Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Selling the Tools of Our Trade

April 28, 2008  By Mike Lascelle

It is sometimes easier to overlook an overstocked or poorly managed tool department because, unlike plants, tools do not need the constant maintenance of fertilizing, pruning and watering.

It is sometimes easier to overlook an overstocked or poorly managed tool department because, unlike plants, tools do not need the constant maintenance of fertilizing, pruning and watering. However, when that year-end inventory sneaks up on you, it will become very apparent just how much of your money is sitting there, gathering dust. The best approach is to try to manage your tool department with the same diligence that you apply towards live plants – with the emphasis on a faster turnaround. With that in mind, here are a few facets of the garden tool trade, which you might want to consider.

Choosing the Right Tools to Sell
I’ll be the first to admit that we sell a limited selection of garden tools. But given the fact that our garden centre is located within a 10-minute drive of four large box store retailers (Canadian Tire, Rona, Home Depot and Costco), it just isn’t practical to try to compete with them for every sale. Over the years, items such as wheelbarrows, rubber hoses, micro-irrigation kits and tank sprayers had to be dropped from our tool line, simply because they were no longer competitively priced and our sales stagnated. However, if your nursery or garden centre is in a more rural or isolated location, then it makes perfect sense to carry a broad range of tools to service the needs of your community. So the first thing you need to do is to simply assess what will or won’t sell in your store. This can be achieved through
in-house surveys or keeping track of customer requests, but probably the best place to start is with a trip to the competition. During your reconnoitre, remember that ‘dust is your friend‚’ as it is a good indicator of lack-luster sales.


Seasonal Sales
We are in the ‘seasonal sales’ business and garden tools are no exception. So make sure that you are promoting your tool sales at every opportunity during the course of the year. To give you some idea of which tools have the potential for impulse sales and when, here is a brief outline of seasonal garden activities and the tools your customers may need to purchase at that time.

• Late Winter Pruning Season: secateurs, loppers, handsaws, pruning knives, pole pruners, sprayers (for dormant sprays)

• Christmas and Winter:  small handsaws (to give the Christmas tree a fresh cut), secateurs and loppers (to cut fresh Christmas greens), snow shovels, ice scrapers, flat shovels, bow saws, axes and mauls (for splitting firewood)

• Spring Lawn Maintenance: hand aerators, weed pullers, dethatching rakes, fertilizer spreaders, hoses and sprinklers

• Spring & Summer Bulb Sales: trowels, bulb planters, shovels, garden gloves, hard rakes, knee pads, turning forks

• Summer Planting Season: shovels, spades, hard rakes, garden gloves, seed sowers, watering cans, trowels

• Autumn Leaf Fall: fan rakes, plastic compost bins, fertilizer spreaders (for fall fertilizer), tarps for gathering leaves

• Regular Garden Maintenance: hoes, cultivators, potato hooks (a useful tool for rough grading soil), hedge shears, rain gauge, minimum-maximum thermometer, comfortable garden shoes (plastic clogs), watering cans, water wands, hoses, garden forks.
Tools That Sell Themselves

I was quite skeptical when it first arrived, ‘yet another self-contained tool stand,’ but this one came with a small colour monitor and DVD player mounted on the top. With the promise that “you only have to pay for what you sell” and “all you have to do is turn the DVD on and they sell themselves,” we embarked on an experiment in tool sales. The stand itself is 6' tall, 2' wide, and about 18" deep – so it only really requires three square feet of floor space, which is pretty good. The product was just a basic line of four simple hand tools (hoes, weed pullers and cultivators), all of which I had seen before in one form or another. We finally decided to test it out in our bedding house, a place where people generally go looking for summer flowers, not tools. But sure enough, when that DVD and monitor were running, our customers bought those tools right off the rack without asking the staff any questions – but on those days when someone forgot to turn them on, we didn’t sell a single unit. So obviously, tools have the potential to sell themselves when they are displayed properly.

The Pros and Cons of Brand Names
Have you ever noticed that every time a new gardening tool is advertised on a television commercial, the only place it seems to be available is at numerous box stores and large hardware chains? Not only are your customers being directed to your competition by this type of advertising, but that product is forever associated with those types of stores. My solution to all this hype is not to stock these type of products at all – instead, I find a comparable well-built tool that does about the same job. So when my customers come in asking for the newest in weeders or cultivators, I show them what a good old-fashioned tool can do, for about half the price.

