Strategies For A Successful Spring

Spring 2009 promises to be one of the most interesting and perhaps difficult selling seasons that we have seen in some time. What can we expect from the American consumer this spring? Garden center retailers across the Unites States are cautiously optimistic that folks will be out in numbers and spending a fair share on lawn and garden products.

What impact will there be on the lawn and garden sector from the precipitous fall in economic conditions from the back half of 2008? Will customers spend enough of their remaining discretionary income, or will they forego such products at increasing rates to spend on more “fundamental necessities?” Do you expect top-line sales to increase, stay the same or decrease?

How about the impact on profit margins to go along with sales? Should margins be pushed even higher to make up for potential lower overall sales?

Coping With The Economy

How do you prepare a retail garden center for business in an economy not seen in many years? Should you cut back on inventory in case fewer customers are out shopping? Do you limit assortments along with inventory?

How about retail pricing of goods? Do you raise prices to compensate for what is foreseen as lower sales units and dollars? How will raising prices be perceived by the consumers? Will they even notice higher prices? How about “up selling” consumers from more standard plants to branded, or newer, exclusive types of plants?

The questions just keep coming. What about hiring and staffing? Do you increase, keep the same staff as last year or reduce to keep labor down as a percentage of sales? Do you cut back on much-needed vital training for new hires? Reduce open hours for operations, keep the same or increase?

Will advertising be reduced, kept the same or increased? What can you advertise to more effectively connect with the customers and drive them into your stores instead of a competitor’s?

The answer to many of these questions can be viewed simplistically. My belief is that now more than ever is the time to go back to basics. This is not the year to get fancy. It is the year to most effectively merchandise core products. It is the year to put forth the absolute best values to the customers. You are going to be fighting for the customer’s dollars, not only from your retail competitors, but also with all other manner of discretionary spending more so than ever before. Customers will be more selective with their spending no matter what you do, so it’s incumbent that retailers do everything in their power to “force” the customer to choose plants and related items.

A Changed Retail Landscape

Think for a moment about the mass merchandisers in the lawn and garden business. What is happening right now and has been happening for years is an absolute market share battle that cannot be understated. This is literally a war between Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Walmart, Meijer’s, Menards, independent garden centers, supermarkets, farm stands and others.

In my opinion, America has become somewhat “overstored” in regard to current demand compared to 10 years ago. Retraction is one possibility going forward, as some retailers may shrink. Cannibalization of some retailers by others is another possibility through acquisition.

The size of the “retail pie” does not seem to be expanding. Players in the retail game are fighting each other for each and every customer to maintain or grow market share. Getting the customer to shop in your store versus another’s is going to take convenient locations. It’s going to take good presentation, both inside and outside the garden center. It’s going to take decent staffing levels. It will require that the staff is reasonably trained. It will require having in stock what the customers want, when they want it.

It will require ample parking spaces, inviting store fronts, colorful displays and logical and informative signing. Most of all, it is going to require great values.

Now Is The Time

This is not the economic environment to raise retails in. It is not the time to see how much you can squeeze out of the buying public. It is, however, the time to get out there in front of the customers with retail pricing they may not have seen in several years.

It is the time to put out deals that stop consumers dead in their tracks when they’re reading the Sunday morning ads. It is the time to get the customer to stop what they were planning on doing and have them flock to stores because your deals are irresistible.

I am not saying go backwards on large swaths of your retail mix in gross margin or retail pricing. I am, however, saying you should do something to get the customers thinking. Do something that gets them excited to come to your place. Don’t be satisfied with “retail matching” with your fiercest competitors. Now is the time to take share.

Pricing is not the only tool in your arsenal. In normal times, I would rank it fifth or sixth in importance behind quality plants, in stock, well merchandised and knowledgeable staff. But these times call for a more desperate call to arms. Gross margin budgets can be met by increasing top-line unit sales, even if you have lower gross margins on these so-called “loss leader” items.

