Growing Sales in Tough Economic Times

May 01, 2009
Written by Brian Minter
In spite of the economic downturn, worldwide recession and the drop in home real estate values, one of the greatest opportunities lies before us this spring. This is the year to be very good at running our businesses: staying on budget; keeping inventories in control; cutting back on high-end products; and increasing in areas of the best potential, such as colour containers and edibles. Because there is a huge potential for our businesses this year, our marketing needs to be more effective and targeted, our team needs to be well trained and professional and our stores need to look fabulous in order to provide a great experience.

There’s a change in the air and a fresh new wind of opportunity blowing, and it’s not just the Obama mystique. Trend spotter, Susan McCoy, president of the U.S. Garden Media Group, notes, “It’s a resurgence of gardening for the greater good – for the earth and our wallets. The most exciting movement seems to be that gardening is popular again, parti-cularly among younger homeowners.” Mike Metallo, president of the U.S. National Gardening Association, commenting on 2008 survey results that do-it-yourself gardening was up one billion dollars, says, “It’s the first year we have seen landscape and gardening sales increase since 2002.”

All this bodes well for the coming season, especially when we look at so many other industries that are struggling. It will not be business as usual, however, as we need to shift our thinking and become very focused on the needs and expectations of our customers. One of the most important shifts we need to make is the one towards sustainability. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and other landscape and gardening retailers are going “green,” selling organic and taking cosmetic pesticides off their shelves. At the very least, we need to demonstrate to the public our good practices in recycling, conservation of energy and water and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control. We also must have a full line organic section and staff well versed on how to use these products effectively. The X and Y generations, in particular, are focused on organic gardening.

There is a huge vacuum of gardening knowledge out there for which folks are now hungry for information. It’s important to be the leading credible source for gardening information. Staff training is more important now than ever before, and all information needs to be presented in a simple and effective manner without the Latin. Younger folks research most things on the Internet and come to us for verification or another opinion. If we do not know the answer, it’s very important to look it up for the customer.

The big thing this year is growing-it-yourself. Seed sales will shoot through the roof, as will vegetable starters. Bigger four- and six-inch vegetables will also be much in demand. Any vegetable that will thrive in containers will be huge. ‘Patio Wonder’ peas, ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes, ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard, colourful lettuce and bush pickle cucumbers are just a few examples. Hot, hotter and hottest peppers are all the rage, as are herbs. Having full-grown vegetables on display in containers will pay huge dividends. Success with vegetables will come from having a unique twist, not just the same old stuff. Crossover vegetables, like Red Bor and Lacinato kale and climbing Malabar spinach, have been extremely popular for us.

Container gardening is not a trend; it’s here to stay and it’s getting bigger. Funky trees in pots, vines in pots and water plants in pots are going to be big this year, and unusual colour combinations will also be very popular. Ball Horticultural and Proven Winners deserve credit for their inspiring container designs in their promotional literature for us to copy and emulate.

Small fruits or dwarf fruit trees will be another surprise this year. Everbearing raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, grapes and thornless blackberries are examples of what will be flying off the shelves this year. Collanade, espaliered and multi-grafted trees will be right up there too. Have lots, have them bigger and have an excellent selection. Five- and 10-gallon blueberries and grapes will sell for an instant garden.

If ever there were a year for bling, this would be it. Vibrant colours and value adds, like brilliantly coloured bamboo stakes, are the way to go. At the Independent Garden Centre Association’s conference in South Africa in September 2007, we saw brightly coloured benches, props and ceiling sails – almost everything jumped out. Hot pinks, purples, limes, oranges and reds all are the colours of choice this year for garden centres. Inspire your customers with life, vibrancy and bling. With spray paint in one hand and sparkle in the other, go get ‘em!

This is not the year to invest in the ultra expensive anything. It’s time to clearly focus on what our customers need in their lives and their lifestyles. Keep it simple, comfortable and fun. Create an exciting shopping experience that they can recreate in their own homes and this year of recession will be a delightful surprise.

Questions or comments? Email

Subscription Centre

New Subscription
Already a Subscriber
Customer Service
View Digital Magazine Renew

Most Popular

Latest Events

Opportunities in Greenhouses Workshop
Fri Nov 08, 2019 @ 9:00am - 04:30pm
Green Industry Show
Thu Nov 14, 2019
Wed Nov 20, 2019
IPM Essen
Tue Jan 28, 2020

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. To find out more, read our Privacy Policy.