My 2012 Industry Forecast

December 07, 2011
Written by Brian Minter
After the brutal first quarter of this most challenging weather year, I smirked at an observation made by one of Canada’s top garden store groups: “We weren’t quite sure just which window to jump out of!” As 2011 progressed, sales began to recover in most areas of our country. However, the unofficial consensus is that sales in traditional garden stores remain down anywhere between four and 14 per cent. While these percentages may not sound that bad, they represent millions of dollars that weren’t spent with us. This decline has been occurring over a long time, but never so obviously as this year. Most garden centre consultants are now focusing on inventory control, staff reduction, higher efficiencies and cutting costs — things good businesses should be doing anyway. Your sales can be down 14 per cent and you can still have a good bottom line, but maybe not such a bright future.

So what will 2012 look like? Pray for sunshine on all weekends and nice spring weather but prepare for more of the same as what 2011 dealt us. The Farmer’s Almanac says, “Spring will be cooler and drier than normal across all of Canada. Summer will be warmer than normal, on average, in most of Canada; the chief exceptions in the forecast regions being southern Atlantic Canada, western Quebec and southern Ontario. Precipitation will be near or below normal, on average, in most parts of the forecast regions.”

Economists, like weather forecasters, seldom agree with one another, but the middle ground is “expect more of the same over the next five years.” In our industry, we seem to handle the economy better than the weather, so plan accordingly.
There are some positives that we seldom think about. As “boomer” parents, sadly, pass away, there will be in this country one of the greatest wealth transfers in history. Lots of disposable dollars will be out there, and we have to reposition ourselves to obtain our share of leisure spending.

The brightest spot for continued growth in 2012 is food gardening. According to the Ball Corporation, retail vegetable gardening sales in the U.S. increased around 20 per cent in 2010 from $1.4 billion to $1.76 billion. That increase is significant, but we must remember that continued growth will be all about the new, more relevant, varieties and container-grown vegetables. Simple, easy, ready to produce, great-flavoured foods will be the runaway winners. Branding will also be important for younger novices. Burpee Home Gardens has its smartphone apps, like Coach Me and you can also snap the company’s QR codes or tags with your phone. Herbs and salad combinations will also be a huge growth factor as the younger generation learns to add flavour values to its food.

Perennial sales will continue to drop unless we learn, like the Europeans, to turn them into annuals. Flowering perennials, available in full colour well before and after their blooming times, are a new trend here. Forcing perennials into foliage or colour early will be the key. Stunning colour always sells, and this will be the future of perennials. Lots of great new perennials are out there to spark 2012 sales.

Annual sales can continue to grow if we get it right. Growing sales will be all about new colour combinations pre-done for us, as led by Dummen, and now many others. They are pre-designing stunning colour combinations. From pansies and violas to calibrachoas, petunias and blended mixtures in unique combinations, these pre-planted plugs can go into four-, six- or 10-inch pots or baskets fast and easily so that even new gardeners can create gorgeous displays. Whether it’s alyssum, ageratums, fibrous begonias, petunias or impatiens, it’s their colour blends that will lead their comeback. The old reliables, like these fibrous begonias, impatiens, petunias, Wave petunias and calibrachoas, provide long colour and are fast, easy to grow and pest-free. Foliage will remain very strong with new cordylines, phormiums, cannas and coleus, as well as the dramatic alocasias, colocasias and colourful grasses.

Tree and shrub sales will persist in falling off the map unless we take advantage of all the new colour opportunities. There must be a zillion new hydrangeas out there, but the new Peegee hydrangeas, such as H. ‘Little Lime’ and H. ‘Vanilla Strawberry’, will continue to be strong, as will the many new and uniquely different Mopheads, such as Ball’s double ‘Expression Series’, and the double Lacecaps, such as ‘Wedding Gown’ and ‘Stargazer.’ Fragrance and colour are both combined with Proven Winners’ ‘Lo & Behold’ buddleias and repeat blooming ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs. Ball Ornamentals’ introductions of more sterile dwarf, mid-size and tall buddleias will continue to grow. Dramatic foliage colours, such as hardy physocarpus ‘Burgundy’, ‘Carmel’ and ‘Lemon Candy’, will be repeat sellers by themselves or in combination. Perfume will be in demand too, and the new zone 5 Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ will be both hot and hard to find. Another new “hottie” trend will be porch pots with big and small columnar trees, wuch as evergreen boxwood, or colourful deciduous oaks, maples and beech, with surround plantings. Colourful conifers will make a comeback, but in smaller sizes for small space gardens and containers. Disease-free hardy roses will replace traditional roses. Kordes and Bailey will lead the way with great long-blooming, disease-resistant and hardy new varieties. The transition will be quite notable.

Catching the right trends for giftware will be one of the keys to success, especially in 2012. We all need to flip through ladies’ magazines for hints of what will be in style each season. Fairies, sensory oils and clean looks are still in the mix. Pots are not. Ceramics have given way to resin and inexpensive Asian products. Simple and elegant is “the look.” Texture, botanicals and rustic will be in. 

These are just a few of the images coming through on my 2012 crystal ball. Stay tuned.

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