Hard goods will help build sales, if retailers pay attention to customer needs
There is no garden center without plants, but the stock carried shouldn’t necessarily end with green goods. By offering hard goods, retailers can increase the total value of the sale, build profit, and give customers what they want without making them go somewhere else.
But it pays to watch the ongoing trends in hard goods, including accessories, decorative planters and other non-plant products. Such offerings can sometimes even keep the customers coming back during the off season, thereby building year-round traffic and sales.
The concept of added value is gaining in prominence. This means that instead of selling one product alone, a store can put it together with other items as a package for display and purchase. A lone plant can be sold along with an accessory like a planter or something else to dress it up.
“Added value is seen more and more here in the states over the last couple years and I think it’s going to keep going in that direction,” said Johannes Smit, director of U.S. operations at international company Bunnik Creations. “A lot of people, especially during the pandemic, want to do more with home décor and cozy up their homes so that’s going to continue.”
The Bunnik team works closely with plant growers around the world with popular products for consumers.
Smit said the hard goods he works with range from plastic pots and ceramics to terracotta, wicker and bamboo.
“For a lot of the growers, the big items are the ceramics,” Smit said. “There are a lot of designs and features that can be put on a ceramic.”
He said ceramics become part of decorating a home with indoor foliage.
“That’s been a huge trend, it’s up and coming in the U.S. and also in Europe,” Smit said, adding many hard goods trends begin in Europe before making their way to the U.S.
Some recent ceramic trends the company advertises on its website include aboriginal art, with warm colors and nature themes; cheerful pastels and geometric shapes; and kanso, the Japanese term for simplicity and elimination of clutter.
Smit said other popular items are baskets made from all kinds of material, including seagrass, bamboo and split willow.
“You’ve got to stay ahead of the trends,” he said. “We look at home décor, and all types of things that go into homes with new up-and-coming designs and materials for both indoors and outdoors. We work with customers to build their programs out from concept all the way to the final product.”
In the COVID-19 era of supply chain issues seen across almost every industry, Smit said it’s important to stay ahead of the game. He works with customers to make sure they know their options for expediting products.
“Ordering earlier gives them more time to make sure things go smoothly,” he said.
Form and function
Cassidy Turner, manager and receiver at Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Center in Seaside, Oregon, said when she first started gardening, she would buy whatever looked best, but she soon found that functionality is really important.
“I went through 15 pairs of gloves before I found a really good pair,” Turner said. She suggests garden stores sell at least two types of gloves; one that won’t let moisture in, like rubber gloves for digging into the earth, and one for potting plants.
Turner’s focus on form and function extends to garden accessories as well. She sells colorful metal wind spinners, which may look purely aesthetic but actually serve to discourage moles from setting up residence in a garden.
“As the top spins, the vibrations are captured in the soil and moles don’t love it,” Turner said. “It’s ornamental and also serves a purpose.”
Dennis’ 7 Dees sells fencing and netting to protect plants from hungry animals. It also sells sculptures, birdbaths, flags, decorative poles, benches, woven swings, arbors and trellises.
“A trellis is nice for leaning against a house so it doesn’t have to be attached to the house, but it mimics that look,” Turner said.
Other popular items are, of course, a wide range of pots. Turner said almost any plant can go in a pot.
“It’s important to know how fast that plant will grow when it’s put in a pot,” Turner said. “We help customers match the pottery with the growth of the plant.”
She added that she also sells smaller pots specifically for creating bonsais.
“Ginseng and ficus can be sold as house plants, and bonsai pottery can add a cool element to outdoor gardening too,” Turner said, adding juniper is effective for bonsai as well.
Good drainage is imperative too, so stores can sell pots that already have drainage holes, or closed pots along with a catch or rocks to add to the bottom to create drainage.
Turner helps customers choose the right type of pot for their plants. Since terracotta leaches moisture, it shouldn’t be used for plants that need a lot of water, but it can be used well in the form of ollas that are buried in the ground and spread water out to nearby plants.
Beyond the Garden
Jimmy Mack, the hard goods buyer for both locations of Portland Nursery, said he helps customers choose hard goods based on the types of plants they want and the style of décor they’re going for.
Mack said it comes down to their aesthetic.
“You have to spend time with customers, and the thing that sets all us smaller independent nurseries apart is that we’re going to spend extra time with a customer to figure out what can make their garden successful,” he said. “We want them to come back if something doesn’t work, and teach them what went wrong.”
Pottery, in all shapes, colors and styles, is very popular at Portland Nursery.
“There are a lot of new lines of pottery, and I’m buying what I can get my hands on, including nice local pottery that’s coming out now,” Mack said.
Portland Nursery has expanded beyond the garden to offer a variety of gift items.
When shoppers come into the store, they can buy books, puzzles, board games and mugs along with their plants.
“When I took over buying, I started pushing the boundaries of what we carry,” Mack said. “During the pandemic, people are at home, so it gives me a lot of free rein, and I started bringing in coffee and tea mugs, and local coffee and tea.”
During the winter, Mack said he sells irrigation equipment so customers can set up their water systems ahead of time to specifically meet the needs of their gardens.
“People’s water bills can be pretty massive, so if there is a way to save water, that’s a really under-talked-about part of gardening,” Mack said.
He also recommends that garden stores sell high-quality pruners that may have high up-front costs but will last for years and can be repaired over time.
Other hard goods items he recommends include Hori Hori knives, hand saws, shovels and hats.
“A good hand saw is invaluable,” Mack said. “With the supply chain issues, it’s hard to find a good shovel to sell, but for a creative buyer, it’s out there. Those are your very basic items but you want to get good quality ones.”
Emily Lindblom is an Oregon-based freelance journalist covering business, environmental and agricultural news. She has a background in community reporting and a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. Visit her website at emilylindblom.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.