State Of The Industry: The Independent Garden Center In Unchartered Waters

State Of The Industry: The Independent Garden Center In Unchartered Waters

Most years at about this time, if you were to ask a garden center owner about his or her expectations for the coming season, you could pretty much predict the response:

“Well, as long as we have good weekend weather in the spring I think we’ll do all right.”

But ask that same question as 2008 turns to 2009 and the answer isn’t quite so predictable. Because nothing in today’s economic conditions seems predictable. Some retailers are surprisingly optimistic about 2009. Others are holding their breath while keeping a close eye on Wall Street and a tight grip on their checkbooks. And everyone wants to know where their customers will be on that first warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in April.

Prepare To Succeed–Or You Won’t

For many garden centers, the script for spring may already be written. Success this season could have less to do with what’s going to happen, and more to do with how retailers have run their businesses up to now. Garden centers with a revolutionary approach should find themselves in the best position.

“My biggest concern is how deep the overall financial crisis will drive the economy and consumer attitudes,” says Charles Hall, executive director of Garden Centers of America. “Retailers that have not been working hard to develop a loyal customer base and provide extraordinary customer service will have a much harder time surviving tough economic times.”

Jonathan Pedersen, Bailey Nurseries brand & business development manager, has similar worries. “I’m concerned about the potential for further erosion of the consumer’s disposable income, and the possibility that the housing market slump continues to widen,” he says.

But Pedersen’s biggest fear is garden centers not having enough product in the store when there’s a stretch of sunny spring weekends and customers come ready to spend. “Many retailers are purchasing so conservatively, I worry about whether they will have enough product to sell. Or if they have a good spring, will they be able to keep the garden center full?”

Says Doug Boyd, owner of Bench Systems: “Retailers are like everybody else right now. They’re buying the necessities, but they’re holding back on other things. But while most everyone agrees that 2009 is probably not going to be the year to overinvest in inventory, it’s just as unwise to come into the season understocked.

“People are always going to buy color and dress up their yards and houses to some degree,” Boyd says. “No matter how depressing the economy seems, I think what’s in bloom in garden centers is going to have a market. The one thing you have to keep in mind, though, is if you don’t stock it, you can never sell it. You’ve got to run your business no matter what the economy’s got going on. If you’re cutting corners on advertising, merchandising and inspiration, if you’re not stocking properly, you’re creating your own recession.”

Cost-Conscious Management

Clearly, how retailers manage their inventory and expenses will be a key factor in their success. That doesn’t necessarily mean buying less, but it does mean buying smarter.

“The current state of the economy will affect what we buy and how we buy,” says Jennifer Schamber, general manager at Greenscape Gardens, in Manchester, Mo. “It will be necessary for garden centers to manage inventory more carefully. We can’t be afraid to fully stock our stores and lots, but we need to cut out the SKUs that aren’t making us money.”

Cautiously Optimistic

In a recent survey conducted by our sister magazine, Today’s Garden Center, retailers were wary of economic conditions in 2009–yet still see the potential for a good year ahead.

How do you expect your 2009 sales to compare to your 2008 sales?

Ninety percent of respondents indicated the economy would be an obstacle in growing their garden retail business in 2009.

Truth be told, says Schamber, the lessons learned in a challenging 2008 have her optimistic for her prospects in 2009.
“This year has taught us to be leaner and operate more efficiently,” she says. “We have not decreased our bookings for next year. We have simply cut the costs of our day-to-day operations.”

Ken Lain, president of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, Ariz., agrees expense management is critical. “We will focus on cost of goods more than before. There is more pressure than ever to increase profit margins, yet decrease retail prices.”

This enhanced emphasis on managing the bottom line presents opportunities for retailers and suppliers to work together, he says. “We will look for crops and vendors that help us maintain [margins]. We will look for more credits from vendors, faster stock times and reduced inventory stock times to control our inventory costs and reduce shrink.”    

Some expenses–taxes and insurance, for example–are out of the retailer’s direct control, of course. Others, such as fuel and labor, can be difficult to wrestle with, but they’re musts to manage closely.

