she said with a laugh.
After owning her own business for so many years, with its very specific focus, Marshall said the move to Lord’s has been eye-opening.
“I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m still learning,” she said. “Because this is a huge operation!” Marshall said. Lord’s now has 42 employees, according to Hughes.
“There’s a lot going on here, and it’s fabulous,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure people truly understand everything that happens here. It’s not just coming in to pick up your pack of pansies — all the services that are offered here, it never even occurred to me,” she said.
Of her relationship with Hughes, Marshall said, “She’s been teaching me things, and I’ve been trying to teach her a few things. It’s going to be a lovely process, moving forward and growing a little more with the inventory.”
Marshall emphasized that she wants the community to know that “I did not have to close” and “It had nothing to do with COVID.”
She said that she feels grateful that, before she closed, she was able to tell customers, “This is where I’m going to be, and this is what’s going to be going on. The general attitude was, ‘Oh, that’s terrific; I go there all the time,’” she said.
“So really, it was a perfect blend or marriage of concepts. Selfishly, I had somewhere to go, and I didn’t leave anybody hanging.”
“I can honestly say I landed right where I’m supposed to be,” she said, and Hughes nodded in agreement. “I’m glad you feel that way!” Marshall said. “I feel really good here.”
“I feel really good that you’re here, too!” Hughes said.
A physical manifestation of the new business relationship is that even the sign that graced the front of the Wild About Birds store has found a new home. Now that it is nestled among birdbaths and landscaping on the Lord’s property, Marshall said, “It’s a nice legacy from my store. It was a very heartwarming thing that Amy did. It was well-appreciated.”
As for Hughes, she smiled and agreed.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. … I think the coolest part for me is that since I started, people would come into the store and say, ‘You don’t have any bird stuff?’ People were blown away. We would tell people we don’t sell any bird stuff because there’s a bird store down the street, that’s also a local business, and if we start selling that stuff, then that takes away from her livelihood. We didn’t want to compete with anybody; we wanted everybody to succeed,” Hughes said.
“People would say, ‘Why would you do that? You could be selling bird stuff and making a bunch of money,” she said.
“I was very grateful for that,” Marshall said with a smile.
“Now,” Hughes said, “It’s coming back, like tenfold. We didn’t start” selling birding supplies, “not knowing what we were doing. It’s almost like we waited our turn. Now Connie has come and she’s bringing this whole new division to our business. To me, it’s really been a blessing, that, you know, we didn’t do it the wrong way.
“We made the right choices,” Hughes said, adding, “I feel like God puts you in the right spot and makes everything go together when you make those choices.”
As for Marshall, she said, “I feel like Amy and I share a business sense of non-competition. There’s no point in everybody carrying the exact same thing. You want to make yourself special. You want to be a destination,” she said, and not have customers saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I saw that in a lot of other stores.’”
Expansion at Lord’s comes
at right time
Not only did the new relationship with Marshall make perfect business sense, but it also came at just the right time, Hughes said. The family-run business, which Hughes’ parents started 40 years ago, is about to expand into the neighboring brick house. That building will become Lord’s Mercantile, which Hughes said is envisioned as a place to shop for everything from home décor to baby gifts, with a beach flair and an emphasis on local artisans.
The addition of Marshall to the Lord’s staff, she said, will enable her to focus on the opening of that space, while Marshall oversees the garden center.
“It kind of all fit together,” she said, sitting on the upper floor of the new building, where she said contractors were about to tear out a wall “within the hour” to clear the way for fire marshal approval to open the new business.
“Our plan is that we’re going to take a lot of the décor and things that are in the garden center right now and move them over here,” Hughes said. That way we can really expand the birding stuff, and that’ll be back to its old garden-center roots.
“We’re excited,” she said. “Connie coming in right at that point made it work really well.”
Lord’s Landscaping is located at 35577 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. Connie Marshall would like her birding friends to know she’s there every day except Wednesdays.