Every year when spring is over, I like to pick a market and visit our customers there to see how their spring went and to get a feel for what they expect next year to be like. For growers it is critical that we spend time talking to our customers to determine what is really important to them.
Recently, I made a trip up north and visited nine garden centers. Some of the garden centers were already customers of ours; some say they will be next year, and some are not and probably will never be.
The market I visited has a combined metropolitan area population of 782,000 people, and a median household income of $47,193 (2004) for the main population county.
All the garden centers I visited reported having a good, bordering on great, spring. As usual we were able to talk more with the ones we already had a relationship with while the others were less open about how their spring went.
Here are some general observations I made:
• There is a need for earlier product availability.
• Vegetables and herbs were HUGE this year and are expected to be strong again next year.
• Garden centers will require a larger selection of herbs and vegetables next year from their suppliers.
• Garden centers are booking less due to the economy and buying more off open availability.
• Even though it was late June, nearly all of the garden centers had a respectable number of customers in the stores (in proportion to the size of the garden center).
• About half of the garden centers had fresh product on the benches.
• The other half had overgrown product or had transplanted the old stuff into larger containers.
• Garden centers want small deliveries more often.
• Garden centers want their product delivered on racks and want to keep the racks as long as they can.
• Garden centers are looking for new and different products that can set them apart from the box stores and from the other garden centers.
• Poinsettia sales seem to be flat or declining.
• All the garden centers were optimistic about next spring and felt that sales for 2010 will exceed 2009.
• Most of the garden centers were not as optimistic about the upcoming fall and winter seasons generally due to the economic outlook for the next six months.
The overall outlook for the economy and for the plant industry is positive. Having a good spring this year has done a lot to reinforce the positive aspects of our industry despite a less that ideal economy . . . as long as the weather cooperates.