Of course you have to sell a lot more units to generate the same or just a little more profit dollars, but your customers will not forget about the great deals in your stores.

They will share tales of great conquests at your stores with family, friends and neighbors. The goodwill established with giving customers great deals will surely encourage the customer to continue to come back again and again to your stores rather than your competitor’s.

A Few Must Do’s

Customer service can be as powerful as any of the other weapons at your disposal. It’s equal to, if not greater than, pricing. Excellent customer service is more difficult to execute than simply pricing products at outrageously low prices. This is definitely going to be the single greatest challenge retailers face in today’s economy.

You absolutely must have products to make sales. Customer service levels will yield increasing or diminishing returns based on the perspective of store operators. This is such a hard concept to grasp in the mass market because plants are not as major a percentage of overall sales as they are in independent garden centers.
Most independent garden centers would not exist without excellent customer service, superior quality live goods and knowledgeable sales help. Big box stores have always struggled with replicating this across wide sections, or all of their companies.

The bottom line is this retail environment today is not one for the faint of heart. What these economic times call for are gut-wrenching decisions in terms of profitability and viability, not to mention how resilient some retailers will need to be just to survive. I believe bold efforts to grab market share will be rewarded and are necessary. I’ll always recall a quote from one of my company’s leaders when discussing a major competitor several years back, and that was, “Peaceful coexistence is not an option.”

Vinny Naab is owner of Naab Horticultural Marketing, LLC, a consultant to the horticulture market. Contact him at vincent_naab@naabhortmktg.com.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Strategies For A Successful Spring

  1. I agree completely with your thinking we are going to hit this spring running good customer service is first on my list we have always stressed this to our staff and even more so this year I ‘m carrying plant material but in ones as well as 2’s and a few 3’s we have scaled back on quanity not quality we will always be able to get what our customer wants and strive for that wish within 24 hours so as not to lose the sale It will be a tough year but we are looking at the glass as being half full not half empty

  2. I agree completely with your thinking we are going to hit this spring running good customer service is first on my list we have always stressed this to our staff and even more so this year I ‘m carrying plant material but in ones as well as 2’s and a few 3’s we have scaled back on quanity not quality we will always be able to get what our customer wants and strive for that wish within 24 hours so as not to lose the sale It will be a tough year but we are looking at the glass as being half full not half empty

More From Marketing...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories

April 15, 2015

Redesigned SunPatiens Website Offers New Tools For Saka…

Sakata Seed America's new and improved SunPatiens website launched March 1, 2015 and provides growing information, marketing support, product location and many more tools to encourage consumer success with SunPatiens.

Read More
Keenland

April 13, 2015

Proven Winners Partners With Award-Winning Designer Jon…

Proven Winners will partner with award-winning garden designer, author and fine living expert Jon Carloftis on a new series of four LIFE + STYLE events in 2015. In true Carloftis style, food and spirits will be paired with inspiring architecture and innovative garden designs featuring Proven Winners plants.

Read More

April 13, 2015

New Consumer Website Makes Buying Roses Easier

A new website has been created as a resource tool for gardeners who are looking for a rose that fits their needs. This website is 100% consumer focused and will inspire confidence and promote rose gardening to the next generation of gardeners. Visitors will also find links to connect on social networks, such as Facebook and Pinterest. The website promotes roses, not specific brands, and that is what makes it unique.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
National Floriculture Forum 2015 029

March 18, 2015

2015 National Floriculture Forum Focuses On Marketing I…

The 2015 National Floriculture Forum, held March 6 to 7 in Minneapolis, Minn., zeroed in on the topic of marketing in horticulture and included visits to Gertens Greenhouses and Garden Center, Bailey Nurseries, Bachman’s Floral, Home and Garden and Tangletown Gardens. The annual meeting allows greenhouse and floriculture faculty, graduate students and industry partners to meet and share updates on current research, issues and initiatives.

