February 2015 – In spite of so many garden centres diversifying into new opportunities, such as ladies fashion, food accessories and hardware to even out seasonal sales, spring is still, by far, the lifeblood of the garden industry.
It’s a time when Canadians move outdoors to their patios, decks and gardens. Now more than ever, these new living spaces are where they relax, barbecue, hot tub and entertain for the next four to five months. Folks also want to decorate and beautify these outside spaces, and I think this is where we need to play a far greater role.
The good thing about the “big guys” is they are forcing us to think creatively and to be more competitive as entrepreneurs. This is where we can shine.
Our biggest opportunity is still food gardening which has great appeal to all demographics. The trick is to understand what each segment is looking for. Younger folks like hot peppers and Asian cuisine and want to grow their foods organically. They also need the newer, “dead-easy-to-grow” varieties – and there are lots.
Folks in the “Boomer” generation want to eat more healthy foods, and Burpee Seeds is leading the way with the “Boost Series” featuring foods that have higher antioxidant and nutritional values. Also of note are Burpee’s new “Home Garden Collection” of grafted vegetables offering, for example, a 50 per cent increase in tomato production in less time on more disease-resistant plants. Vegetable combinations, like the “Simply Salad” collection grown-on as larger, ready-to-use patio or garden vegetables, offer a huge sales potential.
In the perennial and annual world, the big issue going forward this year is the safety of bees. Neonicotinoid insecticides are one of the safest for mammals and most effective for broad spectrum control of many problematic insects. Unfortunately, they are harmful to the bee population. There needs to be far more research into the actual residual period on the plants we sell, but in the meantime, as independent Canadian retailers, we need to assure our customers our plants are free of neonicotinoids and be totally open and transparent about this issue. The major chains have already committed to this, and we must too.
For baskets and containers of annuals, the big thing again this year will be pre-planned colour combinations. The power of colour and its effect on people should not be underestimated. The folks at Dummen, Ball and Proven Winners have worked hard to prepare plant combinations that have real pop, and they will be promoting them heavily, so make sure you have them in stock all through the season.
Succulents are still strong, but only if you create combinations that are ready to use on the patio or in mixed pots, hanging baskets and as single showpieces.
Branding is one of the huge success stories many of us have not fully appreciated. For example, Proven Winners has been undeniably the most successful “brander” in our industry. At one of their excellent presentations to regional retailers, we learned that independents sell 75 per cent of Proven Winners’ products!
I see these issues as the most important for spring 2015, but we can never forget that our sole differentiation opportunity lies in the customer experience we provide. To our customers, what do we look like and feel like as a value proposition to them? From the professionalism of our teams to our loyalty programs, the physical store layout and the quality, sophistication and success of our products, these are all criteria upon which we are constantly judged.
Finally, we will thrive only if we are financially sound. Budgeting, inventory controls and the timeliness of our merchandise are critical ingredients for success.
In spite of these fragile economic times, I sense a turn around in the garden/lifestyle industry, and I expect a positive 2015, but only if we are totally focused.
Brian Minter is the owner of Minter Country Garden in Chilliwack, British Columbia. An extended version of this story has been posted online.
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