 A Lesson in Perceived Value
He came into the store looking to purchase a pair of secateurs as a gift for his wife, the gardener. After briefly scanning the inexpensive models (in the $14.99 to $19.99 range) that we leave out on the tool rack, he approached me and asked if we sold professional pruners. I told him we did and walked him over to our glass display case where we kept them – and then proceeded to lay out the full range of the models we carry (about six) out on the counter. After explaining about the quality of design and materials which goes into this company’s product, I went on to tell him that each pair carries a lifetime warranty against faulty workmanship and that every single component is replaceable, and can be ordered through our garden centre. Then I began to show him the various models (i.e. left-handed, swivel handle, smaller hand grips, etc.), so we could find the one best suited to his wife’s gardening
Needless to say, he was quite impressed – but then came that seemingly critical question, “How much do they cost?” With a price range varying from $59.99 to $129.99, they were quite a bit more expensive than the secateurs he had first looked at. And I could tell from his expression, that the price was a little higher than he had anticipated. So I pulled out my personal pair of secateurs from my belt pouch, as they just happened to be made by the same company. I laid them on the counter and told him that they had been used on a regular basis for ten years now, and all they needed during that time was an occasional oiling and sharpening. He thought about it for about five seconds and then confidently said, “I’ll take that pair!”

Buying Local
Another solution to get around the mass-marketing of national brands is to buy locally-made tools – and while I’ll admit that local tool manufacturers can be few and far between, the few that do exist (outside national wholesale distribution networks) generally offer very good service. A good example of this would be Bert Pulles and his locally manufactured line of ‘Mole Buster’ traps. His product is a simple spring trap, which effectively rids mole-infested gardens and lawns of these tunnelling pests. Bert has also recently improved his product by adding a highly visible red indicator switch, so you can tell when the trap has been sprung without digging it up. He promotes ‘Mole Buster’ traps (and his services) through radio interviews and informative seminars, which he offers at no charge for any garden centre or nursery who wants to stock his product. Bert gets broad local sales distribution and the garden centres in turn reap their share of the profits selling his product, which, in my opinion, is a much more balanced approach to sales.

Seminars Sell
We probably sell more tools during (and immediately after) our pruning seminars than at any other time of the year. These seminars are presented by local landscaper Kim Kamstra.  He provides the pruning samples (the good, the bad and the ugly), while we provide a range of tools for the demonstration. The seminars are free of charge, are advertised well in advance, and are always well attended. Part of the demonstration includes a ‘hands-on’ lesson, and it doesn’t take the participants very long to realize how easy pruning can be with the right tools – be it a pair of secateurs with swivel handles to alleviate wrist strain, or a thinly curved handsaw, which pulls cleanly in tight quarters, or even a pole pruner with a compound cutting mechanism, so less exertion is necessary. Our customers always leave the seminar with a better grasp of pruning practices and usually a new tool or two!

Cost and Quality
When I first started working as a nursery manager, I had a hard time understanding why anyone would want to purchase a ‘cheap’ tool. I had spent the past 18 years as a landscape-gardener, working with nothing but professional-quality tools, ‘the best steel’ design and comfort that money could provide – tools that were meant to put in a hard day’s work, every day, and last for years. And while you initially paid a lot more for this professional quality, my reasoning was that they were worth every penny, given their durability. So when I came across a rack full of fifteen dollar secateurs that I knew would only last about three months in the hands of a professional – I had a hard time selling them to anyone. But after awhile I began to realize that not every customer has a lot of money to spend on garden tools, and that there were many people who used their tools so infrequently, that even the cheaper models would probably last them for years. There were also those gardeners who lost their hand tools on a regular basis, or frequently loaned them to their neighbours – who in turn ‘lost’ them on a regular basis.

But regardless of cost or quality, you must always be able to tell your customers that they are getting good value for the money they are spending, or you are simply doing them a disservice. The cardinal rule of retailing garden implements is always finding the right tool for the right customer, at the right price.

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