Harvesting Profits

July 26, 2007
Written by Michelle Brisebois
In most sectors, spring is associated with new beginnings. We clean, we purge and we get ready for the main event – summer.
15In most sectors, spring is associated with new beginnings. We clean, we purge and we get ready for the main event – summer.

In the gardening industry, it is a bit accelerated. Spring is our main event and that means that much of the prep work involved with gardening occurs in the fall. The holiday season and the greenery associated with its festivities also provide a fabulous window of opportunity. The question is, do we support this season with marketing dollars? When it comes to fourth-quarter sales – are we letting potential profit wither on the vine?

Endless Summer
It is an inconvenient truth that global warming has changed the rules around where and when certain plants grow well.

A review of data obtained from climate stations revealed that over the past 40 years or so the length of the growing season has increased by 15 days. This increase equates to about 2.5 days added to the growing season every 10 years. At this rate, 50 years from now we may add another 12 to 13 days to the length of our growing season. It has also been postulated that this trend will persist into the foreseeable future and perhaps accelerate.

Hold back some marketing dollars normally deployed earlier in the year and promote fall mums and other fall plants perfect for injecting some excitement into the garden. Include varieties of ornamental cabbage and kale. Show consumers how to display these plants both in the garden and in containers, allowing them to have live plants almost to Christmas.

Keep your landscape contractors in mind with this trend as well. A protracted autumn means they are booking business well into November. Lisa Connors, manager of Barrett’s Garden Centre in Woodbridge, confirms that they’re seeing this shift. “This past year we had contractors still doing installations into December.”

The Grass Is Greener
By taking steps to prepare their lawns and gardens for spring in the fall, consumers will potentially be making it easier for their lawns to flourish without the use of pesticides.

Your customers have never been more keen to learn how to garden naturally and if garden centres were to hold seminars focusing on aerating and seeding lawns, using natural fertilizers and applying mulch – there would no doubt be great interest in these topics. With many municipalities adopting anti-pesticide bylaws, there is great incentive on many fronts for people to learn these skills.

In other “grass” categories, ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular and are especially well suited to autumn gardening. “Perennial grasses are very versatile and work well in both the garden and containers,” confirms Connors.

Money Grows on Trees
A property with carefully planted and nurtured trees is a property that is worth more on the resale market. A $20 tree will immediately start to grow and gain value. Like fine wine, trees are something that appreciate over time; almost everything else depreciates the minute you install it.
A U.S. survey conducted by Arbour National Mortgage Inc. discovered that trees took increased levels of importance in the higher housing price ranges. A survey question presented a scenario in which two homes were identical, except for the presence of trees on the property. It revealed that 84 per cent of the realtors felt the home with trees would be as much as 20 per cent more salaeble.

Many municipalities are striving to beef up their tree canopies. Remind consumers of the environmental benefits of trees in terms of the oxygen they send back to the atmosphere and the carbon monoxide they absorb. Fall is the ideal time to plant trees, so focus your marketing messages around these benefits.

Feathered Friends
When the weather gets cold, it is incumbent upon humans to feed the birds who stay here. Many winter birds provide much-needed colour against the white snow and some species are sticking around instead of flying south (another result of global warming).

Think about including a roost box in your product line. A roost box is designed to accommodate lots of birds and to keep the heat in. Tie this activity back to environmental issues by promoting Project Feeder Watch. This is a continental survey of winter birds that visit backyard feeders in North America. The information collected helps scientists keep track of changes in the abundance and distribution of bird species that use feeders in the winter.

Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology now manage Project Feeder Watch with additional support from the Nature Canada and National Audubon Society. These data will allow us to monitor changes in migration related to food supply and habitat changes. Visit www.bsc-eoc.org/national/pfw.html for more information.

Born Tree
During the holiday season, the lines are clearly drawn and the dreaded question is posed…”Do you have a real or artificial tree?” While artificial trees are pretty turnkey these days with easy-to-assemble formats and pre-lit branches, real trees are gaining traction with the “tree hugger” crowd.

Artificial trees do not degrade in landfills, though they are typically used for many years before being discarded. Cut trees are cultivated for that purpose and new ones are planted after cutting so there is not a negative affect on the environment.

After the holidays, municipalities collect the trees and mulch them. “Some regions have turned this into an event by giving back the mulch for garden use,” confirms Connors. “It’s also becoming popular for consumers to purchase a potted live tree that can be planted in their yard afterwards as an eternal reminder of that holiday season. There is a specific process for taking a tree that has been indoors and then planting it outside. It is important that the tree not be shocked by the transition and many laypeople aren’t aware of this.”

Just like Born Free and Free Willy, plants are living things and need support as they go back to their roots. Consider creating a pamphlet, space on your website or a 15-minute seminar on how to return a potted Christmas tree to the wild.

All-season Containers
Consumers love the look of colourful garden urns throughout the summer and fall. It used to be the norm to have the containers sit barren once the frost came. That trend has shifted.

Container gardening lends itself to seasonal change-ups and the proof is in the sales velocity.

“We’re seeing a very brisk business in our cut evergreen pieces during the holiday season,” says Connors. “Our mixed baskets are very popular.”

Make up some lovely urns in store that really turn heads and then offer the materials as a “kit” complete with instructions to assemble it. Create a little video of the assembly to show in store at the display and then post it on your website to help drive traffic to your site. You Tube is an excellent tool for posting video content.

These trends are a fantastic opportunity for retail garden centres. Our sweet spot no longer simply resides on that “May two-four weekend”; it has smoothed out a bit. Hold back some advertising dollars from your spring campaign and beef up your autumn activities. After all, this is the season where we typically reap what we sow.

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