By Brian Minter
Extend retail season: spring into fall sales
By Brian Minter
November 2015 — One of the greatest challenges to our retail garden industry is its perceived seasonality and reliance on weather. We make too many assumptions based on this entrenched thinking. Many smart operators are taking the approach of opening only for high volume times and closing for slower seasons. Financially this makes a lot of sense, but in the long-term, are we losing market positioning and share?
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, I recall the struggle to discover the potential of fall. Remember the “fall is for planting” campaign and how long it took this message to create a new season. This is, however, a long-term vision issue that the giant box retailers have dominated, selling hundreds of thousands of garden mums and fall planters and hanging baskets.
One of our goals has always been to mitigate the seasonality of our business by building on the slower months. To do this we try to anticipate our customers’ potential summer needs. We know they are not taking the traditional summer holiday and instead are spending more time in – and money on – their outdoor living spaces. We also know they entertain friends and family as well as trying to relax and enjoy time on their patios. This means opportunities for patio accessorizing.
I’ve never been a fan of selling off everything in the store as so many do in June and July. I prefer to clear out only excess product that did not do expected numbers. Smart sell-offs not only bring in customers, but they will also right-size our inventories. What summer customers should find in our stores are upgrades of summer colour. That means larger sizes of heat-loving annuals, like Profusion zinnias, Dragon Wing begonias, Cupcake portulacas, Wave petunias and other plants that will thrive in hot summer weather. Fresh new baskets and containers, designed with summer heat lovers, will bring in folks looking to enhance their patios.
Another trend, too, is big tropicals ready to add an instant theme to the summer gardens. Larger sizes of hardy and red bananas, large palms, outdoor hibiscus and colourful bougainvilleas are in demand for summer. Having a terrific selection of outdoor tropical gardens is a summer must.
Edibles, too, offer a great opportunity for summer sales. Larger patio containers, planted with the right varieties of container vegetables like ‘Tumbler’ and ‘Tumbling Tom’ tomatoes ripe with fruit are hard to resist. Also popular are fruiting bush cucumbers and zucchini on a trellis, everbearing strawberries and raspberries loaded with berries, and basil and Simply Salad lettuce ready to harvest.
Giant succulents in trendy containers and hanging baskets, designed for millennials, are summer icons. The more unique, the greater the appeal. These plants have become collectors’ items because of their showiness and easy care.
These are the elements that can refresh and renew summer interest in garden stores and are areas where independents can outperform the boxes.
As late summer begins to hint of fall, it’s time to celebrate that season in an “over the top” fashion. Fall really begins in mid-August. We must not let the boxes command the mum market. Bring them in early, in a wider selection of colours and varieties and sell them at very competitive pricing. Accessorize them with large fall grasses in three-gallon and five-gallon containers.
By early September, be the first with funky and fun squash, gourds and pumpkins in massive displays. Enhance your products and store by incorporating fall decor, such as half-size hay bales, cornstalks, novelty corn and so much more. Stunning fall containers and baskets to freshen up late summer pots are great ways to encourage our customers to engage in autumn. Being early, being first and being best are the key ingredients to success.
Just as fall is underway, we need to introduce, in quiet and subtle ways, Christmas, everyone’s favourite season. Doing so creates excitement and much needed early sales. Ignore the few who complain – they’re not your engaged Christmas customers anyway.
Late spring, summer and fall should be exciting times to create customer engagement and boost sales. We need to have the attitude of celebrating new seasons and creating new opportunities for our customers to add value to their outdoor living.
Brian Minter is co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store in Chilliwack, B.C.