Greenhouse Canada

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The Container Craze Continues

April 24, 2008  By Brian Minter

Container gardening is still on the rise and will continue to be a bright spot when we’re all looking for ways to find those important little niches.

20aGetting Your Containers Noticed in a Fiercely Competitive Market

Container gardening is still on the rise and will continue to be a bright spot when we’re all looking for ways to find those important little niches. Folks are continuing to live closer together; lifestyles are moving towards ‘more beauty, less work’; the patio is becoming a hot‚ new outdoor living area, and containers have moved into a role of prominence in outdoor décor.

 Shades of blue, blended colours of mauves and metallic greens are ‘in.’

To be on the leading edge of this huge potential growth area, we need to focus on threes areas. Number one is inspiration. According to Dr. Marvin Miller, head of the Chicago-based Ball Company’s research department, all horticultural growing in the U.S. is flat for the first time in its history. There are, of course, many reasons for this, but one glaring reason is our industry’s collective ambivalence towards our consumers. In spite of the incredible need for the beauty, relaxation, stress relief and pure enjoyment our products offer, we are failing to communicate the essence of this to our key market potential. Simply stated, we need to re-inspire our consumer.

How many ordinary or not so inspiring products are flooding the market place? Low-price-driven containers are not where we need to be. We need to move away from the ordinary and differentiate all our containers. The other guys do cheap better anyway.

We need to create the ‘wow’ stuff that our key customers really would love to have in their lives. It’s time to move away from the plastic Grecian urns and inexpensive terracotta look-alikes to ceramics in colours that match today’s trends. Shades of blue, blended colours of mauves and metallic greens are ‘in.’ Black is always safe. The style of our containers must change too. Inexpensive Oriental designs and traditional round shapes are so ‘out.’  Tall, thin, low, oval, hexagon and octagon shapes are ‘in.’ Folks are looking for a different, yet classy, look. The leading edge stores in our region have done very well with black zinc metal pots in unique shapes. This year the pure metallic look seems to be the thing. Each region has its slight differences, but we need to see what’s new at the gift shows in Dallas and Atlanta to keep ahead of the curve.

We’re never going to sell lots of $200, $300 or $400 containers when our mainstream is in the $40 to $100 price range. What we need to do is make this $40 to $100 container look so unique and different from all others that the difference is truly noticeable. If we don’t take this approach we quickly become lumped in with all the rest and fall back into the price game.

As unique as our pots may be, they still need to be well priced, and the only way to do that is to buy container loads as a group buy. If you don’t do it already, you’ll be amazed at the savings. You don’t have to be part of a buying group – put your own together! With unique products, we often only take 10 per cent of a container, and we do all the legwork. It’s a great way to help our friends in the industry but still get bottom line pricing. You have to take some risks, but if you work with mainstream suppliers, they will guide you and, for a fee, do some of the distribution. The margins are worth the effort.

Display is everything, and this is especially true for containers. You need enough inventory to show that you are really in the business, and there should be some drama in how they are presented. Vertical displays are the most effective use of space, and colour coordination is key.  It’s also very important to make sure all pots are customer accessible, especially if they are heavy. Container displays should be located near main pathways on the way to and from the colour areas.

Entire sets of containers should be planted with great combinations in the midst of colour areas to provide inspiration for customers looking for ideas both in the types of plants to use together and the types of pots that best show them off. These are your most useful sales aids. It’s important to make sure these pots look good at all times and daily maintenance is a must.

Signage is critical when displaying pots and containers. Professional signs, as well as incentive pricing, is essential. There should be prices on individual pots and incentive pricing should be used for complete sets or multiple buys.

The planted container section should have good representation of all pot sizes and price ranges. It, too, should be colour coordinated. Remember, we need to have that ‘step above’ look. When you need to watch pricing in the medium price range, plant unique colour combinations.  Use red and pink geraniums with silver accents. Pinks, blues and silvers are always winners, and simple red and white never fails. Try the new analogous colour blends of petunias, pansies and impatiens, which are now all the rage. Folks love this stuff, and they will also improve sales in your colour department.

For the showpiece stuff, you need to really stretch the envelope. When I do demonstrations at major garden shows, the biggest hits are always the ‘wow’ combinations.  As focal points, I use the new colourful phormiums, red dracaenas, small-contorted trees like Robinia ‘Twisty Baby,’ ‘Purple Majesty’ millet, tall grasses and dramatic canna foliage. To accent these plants, I love ‘Black Magic’ colocasia, the new Sun Tolerant coleus, silver plectranthus, hostas and tropical plants galore, like Rex begonias, calatheas, crotons, Chenille Plants and virtually anything with punch. It’s foliage, foliage, foliage!

To soften the pots, I like to accent the height with great trailing stuff. Ipomoeas with anything black, chartreuse and bronze are unbelievable. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra has an intense silver colour that also works well. Scaevola and dark alternanthera also provide a ‘wow’ contrast.

Focal points and foliage make the difference in today’s containers both for ease of maintenance and that new look. The flowers you use should be up to this level as well. Use the new ‘Devotion’ trachelium, ‘Blue Angel’ and ‘Victoria’ salvias, the new rudbeckias, like ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Beach Cinnamon Bicolor‚’ and award winning ‘Prairie Sun‚’ the amazing perennial ‘Fanfare’ gaillardia and the many new Spanish lavenders.

Many of these plants are new to customers. It’s a wonderful idea to provide handouts for these combinations, and you could not find a better way to promote these newer plants. If you have room in your store, consider building a patio. It’s a great platform to use year round for events, but an especially great place to show containers.

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