April Garden Sales Mixed

Following a March that broke sales records for much of the garden retail industry, April sales are proving to be more mixed.

Spring broke early for much of the country in March, whereas April was more typical, with varied weather patterns. In those areas with mostly good weather, April continued the strong sales trend.

“April 2012 is up about 40 percent over 2011 due to the warmer weather and some aggressive marketing we did in March,” says Weston Nurseries’ Peter Mezitt. Weston Nurseries is located in Hopkinton, Mass. “It is right up there with our best April ever.”

Likewise, Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, Ariz., saw a strong April. His sales were up 8 percent from 2011 sales, and close to his strongest April ever – 2006.

“Numbers are still out,” Lain says, “but we may have set an April profit record. We definitely hit our breakeven point in April, which is three weeks earlier than usual.”

Chris Trad of Trad’s Garden Center in Jacksonville, Fla., saw a welcome surge in sales after a weak March. “This is our best year ever, year-to-date, and April has been the best April in our 40-year history.”

Retailers in two regions on opposite sides of the country, the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, report weaker April sales.

Unlike most, spring did not break early in the Northwest. “Out here in the great North-Wet we did not enjoy the summer-like weather that most of the country enjoyed. Our March was not as strong as previous ones,” says Brad Siebe, president of Seattle-based Swansons Nursery.

April proved to be an improvement, but only in context. “April was up 16.5 percent compared to 2011, however April 2011 was once of the worst Aprils on recent record.”

The Southeast, in contrast, experienced decent March sales, but stumbled in April.

“I’m down 7 percent,” says Virginia-based Atlantic Garden Center’s Jim Crowell. Crowell, who shares sales data with fellow retailers in North Carolina and Virginia, reports that all his regional peers tell him their sales are also down.

“Both months were down from last year,” says George Wallace of Sugar Creek Garden Center in Fort Mill, S.C., which is just across the state border from Charlotte, N.C. “March started strong and finished weak due to the weather. The same was true for April, which finished cold and wet.”

His April sales were down in double digits.

As you would expect, annuals and perennials were strong performers in April. But several retailers report a trend that began in March – tree sales are up significantly.

A couple retailers with increased sales report that they raised their prices significantly this year, with little to no push-back from customers. Trads raised its annual and perennial prices by 25 percent. Another Midwest retailer raised $4.99 annuals to $5.99.

“As the economy crashed in 2008 we eliminated outdoor living items like fountains and benches along with all garden gift items and slashed slow-turning pottery departments,” says Lain. “Each of these departments helped generate strong 2006 sales volumes. To match these numbers without these departments with nothing but plants and hardgoods sales is very encouraging and highly profitable.”

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