Garden Retailers Dish On Black Friday

Black Friday was a mixed bag for garden center retailers. Despite the uptick in sales many retailers saw throughout the country last Friday, garden retailers in some locations couldn’t make the same claim. Meanwhile, others saw heavy traffic Friday that dropped the rest of the weekend.

“The traffic was normal for us, but the sales were down,” noted Sandi McDonald of Hillermann Nursery & Florist in Washington, Mo. “People were buying, but just not near as much as in the past. We have a more open set up in the store, and have had many great comments about it. Cut Christmas trees moved well, as well as fresh greenery.”

Gali’s Garden Center in Beachwood, Ohio, saw sales jump about 20 percent versus the year before on Black Friday via an open house, but tree sales remained steady with the previous three years.

“So what does that mean for the season?” asks Chris Murray at Gali’s. “You know that I am a firm believer that Christmas tree sales tend to follow a similar pattern from year to year, so I believe that we will end up slightly ahead of last year. Wreaths, greens and other decorating items sold well, and it helps that we maintain a small inventory on those items and turn it more often, just like we do with the poinsettias.”

He added he was optimistic about the garden center’s holiday sales: “Overall I think that our industry will not be as affected by the economy this season as some other retail sectors because people see what we sell as more of a necessity than a 54-inch plasma TV or a new video game system.”

Customer traffic started out “wonderful” on Friday for Valley View Farms in Cockeyesville, Md., according to Carrie Engel. But traffic slowed Sunday because of rain and the Baltimore Ravens game, which kicked off at 1 p.m. “Plenty of people came in to the point of it being uncomfortably crowded,” Engel said of Black Friday. “Our outdoor area was set just after the (GCA Holiday) tour came through, and people were out in bigger numbers than I expected in trees and greens. Our poinsettias and other holiday plants are running about even with last year. Friday and Saturday in the Christmas Shop were about 10 percent off from 2007.”

Those at H.J. Benken Florist & Greenhouse in Cincinnati were happy with the whole weekend, pulling in more customers and about 45 percent more sales than last year. And while deliveries and sales were down for the florist shop, the garden center fared well. “Our numbers for the store were actually pretty solid. Overall I’m very pleased with the weekend,” says Tim Clark of Benken’s. “I was hoping to hold sales at 2007 levels for the garden center.”

Poinsettias were a bright spot for Barlow’s Flowers in Sea Girt, N.J. “Our poinsettia crop is very nice this year and are selling well,” says Leslie Barlow. “No complaints about price. We get $6.98 for a wrapped 4 1/2 inch and $13.98 for a 6 1/2 inch. We do well with the glittered poinsettias and the painted ones. One of the events is a workshop where we will show customers how we do that.” Barlow’s saw 20 percent increases in sales over last year for Friday and Saturday, too, but lost ground on Sunday because of a storm on the coast.

And while sales were still up in the air many places, the one thing all retailers share is a smaller window in which to make the sales. This year retailers have 27 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, versus 32 last year. “Lets put it this way … it’s not pretty,” says Charlie Cole of Cole Gardens in Concord, N.H. “We are missing about a week in sales. We are hoping for a good upcoming weekend (to make it up).”

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