Growing Your Vertical Garden Department

July 22, 2013
Written by Andrew Hind
The bulk of condo dwellers are empty nesters who, in many cases, have sold a home to downsize and enjoy life at a different pace.
For garden centres located in urban areas, apartment and condominium owners represent a largely untapped market because while balcony gardens have long been a staple of European culture it’s not nearly so well entrenched here in Canada. But demographic shifts have led to interest in balcony and small-space gardens growing exponentially in recent years. This now significant niche offers a huge pool of potential customers.

If you reach out to apartment and condo residents and cater to their needs and interests, you can establish new customers loyal to your garden centre and willing to become repeat customers. Here are seven ways to do just that.

1. Know your demographic
The bulk of condo dwellers are empty nesters who, in many cases, have sold a home to downsize and enjoy life at a different pace. But it’s important to remember that many of these individuals previously had gardens and would still dearly love the opportunity to indulge in their passion, albeit on a different scale. They simply need guidance and to be made aware of options.

The next most significant condo dweller is the single woman. She earns good money and spends a significant portion of it on decorating. Her balcony or terrace is her only outdoor private space and she’s determined that it look its best. If she’s not already a balcony gardener, she’s a definite possibility. Her interests, however, are likely to be more on the décor side of outdoor living than in-depth gardening.

2. Compass points
One of the most important differences between balcony gardens and conventional gardens is that they typically face only one direction. North always presents a lack of direct sunlight, east-facing balconies only receive morning sun, and balconies that face west get lots of sun but are also buffeted by prevailing winds and scorching mid-summer conditions. Staff members need to be able to recommend plants ideal to each of these diverse conditions.

3. Plant selections
Because most condo and apartment dwellers don’t have space to overwinter plants they must start fresh each year. This is a garden centre’s dream opportunity: how often are you able to sell completely new plants, new colours, and new décor to the same customer year after year? Annuals, of course, make perfect sense. Don’t forget summer flowering bulbs as well. They thrive in containers and there is a wealth of options. For those customers who previously had yard gardens, bulbs offer a hint of that old challenge as they can be either lifted and stored during the winter, or left in their pots and stored in a locker until next spring.

If a customer has a small balcony, suggest they limit their colour scheme to greens with dashes of one, brilliant colour from their favourite outdoor seat cushion. It will create a sense of unity and won’t overwhelm the senses.

4. Décor
Whether it is a patio set, statuary or a water feature, the larger, more expensive and more dramatic items are those garden centres love to carry. And why not? They provide a good return on investment and are a focal point on any sales floor, crying out, “Wow!” But don’t neglect bistro sets, tabletop fountains, and décor suited to small-space gardens. Vertical gardeners want, and deserve, the same options as everyone else, just on a smaller scale.

5. Customer service
It’s a natural tendency to focus on big-ticket items or customers who are overflowing carts with plants and product, neglecting the individual with but a pot and a few plants in hand. Don’t. Train staff to actually spend extra time with the latter, because condo dweller or no, chances are they are testing the gardening waters. Unless nurtured, they will never become a passionate gardener and a repeat customer.

6. Plan for maintenance
Bear in mind that everything incorporated into a balcony garden needs to be portable or protected from the elements during our inclement winter. That means pot coasters with wheels for large plants, sturdy covers for furniture, and so forth. All of this must be taken into account when planning a balcony garden . . . which offers opportunities for a garden centre to upsell with additional products.

7. Promote your knowledge
It’s not enough to know your stuff in regards to vertical gardens. You have to promote it. You can do this through articles on social media, in-store talks, newsletters, suggesting a story on the subject to local media, and so on. Use your imagination, but don’t be afraid to sell yourself and let apartment and condominium residents know your garden centre is the place to go for all their gardening needs.

Garden centres that recognize and cater to the needs of the growing number of apartment and condo dwellers with balcony gardens can expect to reap the rewards of their efforts. Vertical gardeners are a niche market, but an increasingly important one that no urban garden centre should neglect.

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