By Bruce Hakutizwi
By Bruce Hakutizwi
Garden centers are seasonal operations by definition, with the bulk of their revenue generated in a single quarter. But fickle weather and temperature drops affect all sales, even in peak season.
So, how can a garden center improve footfall, stay in business, level off income, and even turn a profit the rest of the year? More importantly, how can a tiny rural oasis compete with big-box stores? Here are 5 quirky ways to make off-season sales slumps a thing of the past.
1. Set up a family-friendly urban farm
A growing trend among garden center managers is to supplement their revenue with small farming operations. Garden centers are a fantastic backdrop for a makeshift urban farm. And they also provide you with the opportunity to cut down on some of your costs – think fertilizer and pollination.
With only a couple of goats, rabbits, peafowl, and beehives, you can offer your visitors hours of entertainment. Petting zoos also sometimes have play areas for children, which extend a family visit further. Train rides, ride-on tractors, farm themed swings, picnic tables, and mazes are just some of the little extras they can offer.
And longer stays make it easier for you to pitch your plants, organic produce (e.g. honey, cheese, and pick-your-own vegetables), and artisanal products (decorative feathers, baskets, pinwheels, garden decorations, engraved boxes, etc.).
2. Organize weddings and parties
Urban farms and wedding venues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, white doves, rabbits, and peacocks would make an excellent addition to both business ventures. But with or without animals, local green-fingered customers may think of your garden center as the perfect venue for a small and tasteful wedding.
Weatherproofing and fitting a large gazebo or marquee tent with lighting, furniture, and musical equipment is bound to pay off, if you’re willing to rent out your garden for family celebrations. Decorate trellises and arch tunnels with charming topiary and lush hanging baskets. Approach local musicians, photographers, and caterers.
Stage your event space for a shooting and promote your business locally with appealing brochures. Attend trade shows to find inspiration and suppliers, as well as professional wedding planners and prospective customers.
3. Host fundraisers and community events
Fundraiser functions may not generate much revenue, but they do spread the word. Some of the most prominent local figures are bound to attend, and anyone with clout has a large network. Once you gain access to their following, you may start to see people approach you for community events, gardening seminars, Ikebana workshops, winter markets, and other functions.
Consider setting up a small café, and look for reliable local bakeries, restaurants, and catering companies willing to supply produce and staff to diversify your product and service package. Set clear social media sharing policies for video footage of events held at your garden center to maximize reach and positive testimonies.
4. Collaborate with local florists
Whether you’re a horticulturist, an astute businessperson, or both, you alone know how to run a garden center that draws in plant lovers from your area. But don’t overlook the untapped gift market. Show off your best blossoms to local florists who are willing to work with you to sell locally-sourced floral arrangements at a premium.
Or if you think you have the capacity, consider buying an existing online shop and make it your own, selling your flowers, plants, cards, and gifts. Having a website which you can gain online sales from can greatly increase your customer base and also provide fantastic brand awareness.
You should also check out other local florist websites and place test orders to see what courier service, packaging, and promotional tactics they use.
If your garden center is located in a remote area, without much curb appeal, and with limited parking space, you should also consider first impressions before you set up appointments with potential suppliers for your online shop.
5. Look for up-and-coming artists
Photography, painting, and film-making are worthwhile hobbies for most and very rewarding jobs for some. Look up nearby universities, art schools, and other venues that teach fine arts. Should you be lucky enough to be near any educational institution that offers gardening and landscaping courses, approach them for hands-on learning sessions at your venue. Promote your garden center as the ideal place for students and professionals to practice their craft in exchange for a small fee.
Bruce Hakutizwi is Director of North America for BusinessesForSale.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for buying and selling small and medium size businesses.