Activities and workshops turn independent garden centres into year-round destinations
Even when nothing grows outside, these entrepreneurs find creative ways to cultivate business
September 20, 2023 By Anne Kadwell and Stuart Service, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association
The seasonality of a garden centre business is focused on making the most of the peak growing season, accumulating most of their annual revenues during the spring and summer period. However, this limited sales window continues to widen as more independent garden centres across Canada discover successful ways to make it economically viable to keep their stores open during the months when nothing grows outside.
By creating a year-round destination shopping experience, garden centres are drawing customers in by hosting workshops, expanding product inventory, and organizing fun community events.
A great example are the many events hosted at Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, Alberta. These include an Indoor Gardening Day in February with seminars and in-store specials, and a Howl-ween Pooch Parade in October, when customers dress up their pets in support of a local animal shelter. And the fashion shows, which have been going on since 2010, continue to be as popular as they are profitable. Greenland currently hosts shows twice a year during the bookends of the gardening season in March and September.
“Both are much anticipated by our customers and sell out quickly every time,” said Greenland General Manager Patti Ambrock. “Our fashion buyer Sharon plans specific outfits to be featured and sets aside a portion of clothing inventory to be showcased exclusively at the event. The models are Greenland’s very own staff members who also work on the sales floor after the show.”
Registration fees, as well as raffle draws throughout the evening, go towards a local women’s shelter. Attendees also receive a complimentary glass of wine.
“It has become a fun evening out for so many of our customers that many attend year after year.”
In October over at Kiwi Nurseries Ltd., this Spruce Grove, Alberta, garden centre hosts a haunted house so popular that it causes traffic to back up on the adjacent Yellowhead Highway. Owner Ashleigh Munroe chuckled when recalling how often customers introduced to her nursery through the haunted house are surprised to discover Kiwi is also a 200-acre tree farm that has been in business for more than 40 years.
For their 40th anniversary, the company marked the occasion by hosting 40 events throughout the year. From the Easter Egg Hunt to Kids at Kiwi classes, and from Craft Beer Night to numerous informational workshops and talks, the overwhelming response has led the company to continue their ambitious event planning.
Leanne Johnson, president of Canada GardenWorks Ltd., frequently works with businesses in the communities local to her 10 store locations in British Columbia. They host meetings for garden clubs and special holiday events for the clients of realtors.
“We’d invite them to the store, have music, snacks, beverages, and the realtor is there welcoming them and providing them a nice holiday gift,” she said.
They’ve done similar exclusive events for VIP customers to give them a chance to see new merchandise and to feel valued. They’ve also hosted financial institutions to invite-only parties that include hands-on workshops.
“We just had to provide the expertise and passion,” she added. “That was easy.”
Art Vanden Enden, who worked for more than 40 years at Weall and Cullen and Sheridan Nurseries, and is now a horticultural advisor, said opportunities during off-peak gardening seasons are found in the marketing and merchandising around drawing customers into the store.
“By selling tropical plants, and having water features like fountains running – possibly ponds with fish and turtles – they’ll have already created an oasis many people will love to browse and to escape the dreary winter.”
Discovering niche events that bring people in is an ongoing process that may require some trial and error, as every garden centre has a demographic that differs from place to place.
“Discovering the type of event that works in your area can only occur by trying something new,” said Garden Centres Canada Chair Robin Godfrey. “This fall and winter, take a step outside of the box and give workshops and community events a try, as they may end up being a hit.”
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