Spring 2013 Trend Watch: Garden Center Traffic Impacted By Late Spring

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Better weather is finally kicking in around the country as we head from May to June, but the long, slow slog toward real spring seems to have taken a toll on traffic for many garden centers early in 2013.

A short survey of retailers by sister publication Today’s Garden Center showed that — as you might expect — in places where the weather has been good, traffic and sales are up and independent garden retailers seem relatively optimistic about 2013. Unfortunately, those conditions were the exception rather than the rule in much of the country.

Particularly following the incredibly early spring of 2012, reports of traffic being down compared to last year are unsurprising. More importantly, however, some retailers are reporting seeing fewer customers this year than even in an average spring.

Cold, Wet Weather

Jim Matarazzo of Matarazzo Farms in Caldwell, N.J., says his traffic is down for one big reason. “The weather this spring has been cool and damp, much worse than 2012. Now we are running out of time,” he says.

“This spring has been abnormally cold and very wet. Gray. November-like,” says another retailer in Wisconsin. That assessment — cold and wet — was repeated by many survey respondents.

“The traffic depends on the weather. If the sun is out and warm we are busy,” said a Michigan retailer while reporting that his traffic and average sale are both down so far this year.

And in areas where spring weather was better — for example, North Carolina — the traffic and sales results seem to be there for retailers. “We have many new plants and new customers. We grow our own and everything looks great this spring. A little slow getting started but now it is great!” says Phil Campbell of Campbell Road Nursery in Raleigh, N.C. “Every day has been busy.”

Is The Economy Finally Turning?

One retailer in Iowa indicated that while traffic is down to start the year, average sale and number of items per transaction are up in 2013. And that garden center wasn’t alone.

The lower traffic/higher average sale relationship was a positive trend in the survey. Customers coming into the stores seem to be spending more. Average sale was up for half of the retailers responding. And the average number of items per transaction was flat to up for 70 percent of those retailers.

“I feel the economy is finally turning around,” says Judy from Mitchell’s Nursery in King, N.C.

“People seem more confident in the economy,” says an Ohio retailer. “We have been busy every day of the week. We just had our biggest Monday of all time.”

Things are still dragging in some areas, however. One Georgia retailer reported that traffic, sales and items per transaction have been flat compared to previous years. The primary reason in this retailer’s mind: “Lack of economic recovery.”

While weather and the economy were the most prevalent issues in this spring’s survey, competition from lower-cost retailers continues to impact store traffic for some independents.

One such retailer in Wisconsin attributes a decline in traffic this spring to competitive challenges in the marketplace: “[It’s due to an] increased commoditization of plants, gardening chemicals/tools and bulk mulch.”

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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