Marketing Shade Trees

March 29, 2007
Written by Michael Lascelle
Stocking and selling ornamental trees is definitely labour intensive and requires a longer-term commitment than most other plant groups. Containerized or balled and burlap-wrapped trees can be heavy, relatively expensive to ship and quite prone to falling over in windy conditions. So why would you bother selling them?
10Stocking and selling ornamental trees is definitely labour intensive and requires a longer-term commitment than most other plant groups.

Containerized or balled and burlap-wrapped trees can be heavy, relatively expensive to ship and quite prone to falling over in windy conditions. So why would you bother selling them?

Before I answer this question, I would like to ask you to take mental stock of the plants you would generally see for sale at box stores and grocery chains. Here in British Columbia you would typically find herbs, perennials, vines, hedging, shrubs, vegetables, aquatics, annuals, bulbs, roses and small fruits on a seasonal basis, but the one thing you will rarely see are ornamental trees. So, why aren’t box stores selling this product? Because they take up too much space (both for shipping and sales area), they require higher maintenance (watering) and customers usually need assistance selecting and loading their tree(s). This omission on the part of mass marketers provides independent garden retailers with a huge sales opportunity.

The first thing you need to realize when marketing this product is that you are not just trying to sell “a tree,” you are also selling a multitude of benefits which include shade, privacy, cleaner air and habitat for nature. Or if you want to look at it from a more seasonal point of view, consider flowers in spring, attractive foliage in summer, autumn colours and ornamental bark in winter. That gives your customers eight more reasons to want to buy a tree and all you have to do is make them aware of them. This is where knowledgeable staff and some good pictorial reference books are invaluable to increasing profits.

Hiring a Certified Arbourist
Having a certified arbourist on staff will help to instill more customer confidence in regards to tree sales. These arbourists must pass a rigorous exam implemented by the International Society of Arbouriculture and have a minimum of two years experience in the field. This certification is also recognized worldwide and is not affected or diminished by provincial jurisdiction. What this gives you is an on-site professional who can handle tree selection, pest identifications, site analysis and any other related concerns your customers may have, and once you have their confidence, the sales generally follow.

Asking the Right Questions
Even if you do not have a certified arbourist on staff, any qualified horticulturist can quickly assess your clients needs with a series of simple questions. By way of example, here are a few samples listed in chronological order:

Were you looking for any particular tree?
Find out first if your customers were looking for something specific and if you have it in stock, show it to them right away.

Are there any tree aesthetics that appeal to you?
This is where you mention various attributes including fall colour, variegation, flowers and fruit (see “A Guide to Shade Tree Sales,” right, for examples).

How much room do you have for this tree to grow?
Knowing maximum height and width will narrow the field quickly and enable you to focus in on the potential sale.

What kind of growing conditions do you have?
By sorting through the available light and soil conditions, you can be assured that you are selling them “the right plant for the right place.”

Is there anything else that you need?
There are many “add-on sales” to be made with shade trees, you just need to make your customers aware of them.

Secondary Sales
There are many products that can be offered right along with the initial tree sale including bonemeal and transplant solution (for root development), tree stakes and ties (for support), organic mulch (for moisture retention) and tree guards (to protect trunk from mechanical damage). There is also good potential for long-term sales as the tree matures and is in need of pruning or maintenance. Pruning tools (secateurs, loppers, handsaw, pole pruner), orchard ladder and maintenance sprays (such as dormant oil or lime sulphur for fruit trees) will all be necessary with time and as long as your client’s shopping experience was pleasant, they should have every reason to buy these at your nursery.       

Support and Maintenance
Dedicated tree racks constructed of treated round fence posts and a crosspiece of a treated 2 x 4" board (by whatever length you can accommodate) are easy to build and provide solid support. The trees can be fixed to the crosspiece with non-abrasive ties and the rack can also be fitted with a simple drip irrigation system, with water spikes inserted directly into the pot or burlap sack. Most container-grown trees have a slow-release fertilizer incorporated into the soil and balled and burlap-wrapped specimens should be potted if they are not sold within a reasonable time. This covers your basic maintenance concerns of fertilizer, irrigation and wind support. Other than that you need only periodically inspect for pests and fungal problems, and deal with them accordingly.

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