“Rising energy and labor expenses are critical business issues. Alternative fuels and facility upgrades are two areas to take very seriously,” says Sid Raisch, garden retail consultant and columnist for Greenhouse Grower’s sister magazine, Today’s Garden Center. “If you sell enough stuff at the right prices, you will always have enough staff. Rising cost of goods will be the silent killer of many garden centers who refuse to pass along price increases. Increasing customer processing capacity for the peak days is often a key area to increase revenues.”

Jonn Karsseboom, owner of The Garden Corner in Tualatin, Ore., has a similar take: “I think this is the era of the ‘great manager. Business is unforgiving about profitability. Whether sales increase or decrease by any measure, cost of goods sold, expenses and wage and benefits have to follow.”

Be Relevant To Your Customers

Managing the expense side of the ledger is only half the battle for garden centers, of course. Finding new and innovative ways to grab the consumer’s attention and sell stuff is pretty important too.

And while things like vegetable plants, sustainability and “staycations” will be high-profile trends for 2009, some of the real opportunities for garden centers may lie in how they present their value to potential customers. Relevant retailers with relevant products should find the sailing smoother in a rough economy.

“People will continue to shop and buy in any environment for goods and services that they personally value,” Karsseboom says. “I think this economy makes people pause to reevaluate how they are spending their hard-earned money. They want to be sure that the money they do spend is on goods and services that are personally important to them. Garden centers that have a clear message to their customers of their value proposition will do particularly well.”

Understanding that your customers are worried about the economy also presents an opportunity to speak directly to those concerns in a productive way, Hall says. “Where gardening in the past has been a ‘therapeutic’ experience, today it may be more of an economic issue to maintain and improve property values.”

“Competing for disposable income against non-gardening related items may be easier this coming year because people feel the need to secure the value of their homes,” Schamber adds. “One method is to garden–we hope. But also, why not look at our tree tags or signage and add statistics like, ‘Once mature, this tree will save your household $100 in energy costs per year by shading your home.’ By proving the concept that plants add value, they may be more likely to buy a new shade tree rather than a new golf club.”

Spring Is In Sight

With all of that in mind and your plans for increasing revenues and controlling costs well mapped out, it’s time to stop worrying about the economy, put one foot in front of the other, and set your sights firmly on the upcoming season.

“Spring Fever is a wonderful thing,” Raisch says. “I expect the masses to buy plants again next spring. Some people at the lower income levels will certainly have less money to spend on garden-related products. Those at higher income levels, however, may have more disposable income available after adjusting their buying habits for durable consumer goods like automobiles, appliances, home furnishings, etc.”

And if that’s the case, retailers might actually be looking past the economy and battling a more familiar foe come April and May.
“I think the independent garden center is in a better position than other disposable income retailers to do OK in the current market,” Pedersen says. “We really need great spring weather. If we have a good spring, the sales will come.”

Leave a Reply

More From State of the Industry...

October 4, 2015

ePlantSource Adds 5 New Partner Companies

ePlantSource has announced an additional five companies that have been added to its partner distribution list. Not only do the additional partners offer more supplier options to ePlantSource customers, but the website now also provides a more diverse product list with the addition of bulbs, clematis and many new varieties. New partners added for the 2015 – 2016 season: A.D.R. Bulbs Lennon Farm Greenhouses Micandy Gardens Pacific Growers Roseville Farms “We make it a priority to respond to our customers, and we have had many requests for additional options and a more diverse product line, so we are continually evaluating suppliers that work well with our non-traditional approach to the sale of live goods,” says Gary Falkenstein, President and CEO of ePlantSource. “We feel that it is good for our company, our customers and the industry as a whole to keep looking forward and seeing how we can improve and expand how […]

Read More
Joey Wiseman-2015

October 3, 2015

4 New Hires And Promotions In Horticulture

Management restructuring and growth expansion have prompted several companies in the horticulture industry to bring on more help and promote qualified employees to new positions over the few several months. Here are four that have occurred during the months of July 2015 through September 2015.

