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Find success in the second season

9 July 2013
Find success in the second season

Not only do we have momentum from the anticipation of a great summer propelling us at a frenzied pace up and down our aisles, but we tend to have a few more hands on deck as well.

Fall isn’t quite as spirited, however. With winter on the horizon, it’s easy to settle into the doom and gloom of the active growing and selling season coming to an end. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you approach your garden center like you would a boat on stormy seas, you won’t have to call in an SOS and abandon ship so quickly. With some strategy, cleverness and a little bit of ambition, you can turn fall into a time of year just as exciting as spring.

The reason for the season
The most common thing associated with fall is the changing foliage and colors all around. This can be beneficial to you in many ways, and for more reasons than just selling stunning foliage. Adapt a similar mindset as those trees and shrubs outside and make some changes around your garden center that will perk up the interest of your customers and keep things looking fresh. A customer that has visited you in the past will have a certain game plan before they even get out of their car, but if they’re confronted with something new and potentially exciting, this might entice them to step outside of their boundaries and purchase more items, perhaps items they didn’t even know you had.

Reroute your garden center plans by making a few changes such as:

Rearrange the configuration of your annual tables. This will create a new path for your customers to navigate in the new exciting sea of flowers.
Move the cart corral area to an area close to the original location, but not exactly where the customer is expecting it. This too will create some sense of freshness.
Reconfigure your front counter. Include fall specific impulse items such as rakes and bulbs, and cross merchandise as much as you can to create extra revenue at a critical time of year.
If you carry large concrete or statuary of any kind, send them to different areas of the store. That same dog statue will look fresh and exciting if it’s not in the same place it was for the past two years.
Create a fall ambiance in your restroom. Believe it or not, a couple of little floral arrangements will lift the spirit of the shopper and get them in the mood to create a similar fall vignette in their own home.

Changes are good, evolution is better
If we’re to compare the garden center industry to that same boat ride again, we must look at what the boat is riding on, water. Water and the tides change constantly; high and low tide are never going to be at the same time, and the low tide isn’t going to leave the same shells on the sand after it rolls back out. Fall from one year to another is very much the same way, and sadly, we cannot control Mother Nature. This can be discouraging, especially in circumstances such as trying to market shrubs for fall color. Although a description given to a customer as to what the color will be when the plant actually turns might seem grandiose enough, not even the most elaborate wordsmith (me included) can really describe how magnificent a Katsura Tree is in fall. This is why it is imperative you have the plants in stock BEFORE they start to turn. By having these plants on hand while they’re still green, you’ll benefit for a few reasons:

This will assure they are in stock for when they start putting on their show. Wait too long, and your grower might run out.
Once plants turn, they shed leaves when moved around. If you have them already set up, instead of moving them once they’ve turned, the color will last longer.
Once the foliage starts turning, they’ll be their own salesperson, leaving you to tend to more important tasks – like deadheading pansies.

Stock your shelves with the right stuff
Just like you need the proper boat for the proper water condition, you must make sure you have proper plants to really create fall excitement. Depending on your zone, there are multitudes of plants that will provide you with a stunning show, but it’s not that simple. Plants are constantly changing through propagation and breeding, so be forward thinking and keep up to date on any new varieties of stunning plants are out there for grabs. That burning bush that was popular a few years back might be replaced by a better new dwarf variety, and that pansy that you’ve been selling for years might have been improved to have better cold tolerance. Don’t settle for the same order every year. Mix it up, try new varieties, and your customers will appreciate the fact that you’re cutting edge!

Contain the storm
Just like a sudden storm at sea, you will experience a flash flood of customers coming into your store wanting help. Of course, over the summer it’s easy to fall into a less-than-creative frame of mind and have your brain short circuit from keeping things watered or answering questions on how much to water. Avoid this mind melt by creating excitement around container gardening and any pottery you might want to try to get rid of before your new spring bookings start rolling in. Gardeners in the fall tend to be a little less spunky about the practice of replanting annuals, so it’s up to you to draw in the excitement. Make fall gardening fun again by sponsoring a “Contain Me” event, simply put have a little workshop on how to create fall container masterpieces. If you’re able to put on a happy face and get excited, chances are that excitement will be contagious and the customers will be more apt to stock up! Get silly if you have to, wear a jail costume if you must. Let your creativity go wild.

Avoid the “Sale Syndrome”
“Sale Syndrome” – the mindset that all plants should be discounted in the fall to clear the store out for winter.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Unless you’re in a position that you cannot keep your lease another year, there is no reason to try to liquidate your plants. Sales should be sporadic and exciting, not a date on a calendar, otherwise you’ll create a customer base that MAY just wait to make all of their big purchases until fall. If you’ve already succumbed to the “Sale Syndrome”, that’s okay, there’s still hope. By weaning your customers off of this mindset slowly, you’ll eventually find yourself with more money in your till every day.

This doesn’t mean no sales at all, of course. If you’re going to run a fall sale, make it item-specific and ever-changing. For example, if you want to clear out some pottery, mark it down a reasonable amount, but concentrate salespeople around that area. Make sure nobody leaves the store without a bag of potting soil and some annuals to go in it. Same goes for any woody shrubs you might carry. Make sure with every shrub sold you have the starter fertilizer, compost and a set of gloves in the hands of the customer before they check out. Don’t let these tack on items seem like a want, make them a NEED for the success of the plant.

Chew it up
Fall is also a great time to capitalize on the changing environment in the vegetable garden scene. Surprisingly enough, a large population of home gardeners have no idea that they can continue to grow crops after their precious tomatoes have been pulled up. Don’t let your summertime veggie gardeners get by with only one visit to your garden center a year. Cold weather crops such as spinach, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower will fly off the shelves if people know about them. Plan ahead, and when you sell those tomato plants early in the spring, notify the home farmer that they should come back in the fall for their cold weather crops. Chances are you’ll get a surprised look and a “Whaaa?” This will also drive them in once more to be tempted by the fall flowers and impulse plant items like a mum or blooming aster.

Fall, panic? Not at all. Fall can actually be a very refreshing time of year for your garden center. As the leaves around you are changing, take a look at your garden center and take notes of what changes you’ve made personally. Take inspiration from the trees around you and drop all of that unwanted baggage and start off the next year fresh and ready to flourish. Take notes if need be of strategies you’d like to adopt for the new year and always think big! Don’t let that wild sea rock your garden center boat around, let fall be your lighthouse on the horizon. 

Read more from the Garden Center Magazine.