“Location, location, location.” I have often heard that those three words are paramount for any brick-and-mortar retail business. I do not dispute their importance.
Location matters for garden centers, too, but I think that three other words have greater importance: “Know your customers.”
Knowing your customers — where they are coming from and what kinds of dwellings they live in, for starters — will certainly have an impact on the goods that you decide to carry in your store.
Are you in a neighborhood where many customers would walk to your garden center? Is your neighborhood comprised of apartments, condominiums and small single-family homes with small lots? Is your customer base from areas that are comprised of large, older homes with established gardens?
Are you located in an area where it is obvious that gardening is a very popular leisure activity? Is your customer base from newly built homes with little or no landscaping? Is your customer base primarily from a rural area? Is your customer base a mix of all of these, perhaps?
Whatever your market area looks like, the goods that you sell in your garden center need to reflect the living environments of your customers.
If only we had a crystal ball to predict what the best-sellers are going to be next year, that would be convenient. We don’t. We have to base our buying projections on information we gather and our experiences in business. What are we hearing from our customers and other gardeners?
Limited space, unlimited options
Several times in this column, we have mentioned the continuing strong demand for house plants. Several garden center employees have told me that, this enthusiasm has not begun to taper like they expected. In fact, it continues to be huge.
Last year, a local garden center chain, Dennis’ 7 Dees , opened an “urban plant, gift and design shop” at Bridgeport Village, which is an upscale regional lifestyle center serving the Portland area. While this store sells decorative containers and garden-related gift items, the primary focus is house plants.
Unlike all of the other Dennis’ 7 Dees locations, there’s no traditional outdoor nursery component. This one was something of an experiment, which the company pursued based on the strong house plant trend.
After a year, the jury is in. This shop just celebrated its first anniversary, and according to Kelley Kenyon of Dennis’ 7 Dees, the company is happy with the results and recently extended the store’s lease.
House plants are just one option that allow people to enjoy plant life even if they lack the traditional large outdoor garden spaces available with older homes.
Many newer homes are built on narrow lots with little space in which to plant between the dwellings. Apartment and condominium units are often built in a narrow space with a small deck or patio. Many residents of such units want to have some plants, and if the plants can be both ornamental and have edible fruits, that is a bonus.
Espaliered plants that have been grown on a trellis and will fit in a narrow space have been very popular. Often espaliered plants are ready-made for that instant effect that many young people want. An espaliered plant has been grown on a trellis is attractive looking and fits nicely into a narrow space. It may be the perfect plant for instant gratification.
Dwarf edibles are another group of plants that continue to grow in popularity. There is now a line of bush cherries that are self-pollinating and provide spring flowers of white or pink, depending on the specific variety. They are attractive as ornamental plants with their shiny green leaves and have the added bonus of producing edible fruit.
Dwarf blueberry, raspberry and blackberry plants are also available on the market for those with limited garden space.
Herbs have long been a favored container plant and customers need ideas on how to use and grow them. Perhaps popular culinary herbs such as basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary and others, grouped together, would suggest to customers ideas on their placement. Pre-planted herb containers are often an inspiration for customers because they are ready to go.
Columnar plants are another group that have continued to gain in popularity. Columnar apples can provide a gardener with a fruit tree that produces an abundance of fruit on a very narrow tree in very little space.
On the subject of columnar plants, several garden center personnel told me that Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ has become a very good seller. This columnar holly is easy to grow, evergreen, and has a narrow profile that makes it perfect for a container plant — which also does well in a garden setting.
The features customers want
Meeting the needs of those gardeners with little space is very important, but the desires they have are often just as important as the space they have to work with.
Many of them also have a desire to benefit the environment with everything that they plant. While the word “neonicotinoid” is probably not in many gardeners’ vocabulary, many gardeners are aware of the importance of honey bees and have a desire to encourage them.
If a garden center is selling plants that have not been treated with a neonicotinoid, this could be turned into a selling point. All it would take is a label that says the plant is bee-friendly and has not been treated with any potential bee-toxic chemicals.
Containers, and the plants in them, continue to be excellent sellers. I often hear that customers, especially novice gardeners, will buy a container already planted. They want instant gratification. A planted container gives it to them.
Many new gardeners are not familiar with groupings of plants, but they trust their garden center. Their thinking may be that if the garden center put this together, it must be the right mix of plants. A container filled and labeled as containing hummingbird attracting plants could create much interest. Plants that attract hummingbirds have long been good sellers and continue to be.
And definitely do not forget about fragrance. For many gardeners, fragrance is a very desirable feature. Do not overlook the fragrance and disease resistance of many of the new roses being introduced. Many roses are ideal for containers. In our Northwest climate, they can provide flowers from late spring throughout the summer and fall.
Making it easy
Obviously, knowing your customer base cannot be overemphasized. With the busy lives that we live — especially young families with children that are involved in sports, school, and social activities — we need to make plant selection easy.
Most of these customers have probably not come from a gardening background and need help, ideas and suggestions. They want an attractive environment but need inspiration and guidance in getting it.