Read More
BallSeed New Website September 2015

October 3, 2015 Goes Mobile-Friendly is now mobile-optimized. A new update features responsive design, quick access to WebTrack, an enhanced product search and more. Mobile-Friendly content and clear navigation make information more accessible to customers on-the-move and in the greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories

September 23, 2015

Cultivate’15 Session Reveals How To Attract Young…

A dynamic discussion during Cultivate’15 between growers, horticulture professors and both current students and recent graduates, provided some insight on how grower operations can attract the next generation of growers, and what’s important to make them stay once you hire them. The session, “Attracting the Next Generation of Industry Professionals,” featured a panel including Dr. Peg McMahon of The Ohio State University’s Horticulture and Crop Science Department, Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co., Dr. Brian Jackson from North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture, Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm, Douglas Schuster of Kingwood Center and Courtney Crawford of Millcreek Gardens. The preface for the session is something many industry professionals have lamented for years now — enrollment in college horticulture programs is dropping, and university programs are losing funds or disappearing. Much of this may be attributed to the perception among potential students and their parents that horticulture means […]

Read More
Florensis Kenya has developed a scouting app, which provides near real-time data from the field and makes crop protection interventions even more effective, says Robbert Hamer

September 8, 2015

Global Suppliers Of Unrooted Cuttings Raise Standards T…

Consolidation isn’t a new thing among breeders and this year, it has changed things up yet again. For most cuttings producers, consolidation also means more competition, and raises the standards for high-quality plants and reliable supply. “As the number of independent production locations goes down, it becomes more obvious that breeders will try to take production into their own hands,” says Beekenkamp’s Martijn Kuiper. But for independent producers, consolidation means both new opportunities and new challenges. “There is a demand to work with independent companies, but also a threat that certain breeders are getting blocked by being part of the consolidation,” says Andreas Kientzler of Kientzler North America and Innovaplant de Costa Rica. Ball FloraPlant President Allan Davidson says, “Consolidation means there are fewer decisionmakers, though this has both positive and negative implications. Consolidation and larger businesses also mean that in many cases, shipment sizes have grown.” Reading The Rankings […]

Read More
Christina Salwitz 2014_featured

August 12, 2015

Christina Salwitz Says Women Bring A Unique Perspective…

Garden writer Christina Salwitz is a powerhouse in the industry. She is an expert container designer, works at an independent garden center and runs her own blog. Salwitz is active on social media, and she fights for the industry’s ability to stay autonomous from the big box stores. Most importantly, Salwitz stands out in a field of garden industry people as a design and color specialist who can bring something brilliant and unique to the end consumer. Her garden design business, established in 1998, started with landscaping, then evolved into container design because of increased demand for her unique and color-filled designs. Salwitz continues to work at an independent garden center in order to connect directly with the consumer. She also evolved and expanded her business by blogging, authoring books such as “Fine Foliage” with co-author Karen Chapman, and concentrating on horticultural photography. Demand grew for her work, and by March 2014 her designs were […]

Read More

August 7, 2015

Cannabis Producer Solstice Provides Insight To Greenhou…

To gain some real-world insight about what it takes to produce and sell cannabis, and some of the challenges and roadblocks involved, Greenhouse Grower reached out to Solstice, a producer and processor of cannabis for medical and adult use in Washington state. Alex Cooley, the co-founder and vice president of Solstice, gave us an exclusive interview, and answered the following questions to give greenhouse growers a glimpse into different aspects involved in cannabis production. Visit the Solstice website or follow Solstice on Twitter @SolsticeGrown for more information. Greenhouse Grower (GG): First, let’s get to know you. Could you tell us some background about Solstice and how it got started? Alex Cooley: We started Solstice in 2011 to help legitimize the medical cannabis marketplace by providing consistent, lab-tested cannabis of high quality and creating the state’s first cultivation brand. It was started by myself and two other partners, Will Denman and […]

Read More

July 29, 2015

2015 Spring Crops Report: Rain Soaks Spring Sales

Rain, rain and more rain. That was the story this spring for the large majority of growers across the U.S. And where it wasn’t too wet, it was too dry. Drought conditions cut sales in the West and Southwest. But it wasn’t all bad. Eighty-nine percent of respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Survey declared the season a success, despite its challenges. They said beautiful weather in April and excited consumers who were ready to spend got the season going early, but then cool temps and rainy weekends throughout May and June caused confusion over when and how much to plant. Of the 189 respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey, 53 percent identified themselves as grower-retailers, 34 percent were wholesale growers and 13 percent said they were young plant growers. Most responses came from the Midwest (27 percent), Northeast (18 percent) and Southeast (16 percent), but also […]

Read More

July 17, 2015

Young Plant Survey: Do You Grow Plugs And Liners?

