Finding Fall Profit Opportunities

August 14, 2012
Written by Brian Minter
Our fall season really begins in summer, extends through Thanksgiving and Halloween and on into the Christmas season. It should be our second mini spring. Fall is loaded with opportunities if we do some creative thinking and careful strategic planning. 

In folks’ gardens, fall is changeover time and they need some help planning the transition from annuals to fall perennials. Grasses, colourful conifers, hardy violas, heucheras, heucherellas and eye popping mums are the sparks that light up this new season. Even tired summer containers need an autumn lift that can later give way to Christmas greens for the holiday season. As an industry, we need to create a sense of importance to changing the tired look of summer to a fresh, uplifting look in fall. Remember: bright autumn colours will lift spirits as we move into earlier, longer nights and cooler, wet weather. 

In our store, we offer fall container makeovers to help folks who want the refreshed look but who simply don’t have the know-how, the time or the resources to do it for themselves. It’s also a great time to sell accessories like birch and willow stems, container lights, winter-proof containers, winter protection wraps and funky fall décor. We need to create some excitement about this new and very important colour season.

With the new cool “Wave” pansies, hardy “Matrix” pansies, new varieties of violas, growing numbers of evergreen grasses and the increased selection of smaller colourful conifers, hardier heucheras and heucherellas and winter dogwood stems, consumers living in zones rated 5 and above enjoy much greater success sprucing up their gardens for the fall.

Late summer and fall mums provide great colour that’s easy and dramatic. Last year on the West Coast, there was such an over supply of absolutely stunning mums that it was sad for the growers. In terms of retailing, three things become obvious:
  1. The box and super stores have taken most of the market away from us simply because we let them. We decided to recapture some of this market by purchasing the very best quality giant mums, lowering our margins and displaying them beautifully as a fall feature. 
  2. Boxes don’t value add. By accessorizing, dyeing and glittering a portion of these mums, we opened a nice niche. To gain back margins, we literally sold hundreds and hundreds of these beauties and grew our fall sales and our customer count.
  3. To be efficient, growers produce a few varieties, but we decided to display over 40 mum varieties. This not only extended our season with early, mid and late varieties, but it also provided our customers with a discerning collection. We also produced them in six different sizes, from four-inch to 12-inch pots, offering many new options for our customers.
We’re determined to make mums a growing part of our fall business.

Colourful fall produce offers one of the most stunning store décor punches of the year. Pumpkins were created for display. We start this season in August and extend it until Halloween. Have you seen the diversity of pumpkins, gourds and squash these days? Wow! For food, crafts, table centres, and indoor and outdoor décor, they rule. Add in corn stalks, all sizes of hay bales, fall branches in pots, and it’s a fall sales bonanza.
Differentiating ourselves from the box stores and produce stands by value adding will significantly increase the fall experience and sales in your store. Starting early is important.

Halloween is another holiday opportunity that is now dominated by large retailers, but by being wise and strategic, we can get a nice share of that market back too. The secret is to buy reliable classics that you can use to value add. Go with the fun side of Halloween and stay away from the gory, dark stuff. Aim for the sophisticated adult market and moms with young children. We love resin or plastic pumpkins that can be planted up or used as candy holders. We also like cutesy scarecrows, witches, goblins, spiders and garlands that can be adapted to pots, balconies, doorways and arches – all are an easy sell. Smart buying for multiple uses will provide a far easier sell through.

In the fall, don’t get caught up in the “it’s too early for Christmas” sentiment. When you have fall traffic, get your unique and neat Christmas stuff out for show and sale. It’s more than a preview, it’s a sales opportunity you don’t want to miss. Two major garden stores in Seattle told me in confidence that their September Christmas sales figures  …  let’s just say get the Christmas stuff out early in a tasteful way.

Fall is now, so embrace the season with creativity, a sense of fun and wisdom.

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