Wooing Holiday Shoppers

October 01, 2009
Written by Brian Minter
The funny thing about our industry is that we are fortunate to be quite recession proof, but weather proof, not so much. Overall, depending upon location, it’s been a fairly successful spring and summer season across the country, and fall should be much the same. Christmas, however, worries most garden centres.

Most Christmas buying was completed in January, after experiencing a rather challenging 2008 Christmas season, suffering from both weather problems and the recession, so conservative buying was the order of the day. Still, in spite of this cautious approach, many garden stores have since cancelled about 20 to 30 per cent of their purchases for 2009. There is a great deal of uncertainty about this Christmas. I’ve asked some key players in the North American garden centre industry for their thoughts on this issue, and there is a collective feeling of caution.

This concerns me a great deal because as an industry we are ignoring the tremendous strength we found this spring. In difficult times, folks need “comfort food” – those small indulgences that create a little escape from a stressful world. Summer colour and food gardening were a big part of creating a good experience, just as Christmas always does. No one expects high-volume sales of big-ticket items, but the opportunity for small indulgences is huge. If there ever was a time to start Christmas early, this is it! In spite of a few customers who will comment on the early start of the Christmas season, most will show interest in what’s new, trendy and fun. What’s more, the early purchases will happen.

All through the years, when times are tough, folks have clung to tradition. This year it should all be about Christmas colours, sounds and fragrances. Done well, your store will become a Christmas destination. This is the year to go overboard on store décor. From the parking lot and store front to the first impression inside and all the way through, it must be clear that you are celebrating the season. With LED lights, it’s easy to be colourful and creative in how you use them, yet in a sustainable way. Over-light everything!

Fragrance triggers strong emotions. From spicy candles and potpourri to complimentary hot spiced apple drinks and fresh greens, you will evoke a warm response from your customers, and you can translate that emotion into a purchase that they will want to take home. In garden stores, we have the unique ability to create a great Christmas state of mind.

Colour scheming and having a theme for the whole store, not just one corner, is very important. There is a well-known garden store in Seattle, Wash., that repaints for each season. Talk about impact! All Christmas flowers need to be colour separated, co-ordinated and accessorized with all that sparkles bright. This needs to be done throughout each store department.

Right sizing and pricing for the times will also be important this year. Don’t fall into the box store trap – creative pricing with a margin is the way to go. Have a full size range of poinsettias, but get away from the beat up six- and 10-inch sizes. Pinched four-inch poinsettias can easily be dropped into a five-inch clay pot and six-inch into a seven- or eight-inch pot. Value adding, accessorizing and differentiating are the keys to success this Christmas.

If you’ve been to major horticultural shows, like the OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio, you’ll know about the new poinsettia varieties. In spite of Home Depot having exclusive rights to some varieties, there is still lots of new stuff out there that can be used in so many different ways. Get hold of the Christmas edition of Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes and Gardens and other similar magazines to see the latest trends in Christmas and then go there big time.

One thing we tend to overlook in most garden stores is Christmas gifts. We look at our giftware department as “the” gift department. Being creative in the gift card or gift certificate business is a huge opportunity. What about a gift certificate for 2010’s award-winning roses or a fragrant collection? How about a tomato collection, a Christmas rose or helleborus collection, a beautiful collection of perennials or the new plants for 2010, like the new pink ‘Annabelle’ hybrid called ‘Invincibelle’? Gift certificates get dollars in now and make wonderful gifts. What about a collection of stainless steel tools or matching pots or colourful indoor plants delivered monthly for a year? There are lots of opportunities for more creative gifts, rather than all the useless stuff out there. For creative garden centres, I think Christmas holds a great opportunity. It means stepping out of the established mindset and creating a new series of Christmas traditions to fit the times.

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