Fall Opportunities to Capitalize On

August 12, 2011
Written by Brian Minter
After a less than stellar spring and summer in terms of weather challenges, fall presents us with an opportunity to capture some new sales. Effective business practice in a down sales time is to cut overhead costs, reduce labour expense and shrink inventory. Although all of this is important, it is also critical to make an impact in your market by being very innovative and creative.

First of all, you have to take the autumn opportunity seriously and act aggressively. Your store, both inside and out, must be transformed into the magic experience of fall. Using cornstalks, dried ornamental corncobs, unusual pumpkins and gourds, hay bales, brilliant fall foliage, fall-coloured mums and happy scarecrows, you must create a celebration of the season!

Frankly, most of us do half the job when full throttle is needed. Setting the tone creates the sales. Everything you display is a sales pitch, but in a different way. Bundles of cornstalks need to be shorter with fewer in a bundle to appeal to a wider audience. Hay or straw bales need to come in mini, medium and large to suit more home décor opportunities. Pumpkins need to be available in all sizes, shapes and colours, and be combined with gourds to create new decorating themes. They also need to be painted, decorated and displayed to show how they can be used and enjoyed either on the front porch or on your dining table.

Box stores blow out mums in the fall but they generally sell only the big ones. How about four, six, eight and 10-inch pots and low bowls and in combined colours to differentiate? Large growers typically only grow a few colours, but you can carry a wide variety with great colour selection in decorative containers. Although fall wreaths, garlands and other décor items need to be booked in January or earlier, there is still product out there that you can pick up. We’ve found a growth category by using in-store display doors, windows, and verandas to show our customers how the various elements can be combined to enhance their fall experience at home.

Value-adding is where you can make a huge difference and profit. Fall containers should be the ones left over from spring and summer. Combining mums with late blooming perennials, beautiful fall grasses, hardy colourful conifers, late colour annuals like rudbeckias, and the new millet grasses, gives you wonderful opportunities to increase sales. Mini pumpkins, gourds, dried corn, dried grain stems and mini bulrushes added to fall plants, planters and arrangements create huge sales appeal as well as value. Display them as gift items as well as with your home décor merchandise. Done well, this will give your customers ideas of how they can recreate the look on their own using all your décor material. You also need outrageous “Lady Gaga”-style containers to inspire your millennium demographic.

We often think too small, and by selling packages of home décor for the front porch, front steps, front yard and the patio we can help our customer. Many folks just don’t have the knack of putting things together, so try displaying and selling the “package deal” – you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

If I were “King for a Day,” I would shift our Canadian Thanksgiving to the end of October to allow all Canadians a longer celebration of fall. So many people think fall ends on our Thanksgiving Monday in early October. It doesn’t end there! Fall transitions into the positive and family-oriented aspect of Halloween. Pumpkins and gourds become jack-o’-lanterns, scarecrows become ghosts and goblins, cornstalks and fall foliage become webbed branches and hay bales become tombstones with humorous epitaphs, like “Rest in Pieces” or “I.M.Dunne.” It should be fun, funny and a happy experience. Done well, it will attract a great many young moms with children – your next important demographic.

All this effort to attract an expanded customer base and increase sales should be synergized with other fall sales. Is your fall bulb display mouthwatering and “over the top”? With all the POP material available, the “WOW!” images used today, and special prepackaged bulb combos, even the younger generation should be enthused. The International Fall Bulb Institute has retained the services of the marketing company that created the great PR campaign for the dairy industry called “Got Milk?” The new tag line is now “Dip, Drop, Done” and it will appear in North American ladies’ magazines where our key customers live and read. With great displays, new sales opportunities in bulb sales and strong marketing to tie your products, your in-store fall sales should take off – especially now that you’ve drawn more folks into your store.

Some of us have forgotten the opportunities the “Fall is For Planting” campaign presented. Hardy fall containers, colourful, tough conifers, graceful grasses and hardy berries such as symphocarpus, deciduous holly and the stunning winter stems of shrub dogwoods need to be re-emphasized to add fall and winter colour. We need to help our customers discover the uplifting experience of enjoying a winter garden in the coldest and bleakest time of the year. In-store display gardens will help to inspire, and to achieve this goal.

Fall colour also has legs with “Violinis,” the hardy new violas, and trailing pansies like the “Plentifuls” now on the scene. As annuals crash and burn, these hardy annuals and perennials keep autumn going and in Zone 5 and above will return in spring for early colour displays that co-ordinate nicely with spring bulbs and perennials. Take a look at the many new variety and colour combinations that make them irresistible in baskets and containers. Blend them with the hardiest of all the winter kale, Red Bor and Winter Bor, for a long-lasting, hardy fall display.

It’s been a very challenging year. The autumn season provides a wonderful chance to get back in the game and make up some lost ground. It will take some effort and creativity to pull it off, but a win here will get Christmas off to a great start.

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