If your operation produces plugs or liners for wholesale growers, please take a few minutes to participate in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Young Plant Grower Survey. We know you are very busy and we value your time and input. This survey should only take a few minutes. Greenhouse Grower’s Young Plant Grower Survey has played a key role in building our Top 20 Young Plant Growers list over the years. The information helps us zero in on trends taking shape and the challenges you’re facing as young plant growers. If you have any questions about this survey or you are not the right contact for this at your operation, please email me at, or please forward the survey link to the appropriate person. We would like to wrap up this survey by July 24, so please take it soon! Thank you in advance for your participation. We value your opinion! » […]

Read More

July 15, 2015

Cultivate’15 Town Hall Meeting: Not Your Grandma&…

Young and innovative industry minds threw down ideas about future of gardening in the new millennium at the Cultivate’15 Town Hall Meeting. Traditionally one of the most innovative, captivating, controversial, edge-of-your-seat, interesting discussions at the whole show, this year’s Town Hall Meeting was no exception. The set up for this discussion addressed the radical change within the world of horticulture over the past decade, due to economics, demographics, technology, retail competition and the redefinition of gardening. The premise: Change cannot be ignored, and our old strategies won’t win us the game anymore. This session acted as a “callback” to the drawing board to determine what gardening actually means to consumers, how the horticulture industry needs to respond to meet the demands of the new millennium and the consequences that may result if we don’t. The esteemed panel included some of the brightest young and innovative minds in horticulture: Brienne Arthur of […]

Read More
BeeSmart logo

July 7, 2015

Grow Wise, Bee Smart Website Launches As Industry Resou…

The new Grow Wise, Bee Smart website,,  was recently launched as a key component of the horticulture industry’s Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Initiative, which was created to provide leadership and guidance to the industry on pollinator health. The site serves as the communications hub for the latest research and developments related to the role horticulture plays in supporting pollinator health. Grow Wise, Bee Smart currently features information on the importance of bees and pollinators, threats to their health and steps everyone can take to improve habitat and forage. Links to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and Pollinator Partnership further guide retail and landscape firms and their customers on how to plant and register new gardens and habitats for pollinators. As the Grow Wise, Bee Smart stewardship program for plant production is launched, and as funded and directed research yields results and guidance, the site will feature timely new information and insights. Progress […]

Read More

June 30, 2015

Opportunities Abound For Women In Horticulture, Says Do…

My love for horticulture goes back to my grandparents who were farmers in upstate New York. My family’s involvement in agriculture left a lasting impression that has spanned decades, and still drives my passion for our industry today. I started my career in horticulture when I owned a greenhouse, nursery and garden center in Sayville, Long Island, N.Y. We specialized in ground cover production, later branching out to producing perennials and bedding plants.     I then went onto wholesale hard goods distribution. In the 1980s, I was the first woman salesperson on Long Island. What an eye opener that was! New York is a very special place, different from anywhere else in the country. You cannot imagine how difficult it was walking into greenhouses and nurseries as a woman, in a man’s world. Luckily, I grew up in New York City in an Italian family, who taught me great […]

Read More

June 10, 2015

Women In Horticulture Should Celebrate Their Difference…

Maria Costa-Smith, executive vice president at Costa Farms in Miami, Fla., says she believes in equal treatment for equal work. She encourages women in horticulture to work hard, be team players, perform beyond expectations and add value to their organizations. Fulfilling Her Dreams Maria Costa-Smith grew up in the horticulture industry, and never doubted that she wanted a career in ornamental horticulture. Part of a family with a history steeped in agriculture, her grandfather, Jose Costa, was a farmer in Cuba, who sent her father, Tony Costa, to the University of Florida just before the Cuban Revolution to study agriculture. When the family uprooted in 1961 and fled to the U.S., they began growing tomatoes and citrus on a 30-acre plot of land in Miami, and soon after expanded into ornamentals. Thus, Costa Farms was established. Working on the farm with her father and grandfather, Costa-Smith says she was always […]

