Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Saving Sales on a Rainy Day


January 19, 2010
By Andrew Hind

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For garden centres, an inclement spring becomes a season of discontent. Cold temperatures or miserable, rainy weather can lead to a severe decrease in customer interest and sales. The spring season is all-important, but also fleeting; it’s frustrating when the weather doesn’t go your way.

For garden centres, an inclement spring becomes a season of discontent. Cold temperatures or miserable, rainy weather can lead to a severe decrease in customer interest and sales. The spring season is all-important, but also fleeting; it’s frustrating when the weather doesn’t go your way.

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That being said, garden centre owners and managers are not helpless bystanders. There are certainly things they can do when bad weather hits to attract shoppers, incite sales, and keep staff productive while waiting for the weather to become more favourable. It’s all about being proactive, inspired, and creative.

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The most important thing to consider is the health and appearance of your plant stock. Inclement weather means your staff has to work harder to maintain plant quality so that once customers do start shopping, and they will, once the sun stops playing tag with the clouds and the days begin to warm, they find your flowers, shrubs, and trees appealing.

“Dull, dreary, cold or rainy days play havoc on the quality of plants wanting to bloom or already in bloom (shattered, slimy petals and leaves, for example),” says Victoria Whitney, manager of Griffin’s Greenhouse, in Peterborough, Ont. “Botrytis can be a problem during poor spring weather and extra care is required to keep the plants in tip-top shape for when the better weather makes an appearance.”

Take advantage of the slow period to further train staff members, especially seasonal employees, so that they are knowledgeable and confident. A few days extra tutorial can make new workers far more productive throughout the season, so embrace the opportunity and consider it an investment in the future. The reality is, eventually the weather will get better and customers will return, and probably in greater concentration than otherwise would be the norm due to time lost. You’ll need your staff trained and capable of independent action more than ever to handle the flash flood of shoppers.

It’s also important to be mindful of staff morale during periods of inclement weather. Working outdoors in the cold or rain can make for a miserable experience, and staff can grow restless during times of low customer flow. Be prepared for this: even a simple gesture of a warm hot chocolate and a doughnut can be a welcome respite on a dreary day.

“Keep morale up by having an impromptu staff party with cake and ice cream,” suggest Tricia Ingram, from Cobblestone Garden Centre in Calgary. “Use the time to bolster excitement and focus in the team, and have a small give-away to the MVP of the week or the winner of a draw. The prize should be useful and perhaps even humorous. For example, ‘for your valiant work in the very wet tree lot we are rewarding you with this hairdryer,’ or maybe it could be a rain jacket, warm gloves, or a pair of long underwear.”

Owners and senior management work an enormous amount of hours during the spring and summer, so they should take advantage of the slow period to rotate having some down time. Even an afternoon off can do wonders to replenish energy and focus.

Creative marketing can help draw in customers, even in the most inhospitable of weather. If a sale is good enough, or an event has a unique twist you can all-but guarantee people will come out.

“Luckily, e-mail marketing has made it much easier to put together events to create excitement and traffic to your store. A fun, hand’s on event can fill the empty spaces in the parking lot,” says Whitney. “In the past we would have to organize the event, print flyers, mail them, wait for the mail to be delivered, and then execute the event. Now, using an efficient e-mail marketing program (we use Constant Contact), once the event details are solidified the e-mail can be sent out and one or two days later, the event can take place.”

Hands on workshops are a great idea during slow traffic periods, since both staffing and space are available. These workshops can be on almost any aspect of gardening, but it should be fun and somehow drive sales. Whitney suggests a BYOC (or Bring Your Own Container) event.

“Participants bring their own container, staff fill them with soil while the host staff member shows a selection of plants appropriate for container gardening,” she explains. “Participants are let loose to fill a tray with plants to choose from and staff wander about, helping each participant design and plant the creation. This brings cars to our parking lot and gets people talking about our business”

Ingram has some suggestions of her own which have proven successful to her centre in the past.

“Have a cause-driven indoor promotion that you advertise, such as perhaps a breast cancer sale where you encourage customers to wear pink into the store and you will in turn donate 10 per cent of their purchase to the Canadian Cancer foundation,” she says. “Another idea is to bring something free into your store, such as popcorn, balloons for the kids, a Saturday magician, and so forth. When the weather is bad people with kids are sick and tired of sitting indoors, listening to their kids run wild; they would love an excuse to go somewhere.”

Those who plan ahead and prepare for period of slow sales/poor weather will be better able to host successful events of these kinds. Cashiers should encourage customers to give their e-mail addresses so that they can receive newsletters and e-mail updates. These addresses are vital when planning to host a promotional event. Other media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are helpful for connecting with customers as well.

Gardeners are, to a large degree, slaves to the unpredictable nature of weather. But that doesn’t mean garden centres have to be. Even in dismal spring weather there are plenty of things that can be done, and indeed should be done, to create excitement in the centre and lay the foundation for a profitable season to come.

Victoria Whitney puts it this way: “Spring is our time to shine, even if Mother Nature makes it hard for us to do so."

Additional things to do during periods of inclement weather
Check custom orders and make personal connections with those who have
placed a custom order to schedule a date and time for pick up.
Track stock levels.
Plan for future marketing campaigns.
Offer a carry-out service to the car or personal shopping from e-mailing lists and delivery service.
Call your best customers.
Focus on duties neglected during the busy seasons, such as store cleanliness.


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