Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Soaking Up Sales

July 6, 2009  By Andrew Hind

Dry summers become a wake-up call, shocking us into reality. Municipalities institute water bans and wells run low. Water, it seems, is not a limitless resource, even here in Canada, and we can no longer run our lives as if it were.

Dry summers become a wake-up call, shocking us into reality. Municipalities institute water bans and wells run low. Water, it seems, is not a limitless resource, even here in Canada, and we can no longer run our lives as if it were.

With more people looking to conserve water and municipal bans restricting water use, you need to show your customers how they can still have a beautiful garden without tapping the resource.


As water rates rise, summers grow hotter and drier, and people become increasingly aware of environmental issues and water-wise gardening – also known as xeriscaping (xeri is Greek for dry) – is becoming more popular. Simply put, many gardeners are searching for ways to have beautiful yards while using less water.

Because water-wise gardening is hot, it’s time for garden centre owners to rethink how they serve this growing group of customers. Even if passionate xeriscapers are a small minority at the moment, it’s in the best interest of garden centres to embrace – or at least consider – the appeal of water-wise gardening. After all, if even a tiny fraction of frustrated gardeners gives up the hobby because water restrictions mean they can no longer have the vibrant, bountiful gardens they want, garden centres will lose those sales and those customers.

The converse is also true. If you give interested customers the ability to garden effectively in spite of water restrictions by offering sound advice and suggesting appropriate products, you can be certain they will have great success. Not only will your business gain a loyal customer, but, more importantly, you will substantially improve your average sale in a product line that may have been only marginally profitable in the past.

Principles of xeriscaping
It’s important that you and your staff understand the principles of xeriscaping in order to effectively convey this knowledge to interested customers.

Most of the more popular landscape plants demand well-moistened roots. They’re wasteful. But there are alternatives such as plants that are hardier and require less water to thrive. The best plants to select have broad roots, small leaf sizes, waxy coatings on the leaves, seed longevity, and other unique traits that help them thrive in dry conditions and survive otherwise debilitating droughts.

Appropriate annuals include cosmos, marigold, and nasturtium. Bushes such as cotoneaster, juniper, and butterfly bush are solid choices as well. There is a host of suitable perennials, among them daylilies, evening primrose, gaillardia and gayfeather. Don’t overlook plants native to your area, as they will be acclimatized to your specific climatic conditions.

Lawns need to be targeted because they are extremely water intensive. The verdant Kentucky Bluegrass we so admire is among the least hardy of grass varieties. Instead of this water-intensive variety, consider drought-resistant options such as annual rye grass and blue grama; because they’re natives to the prairies they use as 60 per cent less water.

Also, it’s a good idea to limit the lawn area. Recommend customers replace some grass with gardens, a patio or deck, or other landscape features – all of which represent sales opportunities for garden centres in the form of containers, patio furniture, plants and ornamentation.

In addition to using the correct plants, water-wise gardening also requires effort. Plan gardens so that there are groupings of plants with similar water, sun, and soil requirements. This cuts down on work as it allows you to treat entire gardens at once, rather than individual plants.

Among the best things gardeners can do to conserve moisture is mulch their gardens and improve the soil with compost and other organic matter. Also, control damaging pests and weeds that put a strain on plants.

Finally, when watering, it’s important to do so thoroughly to encourage the development of deep roots. A good soaking once per week is preferable to a light watering every day because the latter encourages roots to grow towards the surface where they become vulnerable to heat. Shallow roots are vulnerable roots.

Educating customers on the benefits of water-wise gardening will help improve their results, reinforcing loyalty and encouraging greater interest in beautifying their yards.

Selling the concept
A sales team well versed in water-wise gardening can improve your sales dramatically. By communicating the benefits to customers, they can guide the purchase process to include items that might not otherwise have been sold. These include:

Mulches and soil amendments. Encouraging the use of such products
results in evergreen sales, as mulches and soil amendments will need to
be purchased on an annual basis.
Potting mixes with moisture retention crystals, which are higher price point items than normal soil.
Rain barrels.
Landscape fabrics to keep down moisture sapping weeds. 
Efficient watering supplies, such as drip irrigation systems and soaker
hoses. Point out to customers that it’s most efficient to water from
below, to reduce evaporation.
Herbicides and pesticides, as strained plants require greater water consumption.
Drought-resistant plants, including wild flowers and ornamental grasses. 

The store layout needs to reflect the variety of ways customers can embrace water-wise gardening. All too often, drought-resistant ornamental grasses or wildflowers are stuck in a corner, off on their own. Bring them together in one area, using a dynamic display – perhaps a dry riverbed – to inspire customers and bring a sense of excitement to these often-overlooked items.

The great thing about a display using water-wise principles is that the plants require little care or consideration on the part of your staff. It can be placed out in full sun without the need to water frequently, as so often is the case with other plants.

Pave the way to bigger sales by displaying accessories nearby. Show the plants with soil amendments, ornamentation, and irrigation supplies. If it is not convenient to actually have these items displayed, then put up a sign that reminds your customers what they might need.

You might even offer seminars on xeriscaping; scheduling them for high summer, when people are experiencing the effects of drought, will increase interest. Similarly, this is an ideal time to roll-out displays focusing on water-wise gardening and/or sales based on that theme.

Water-wise gardening is becoming more popular and this is a trend that won’t dry up. Placing yourself at the forefront on this fast-growing market segment will serve you and your customers well in the long run.

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