Read More
Pollinator-Conference-NC State

June 10, 2015

Experts Convene to Discuss How to Protect Bees, Other P…

A new conference organized by North Carolina State University (NC State) and Michigan State University (MSU) will focus on the need for bee-friendly ornamental landscapes and practical solutions for protecting bees and other pollinators. This autumn, researchers, educators and industry experts from around the country will descend on a small town in rural North Carolina to discuss a question with repercussions for both the economy and the environment: what can be done to protect bees and other pollinators? The conference is focused specifically on what can be done to not only conserve but also bolster pollinator populations in so-called ornamental landscapes, such as urban areas and manicured gardens. It is the brain child of two entomologists – Steve Frank of NC State and David Smitley of MSU. With pollinator declines in the news, public demand for bee-friendly ornamental plants is high, but much of the available research has addressed pesticides and […]

Read More
Terri McEnaney Bailey Nurseries headshot_featured

June 3, 2015

Bailey Nurseries’ Terri McEnaney Recognized By Mi…

Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney was recently honored by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in their Women in Business 2015 special issue. Those honored were chosen for the impact they have had on the business community in Minnesotoa, as well as their dedication to serving their community. McEnaney was honored for her leadership in growing the company significantly in terms of revenue, staff, global reach and brand development, as well as her strategic acumen and industry insight. Other honorees included executives from U.S. Bancorp, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Gilette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, the American Cancer Society, Cargill, 3M and Wells Fargo. “I am humbled to receive this honor from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal,” McEnaney says. “To be among this group of esteemed women is exciting. Seeing successful female leaders in other male-driven industries pushes me to continue working and encouraging women in horticulture to grow their passion into a long-term, fruitful career.” […]

Read More

June 3, 2015

Take Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey

Please take a few minutes to answer Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey. Your input will help us get a firmer grasp on how spring played out for growers and what we can expect in Spring 2015.

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

June 3, 2015

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Launches With U…

The National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge on June 3, just in time for National Pollinator Week, held June 21-25. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a strategic effort to promote and protect the needs of pollinators in North America. Representatives of the recently formed Network joined First Lady Michelle Obama on June 3 for an event that’s part of her “Let’s Move” Initiative at the White House, to formally launch the Challenge. The launch of the Challenge is an unprecedented collaboration by dozens of conservation and gardening organizations, including green industry associations like AmericanHort, America in Bloom, Society of American Florists, American Floral Endowment, the National Garden Bureau and the American Horticultural Society. The organizations joined together to form the National Pollinator Garden Network and launch the new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Designed to accelerate growing efforts across America, the Network is launching the […]

Read More
Status of Marijuana US Map May 2015

May 29, 2015

Marijuana Legalization Updates

As of April 2015, 23 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some capacity. At the federal level, several bills are currently awaiting action. Here is an update on current state and federal marijuana legislation across the U.S.

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

May 29, 2015

Making The Decision To Produce Medical Marijuana

Should horticultural growers consider cultivating medical marijuana? That’s up to the individual grower, of course, and certainly a number of growers already have jumped in. We at Meister Media Worldwide, publishers of Greenhouse Grower and American Vegetable Grower, do not necessarily endorse nor oppose the production of medical marijuana. But we do feel it is an option worth exploring. We intend our “Medical Marijuana” series of articles to give you information you need to make your own call. We hope you find it useful, and we do welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas as we continue to cover what we’re fairly certain is only going to be an increasingly viable and growing market for this emerging crop.

Read More

May 27, 2015

California Growers To Voluntarily Cut Back Water Use

Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have agreed to reduce their water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurance that they will not face further curtailment during the June-September growing season. The proposal was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board on Friday, May 22. “This proposal helps Delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus says. “It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season.” Growers who participate in the program could opt to either reduce water diversions under their riparian rights by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. In both cases, the […]

Read More

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Inn…

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More