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Potting Up Yuletide Sales: Christmas containers create festive flair

September 30, 2008  By Andrew Hind

By November containers and pots
have been away for the year, awaiting the arrival of spring once more.
The same can be said of many garden centres; they go into a state of
dormancy until the warm weather rolls around next April.

By November containers and pots have been away for the year, awaiting the arrival of spring once more. The same can be said of many garden centres; they go into a state of dormancy until the warm weather rolls around next April.

A Christmas themed container announces the season to all and provides a warm welcome for visitors

But as people are rapidly discovering, the same containers that hold vibrant annuals during the summer can be put to brilliant effect in celebrating the yuletide season as well. A Christmas-themed container, composed of evergreen boughs and other accents, displayed prominently on a front porch, announces the season to all and provides a warm welcome for visitors. It’s also a beautiful way to blend the spirit of the garden with the spirit of the holiday season.

This imagery presents a golden opportunity for horticultural retailers.


“Christmas containers are a growing trend, and garden centres are finally starting to realize that they can use them to create sales in all four seasons”, says Victoria Whitney, manager of Griffin’s Greenhouses in Lakefield, Ont. “They’re beautiful and nostalgic and seem to speak to the season. Also, by this time gardens have been put to bed and true gardeners are at a loss. Designing a Christmas container allows them to be creative for another season, and helps to bring them back to the centre.”

Griffin’s is well known for embracing the concept of Christmas containers and using them to drive a dynamic holiday season. They’ve been so successful in using them to create interest and sales that Victoria will be speaking on this very topic at the Canadian Greenhouse Conference this year.

Who better to guide us through the still relatively new trend?

Winter-friendly containers
It all begins with containers. More often than not, the container itself is the key to success in making a striking display, so you’ll want to have some attractive options available for sale into November and early December – think cast iron urns, wooden half barrels and festive colored window boxes. What a great way to make a few extra sales on an item that otherwise would simply lay away in storage until spring.

One must bear in mind the vulgarities of the Canadian winter. The combination of frost and thaw, snow and rain, and extreme temperatures make certain materials inappropriate to be left outdoors, and therefore of little value as Christmas containers. Concrete, plastic or terracotta pots will crack and shatter under the duress, so only offer wood, cast iron, or metal containers for sale.

Think exotic greenery
Common greens are just that. Common. They can be found for sale in most garden centres and sometimes even in big-box stores, or even pruned directly from nature, so they’re not the foundation upon which to build really successful sales in relation to Christmas containers. You need them, true enough, but if you want to help customers realize a vision – and spend their money – you need more.

“We bring in a lot of high-quality, specialized material from suppliers in Oregon and other parts of the north-west United States to give customers exotic options,” Whitney says. “These are higher price-point items, so they increase sales.”

Whatever greenery you ultimately purchase, ensure it is kept outside for freshness, and ideally in a sheltered area where you won’t have to clean if off after every snowfall. Dress up the display area to create a festive, welcoming look that will get customers in the mood.

“One thing we do is spend time during the slow October period in the fields and woods harvesting natural items, such as sumac, pinecones, and seed pods,” explains Whitney. “They’re nice additions to a display, and with a simple coat of silver spray paint they turn out beautiful. Our customers love them.”
Educate staff on Christmas container basics
Your staff can help drive sales of containers by understanding the basics of designing a Christmas container. And it shouldn’t be difficult; after all, they are designed with the same basic principles of floral arrangement and summer container gardening in mind.

The bulk of the greenery will consist of fillers and cheap items intended to add depth and act as a backdrop. Trailing greenery is invaluable in containers. Evergreen branches spill decorously over the sides, masking the hard edges of the pot and creating the illusion that the pot does not confine the arrangement.

Vertical interest is created using boughs from shrubs with interesting texture or colour. Examples include burning bush (with their vibrant red winter bark), dogwood, birch, corkscrew hazel, and variegated eunonymous. Other intriguing choices, predominantly because of the visual interest added by the berries, are holly, winterberry, viburnum and bittersweet.

Always remind customers that displays do not have to be limited to real greenery. Think about the items you carry that might be used to brighten up a container – anything from grapevine shapes to artificial flowers to ribbons – and make sure they are available for sale.

Successfully integrating Christmas containers into your holiday repertoire opens the door to other exciting yuletide opportunities, such as wreath making.

Take the extra step
Garden centres like Griffin’s, that truly succeed with Christmas containers, go one step beyond simply offering fresh greens for sale. In the process, they set themselves apart from the competition.

One great way to make the most of Christmas containers is to offer design seminars.

“Believe it or not, demand is so high we start advertising seminars in August. They typically run from mid-November to the second week of December, by which time most people have finished decorating for the season,” says Whitney. “If I have one piece of advice, it’s to be flexible with the scheduling – you want to appeal to different age groups and the entire community, so you need a mixture of daytime, evening, and weekend seminars.”

Going one step further, you might have a walk-and-gather workshop that takes people out in the wilds to harvest items for their design. This empowers people and gets them excited about the process. And, as Griffin’s Greenhouse has discovered, other exciting opportunities emerge once excitement has been generated with successful Christmas containers seminars. 

“We bought a wreath machine for wreath-making workshops and we’re seeing an expansion in interest in that. It’s an intimate experience that suits the season, and since many people make the wreaths as gifts and they become repeat customers,” Whitney says. “Beyond that, we’re moving into candle-wreath workshops and poinsettia painting workshops.”

In short, Christmas containers offer an easy entry into an exciting new world of yuletide retailing. With a little bit of effort, you can reap considerable rewards and make your garden centre a truly four season operation.

Smart garden centres realize ’tis the season to embrace Christmas containers.

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