Rethinking Autumn Sales

July 26, 2007
Written by Michael Lascelle
As far as garden centre sales are concerned, fall is the new spring – and by that, I mean that autumn has as much potential for strong retail sales as those traditionally profitable months of March through June.
Now is the time to show customers all that fall has to offer

8As far as garden centre sales are concerned, fall is the new spring – and by that, I mean that autumn has as much potential for strong retail sales as those traditionally profitable months of March through June. So if the potential is there, why aren’t we capitalizing on that opportunity? The blame, if we can call it that, lies squarely on the shoulders of some very poor marketing techniques that all of us have been guilty of, at one time or another.

Let’s start with the assumption that the main selling season ends with the summer flower sales and the only way to attract customers after this is to discount all the remaining stock. The result is that we have a flurry of sales (but not necessarily profits) in late summer, leaving most garden centres relatively empty by the fall season and, since there is little to see or sell, our clientele stops coming. We have conditioned our customers to this business cycle and until we start showing them everything the fall season has to offer, things are going to remain much the same. So here are a few suggestions to consider while you are rethinking your autumn sales season.

Promoting Spring Bulb Sales
You might be surprised just how many people are unaware that fall is the primary planting season for spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocuses. By way of example, I had dozens of customers enquiring about Allium (flowering onion) when they were in bloom this past May and most were quite disappointed to learn that those lovely purple flower spheres of giant flowering onion (Allium giganteum) were only available as bulbs in the fall.

The wholesale bulb suppliers are also trying to rectify this disconnect by offering such point-of-sales materials as posters, outdoor banners and informative brochures, full of planting suggestions.

Unfortunately, brochures are of little value unless your customers pick them up and read them, and the best way to achieve this is by hosting a free bulb-planting seminar. Use this opportunity to guide your clientele through the many suggested planting techniques such as companion bulbs, layered container plantings and forced flower displays. You should also make them aware of the many bulbs that naturalize, often lasting and displaying well for many years with proper care.

Dried and Silk Arrangements
Go to any craft store in early September and you are bound to see rack after rack of dried and silk flowers, and just as many customers perusing them. I’ll be the first to admit that these items can be very difficult to display and maintain in most garden centres, where humidity and strong sunlight can fade and damage the product in a very short period of time. But once the long days of summer begin to wane, maybe it’s time to get these items back on the shelves, in one form or another.

The upcoming holiday season of Thanksgiving through Christmas is also one of the best times to sell silk or dried flower arrangements to people looking to spruce up their home décor. So perhaps you should consider offering a limited range of dried and silk arrangements this fall just to test the market potential – you should also vary the sizes and seasonal colours to broaden their appeal.

The Right Time to Plant
While we seem to be more spring-oriented towards plants sales here in North America, the primary planting and selling season in Europe is actually in the fall. This makes good horticultural sense – the soil is still warm, a second root flush occurs in autumn, and the impending rains mean that you won’t have to worry about watering or plants drying out in the summer heat. The autumn season is also a very comfortable time for gardeners to be out working in their landscapes or visiting your garden centre, looking for those perfect plants.

Seasonal Colour – the Stars of Autumn
Asters, rudbeckia, ornamental grasses, red maples, chrysanthemums, stonecrop…the list of plants providing foliar or flower colour during this season is extensive. Autumn has just as much plant diversity to offer as the spring season, we just need to present it in a much more positive light. By way of example, you are not going to sell ornamental grasses by tucking them away in an obscure corner of the nursery. Instead, feature them just as you would spring flowers – grouped in mass displays when the plumes or seedheads are borne prominently.

Don’t leave those sweet gums (Liquidambar), katsura (Cercidiphyllum) and red maples (Acer rubrum) in full autumn glory languishing in the tree racks, bring them out to the entrance arbor or front displays in full view of your customers and just watch them sell. Load up those normally empty tables with colour crops of fall asters, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), chrysanthemums and stonecrops (Sedum spectabile), and be sure to create some mixed fall planters to help inspire people with limited garden space. Also, keep an ample supply of mixed ornamental squash, pumpkins, dried corn and gourds near the sales counter – as these are good impulse items at this time of year.

Advertising the Season
You also need to let your customers know that the fall season has arrived at your garden centre, especially if this has traditionally been a slow sales period for your business. Full-colour newspaper ads, sales coupons and special events such as harvest festivals or pumpkin carving contests will bring people to your nursery, where they can see for themselves all the colour that autumn has to offer. The fall sales season is essentially what you make it out to be – it can either be a time to clear out leftover stock at deep discounts, or it can be a consistently profitable few months, which add to you your bottom line.

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