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Inspiring Winter Sales


October 1, 2009
By Mike Lascelle

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Unlike spring sales, the Christmas season is never a sure thing for those garden centres that choose to stay open through winter. Consequently, some nurseries stock minimally in order to mitigate potential losses but this minimalist approach often leads to dissatisfied customers, who have become accustomed to elaborate seasonal displays in malls and box stores. So, here are nine tips to help you improve your pre- and post-Christmas season.

Unlike spring sales, the Christmas season is never a sure thing for
those garden centres that choose to stay open through winter.
Consequently, some nurseries stock minimally in order to mitigate
potential losses but this minimalist approach often leads to
dissatisfied customers, who have become accustomed to elaborate
seasonal displays in malls and box stores. So, here are nine tips to
help you improve your pre- and post-Christmas season.
 

p16_sucwreath p16_wintergreen
p16_wreath p16_xmasrose
p16_purplepoint p16_bluelady
Expand your holiday offerings by venturing outside the tried and true Christmas décor or spicing them up in new ways. Clockwise, from top left: an indoor succulent Christmas wreath; Wintergreen or Gaultheria procumbens; ‘Winter Rose’ Poinsettia; amaryllis, which make great impulse sales items; a white poinsettia painted lavender and pine cones and conifers, which are essential holiday decorations.

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Pre-Christmas
Stocking the ‘Little’ Things – You should never underestimate the
importance of Christmas tradition and being able to provide some of the
items integral to those long-standing customs. Cut holly, live wreaths,
mistletoe (artificial and preserved), cedar rope, conifer boughs and
pine cones are just of few of the décor ingredients that people come
looking for. While it can be difficult to source these items and
estimate your actual needs, if customers can’t find them in your store
they will simply go elsewhere, because they are not about to give up on
their long held family traditions.

Hang Those Trees – Go to most Christmas tree lots and you’ll see stacks
of wet or frozen trees that are reluctant to open up and nearly
impossible to view properly. Hang or suspend those same trees from the
support beams of an otherwise empty greenhouse and you have a dry
display area with trees that are fully open and easily spun 360
degrees, so people can inspect them. I think you will also find a
substantial increase in sales when you display in this manner.

Seasonal Succulents – Poinsettias aren’t the only colour in town around
Christmas. In fact, many brilliant and textured succulents fit right in
with our yuletide decorating themes. For a traditional red try offering
the grafted moon cactus ‘Hibotan’ (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) or the
Crested Elkhorn ( Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’) as a potential gift for
those difficult to buy for gardeners. There are even specialty
nurseries that produce living candle rings and wreaths made of
colourful succulents (such as sedum, crassula and aeonium) that can be
used to decorate the inside of the home.

Try a Hockey Day – Let’s face the facts – winter in Canada is hockey
season – so why fight it? Use hockey as a draw to your nursery by
having a ‘Hockey Day’ in early December when your Christmas display is
in full swing. The nursery where I work held one last year with a free
hockey target contest for kids (with prizes for different age
categories), and staff and customers were encouraged to wear their
hockey jerseys – it was a lot of fun. The event attracted quite a few
families (including those elusive Dads) and a few first-time visitors
who were able to peruse and buy our Christmas stock. One brave soul
even wore her Toronto Maple Leafs jersey in public, a rare sight out
here in Canuck land!

Don’t Forget Winter Bulbs – Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) and paperwhites
(Narcissus) help fill that pre-season Christmas gap in November and can
continue brisk sales well past Dec. 25. The trick here is to have a
broad selection of colours (i.e. paperwhites come in different hues,
such as ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’) and to stock both forced plants and
dormant bulbs, for those gardeners who prefer to grow their own.

Have a Poinsettia Painting Party – While the colour range and flower
form of poinsettias has expanded rapidly these past few years, there
are still people who crave something out of the ordinary. Enter
non-toxic poinsettia painting kits that use spray colours on white
poinsettias to broaden that colour range to purple, blue and orange –
with the option of adding sparkles. While this certainly won’t appeal
to everyone, there are enough potential customers out there to offer a
poinsettia painting party – where you can demonstrate painting
techniques and give your clients the opportunity to create their own
masterpiece. While we’re on the subject of poinsettias, make sure that
you carry some of the more unusual variegated and balled forms, such as
‘Winter Rose.’


Post-Christmas

Expanding Boxing Day – Everyone has a Boxing Day sale – so what makes
yours any different from those at the mall stores? One suggestion would
be to include non-traditional items such as houseplants and orchids in
the sale, so it’s not just ornaments and Christmas décor being
discounted. This gives you the opportunity to lower your plant
inventory before the expected slow period in January and it will also
provide more room to restock once those sales return.

Hopping on the Hellebore Bandwagon – Winter and early spring flowering
Helleborus are still one of the hottest perennial markets right now,
and having a good selection on hand when they bud and bloom will
definitely help winter sales. Double flowering forms (i.e. ‘Swirlin’
Skirts’ or ‘Golden Lotus’) are particularly in high demand and since
wholesale prices of these are dropping slightly (due to increased
availability) the lower retail prices should lead to slightly stronger
sales.

Seasonal Berries – Ornamental berries extend well beyond cut holly at
Christmas – with female Skimmia, winterberry (Ilex verticillata),
wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), lingonberry (Vaccinium
vitis-idaea) and Beauty Berry (Callicarpa ‘Profusion’) all persisting
well into the new year. You should have these shrubs on hand for
planter sales – at least in those areas with milder winters.


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