Read More

February 18, 2015

Range Of Nursery Inspections To Protect Patented Plants…

Plant patents are under protection, and breeders are fighting for their rights to keep growers from illegally propagating protected varieties. It's something you don't want to take a chance on, because the risk is far higher than the reward. More than 300 inspections were carried out last year from New York to British Columbia and from Ontario to Florida to protect plant patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) and branded programs.

Read More

February 4, 2015

TPIE 2015: An Electrified Industry Vibe Boosts Cool New…

The general feeling at the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association's 2015 Tropical Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was upbeat and positive. Attendees were inspired by exciting new products and varieties, as well as creative new displays and innovative ideas and left energized for the season ahead.

Read More
Costa Farms Website

January 21, 2015

Costa Farms’ Launches New Interactive Website

Costa Farms is making efforts to educate consumers while pushing horticultural digital marketing forward with the re-design of its website. The new website features a fresh design and improved navigation, as well as a plant finder that gives gardeners easy access to plant information.

Read More

January 5, 2015

Growers Are Successfully Marketing The Benefits Of Pla…

Growers who are already marketing plant benefits and gardening as a lifestyle say they think this could be the best angle for the floriculture industry to promote our products.

Read More

January 5, 2015

Plants Love You Campaign Raises Plant Benefits To Foref…

Plants make us feel good. It’s a no-brainer, backed by numerous studies, but there’s more to the story. And it’s one the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA) hopes its Plants Love You campaign will tell in such a way that it will inspire people to make plants a part of their life, and on a bigger scale. COHA is an alliance between the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA), the Fédération Interdisciplinaire De L’Horticulture Ornementqale Du Québec (FIHOQ) and Flowers Canada Growers (FCG). Inspiration for The Plants Love You campaign came from COHA’s research, which revealed that 96 percent of consumers surveyed have a favorable attitude toward plants. When COHA delved deeper into the numbers, one thing stood out loud and clear. “It quickly became apparent that while consumers like plants because they are pretty and make them feel good, few understood the environmental and health benefits plants offer.” says Frank […]

Read More

December 9, 2014

New Website For PanAmerican Seed

PanAmerican Seed's new website is mobile-friendly and has a fresh look and enhanced navigation.

Read More
What’s a pumpulent? It’s a pumpkin planted with succulents, and it’s also one of the ways Altum’s is catching customers’ attention with new products and modern marketing.

December 1, 2014

9 Digital Marketing Resolutions For 2015

Whatever your experience with digital marketing, here’s some advice for keeping your business progressing into the new year.

Read More

November 25, 2014

Conley’s Launches New Website

Conley’s Manufacturing and Sales recently launched its newly designed website, which was redesigned to create a user-friendly digital environment for customers to explore Conley's products.

Read More

November 17, 2014

Canada’s Plants Love You Campaign Educates Consum…

In a cooperative effort to promote the benefits of plants to consumers, the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA) recently launched its Plants Love You campaign to make consumers more aware of the health, environmental and economic benefits of plants.

Read More
Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum™ Petunia from Proven Winners

November 11, 2014

Plantbid Offers New Tool For Growers, Plant Buyers

Plantbid is touted as a revolutionary new tool that allows plant buyers to purchase their whole plant list at one time, from growers who provide their complete availability online. According to the company, this new offering could change the way growers and landscapers do business.

Read More
Dahlia Dahlinova Temptation Lavender from Dummen Fides Oro

November 10, 2014

Bas Pellenaars Takes On New Role As Brand Manager For D…

Dümmen group announces the transition of Bas Pellenaars from area manager to brand manager.

Read More

October 28, 2014

Zombie Adventures Are Back: GGS Releases Premiere Of Ne…

What's good for plants, but bad for zombies? GGS structures. The company released a new promotional video to get growers in the spirit of Halloween. GGS Structures ran a series of zombie movies last year, and this year, something new was released October 24.

Read More
Suzanne McKee

October 27, 2014

Use Your Data To Make Smarter Marketing Decisions

Learn which marketing metrics are important to your business, measure successes and learn where changes are needed.

Read More