Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
It’s All Gone to Pots


June 15, 2010
By Michael Lascelle

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I think it’s safe to say that the popularity of the container gardening
trend is quickly gaining momentum and it is only a matter of time before
it morphs into one of the stalwarts of retail garden sales.

pots

I think it’s safe to say that the popularity of the container gardening trend is quickly gaining momentum and it is only a matter of time before it morphs into one of the stalwarts of retail garden sales. The question that you need to ask yourself as a nursery owner or manager is: what am I doing to integrate this trend into my mainstream product line? In order to capitalize on the potential sales, you should be evaluating your container marketing plan from your initial wholesale purchases right down to those last-minute add-on sales.

Purchasing the right pots
A successful container department begins with the pots you choose to purchase, and the more product lines you view at trade shows and open houses, the better. You should always have someone with the purchaser to provide a second opinion on quality and esthetics – or better yet, bring a brochure back to the nursery and have the staff choose their favourites before placing an order. Always talk warranty or product guarantee with the supplier and check carefully for cracks, finish flaws or signs of wear – if the display models show any of these symptoms, it’s not likely they’ll hold up out in the elements in your customers’ gardens.

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Seminars = customers
Container garden seminars require a great deal of preparation, occupy valuable retail space at inconvenient times and often tie up your most knowledgeable staff – but despite these drawbacks, I have never seen a better means of introducing your customers to the products you sell. You literally have a captive audience that wants to learn all about the full range of plants that grow well in containers, the difference between terracotta and fibreglass pots, container soils, fertilizers, watering systems – in essence, everything they will need to purchase for a successful container garden. The other benefit here is that seminars seem to attract a lot of new clientele, who can quickly become regular customers if they enjoy the seminar and feel welcome at your nursery.

Don’t forget the plants
At the core of every container sale is a plant, because without them your customers would have no need for pots to grow them in. Fortunately, there is no shortage of plants suited for container culture, we just need to do a better job of making our clients aware of them. From arid alpine troughs studded with a tapestry of succulents (Sempervivum, Echeveria, Sedum, Crassula) to elegant water bowls brimming with dwarf papyrus (Cyperus), Bowles golden sedge, corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’) and miniature floaters (Salvinia, Azolla, Hydrocharis), there is something to suit every taste, budget and level of garden expertise. Sample planters can go a long way to inspire even casual shoppers to make an impulse purchase. By way of example – we used to have a stack of wire chair planters that were just gathering dust until someone took the incentive to line one with sphagnum moss and plant it up with annuals in bloom – the balance of the stock quickly sold, including the moss and summer flowers to complete the planters.

Topping up your container sales
Remember that the sale doesn’t have to end with the planter. You should be asking customers if they need saucers, pot feet, sealant (for terracotta and unglazed surfaces), a plant caddy, micro-irrigation or an appropriate fertilizer (organic for edibles, slow-release or water soluble). Then there’s drainage rock and container mixes, with the market for compost-based blends (such as ‘Sea Soil’) growing exponentially as the demand for containerized fruits and vegetables gains momentum.

The edible factor
I would estimate that about 10 per cent of all containers currently being sold are being bought specifically to grow edibles. For the most part these are inexpensive plastic pots purchased more for volume and utility, as opposed to esthetics but still, a sale is a sale. Occasionally, a much larger and more durable container is necessary, such as when someone wants to grow a dwarf fruit tree or blueberry bush in an oak half-barrel. The other anomaly related to this particular trend is that almost all these sales are being driven by young families with a strong desire to grow at least some of their own food. You can cultivate these sales by having someone on staff familiar with edibles suitable for container culture, to help ensure that these new customers achieve some measure of success. Then there’s the necessity of stocking the appropriate plants – including a good selection of herbs, genetic dwarf fruit trees (‘Bonanza’ peach, ‘Compact Stella’ cherry), specialty potatoes (‘Russian Blue’, ‘French Fingerling’), berry bushes (‘Top Hat’ blueberry), container tomatoes (‘Tumbling Tom’, ‘Tumbler’) and strawberries (alpine and everbearing).

Room for expanded sales
While we are often reluctant to admit it, garden centres are finite spaces and sooner or later we have to be selective about the products we choose to stock. That said, if container gardening is an increasing component of your annual sales, are you also allotting more space to warrant those sales or are you still trying to squeeze it all into the same square footage? It might be time to evaluate the profits in your other departments (i.e., tools, garden furniture) and adjust the space they occupy accordingly, in order to accommodate a wider selection of containers and sample planters.


Container trends and solutions

Trends are fueled by consumer demand and there are two things that our customers want from their containers right now – light weight and durability. Most of these consumers are people who are in the process of retiring, downsizing from single detached homes to condominiums or apartments. They tend to be in their 60s, they understand that quality products cost more, and they have no desire to lug heavy pots around or have to empty and store them for winter because they’re not frost-proof.

Two trend-setting companies are meeting these very specific demands by designing and manufacturing the solution. GardenStone of Richmond, B.C. specializes in finely crafted old-world containers with durable acid or stain-based finishes that never chip, flake or peel. Their concrete-blend pots come with a five-year unconditional guarantee against frost damage – making them both durable and beautiful. Duracraft of Rochester, N.Y. and Toronto is a leader in the production of light fibreglass/resin containers that mimic the appearance of much heavier bronze or cast iron pieces. They utilize an external gel-coat that bonds (and protects) the fibreglass, as well as the metallic finishes, which actually develop a natural patina over time. You can view both these companies’ product lines at www.gardenstonemfg.com and www.myduracraft.com respectively.


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