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Feature Story

Grow your
   garden sales

Here are 12 tips for getting the most out of gardening season.

by Monica Humbard

For years, gardening has been one of Americans’ favorite hobbies. And despite a slower economy and rising home foreclosures, two top experts in garden-market trends say the industry offers opportunities for growth.
John Stanley, director of retail consultant John Stanley Associates, Kalamunda, Australia, foresees a resurgence in the gardening market as people invest more in natural home décor. He is optimistic that the economy and home foreclosure problems will have little effect on the gardening market.
Judy Sharpton, owner of Growing Places Marketing, Savannah, Ga., which works on store development with independent garden centers, says that those who are losing their homes are not good gardening customers anyway because they have little discretionary income. Ms. Sharpton’s bigger concern is that the 30-something generation is not “into” gardening like the generations before them.
To get the most out of your gardening category this season, Ms. Sharpton advises keeping your inventory manageable and targeted to your particular customer base. Stay with easy-to-use items, products priced well for your market and inventory targeted to decks and patios. The successful companies will be those that are “nimble enough to offer the products the customers really want to buy,” she says.

Here are 12 more recommendations from Mr. Stanley and Ms. Sharpton for growing your garden category:

1. Show you mean business. Mr. Stanley says the biggest mistake mass-market retailers make is giving customers the impression they are not serious about their garden category because plants are not properly cared for and maintained. He recommends assigning one person to check on garden plants at the start of the day and again at lunchtime.
Ms. Sharpton insists that there is no substitute for product maintenance. Customers need to feel they are getting fresh products every time, she says, just as they do with produce. If they see even one wilted plant, they may assume the rest are poorly cared for, too. If your store has difficulty finding the staff to care for your garden inventory, Ms. Sharpton suggests approaching local suppliers about helping with the care of your products.

2. Protect your products.
Invest in some type of structure to protect your plants from the elements, especially if your area of the country experiences blazing sunny days that may quickly bake your inventory. Before you purchase the plants, decide on how you will protect them, Ms. Sharpton says. The protection can be as simple as temporary shade structures. Determine the type of protection based on your floral product investment and the return you expect.

3. Ensure customer contact. Because your garden selection is most likely not the reason customers came to your store, make sure they pass by the items and are immediately moved to purchase them. The best location is the store entrance, but the display must be dynamic enough to make the sale the first time they pass by. It is highly unlikely customers on their way out of the store will go back in again to make a purchase when they pass by the second time. Ms. Sharpton says the key is to make your display so enticing that customers “slow down and decompress” as they approach the store.

4. Merchandise combination planters. Ms. Sharpton recommends that mass-market florists increase their focus on planters filled with multiple plants for decorating decks or patios rather than individual plants. She suggests designing planters with a central plant surrounded by companion plants; however, keep them at sizes customers can carry out of the store. For the do-it-yourselfer, Ms. Sharpton suggests merchandising all the ingredient plants around a sample of a mixed planter or hanging basket.
Mr. Stanley also believes plants offered in small patio bowls can grow the average sales per customer. He recommends telling customers that planters look best when designed with three different plants and offering shoppers a special price if they buy three types of plants at a time.

5. Branch out with tree, herb and shrub container gardens.
Take your container garden selection for patios and decks a step past mixed plants. Mr. Stanley recommends small flowering shrubs, herbs, fruit trees and bushes but says to keep them small enough to be easily handled by shoppers.

6. Limit choices.
For combination planters, Ms. Sharpton says to offer only three plants for sun and three for shade. “The store must make choices for the consumer,” she says, just as specialty retailers like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel decide on a few color combinations to present to shoppers each season. When making your choices, consider what sells well in your store, what is easy for you to maintain and what is unique. The reward for more calculated choices, she says, is less shrinkage.

7. Offer more flowering plants. Mr. Stanley says flowering plants are high-impulse items and will sell quicker than nonflowering products. This will cut back on maintenance and shrinkage.

8. Sell plants with product information either attached to or printed directly on the containers.
Studies show that if the information can’t be pulled out, forcing customers to pick up the plants, the chance of them making the purchase is 8 percent better, Ms. Sharpton says. She notes this also avoids information being pulled out of the pots and then dropped onto the floor.

9. Keep individual plant displays simple and color-blocked.
Less is more when it comes to individual plant options, Mr. Stanley says. It is far better to offer a few varieties with a stronger visual impact, he says.

10. Avoid merchandising on the floor. Display products where customers can reach them. Mr. Stanley says customers do not like to bend down to pick up items off the ground.

11. Don’t oversign.
Ms. Sharpton cautions retailers to avoid visual clutter. She says customers need only the information that will help them make buying decisions: Is it a sun or shade plant? What color is it? How big will it grow? How do I care for it? Mr. Stanley recommends 6-inch-square signage, placed in the middle of a display, telling customers the name of the plant, three benefits of it in a bullet format and the price. Plants with effective point-of-purchase signage will sell quicker, he says.

12. Start a plant-of-the-month program.
Train customers to buy plants on a regular basis by giving them a discount on a new plant each month as part of a special loyalty program. Ms. Sharpton says they will care less about whether they let each plant die if they know they are going to get another one next month.

You may reach Monica Humbard by e-mail at
or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2008
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.