An Early Spring Is Making Southern Garden Retailers Nervous

Gregg Curtis carrying a hanging basket Good Earth Garden Center FEATUREMuch of the South enjoyed highs of 60s and 70s throughout February. Trees and shrubs are blooming several weeks early. And it’s forcing garden retailers to make tough decisions about when to stock plants.

“We’re terrified!” says Ruth Kinler, who owns Redenta’s Garden Shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. The weather was so bad last year, sales were dismal for all area stores. So having spring hit so early makes the Redenta’s team wonder if this unseasonably warm weather is short lived, followed by hard freezes. Or if it indicates hot weather will also arrive early.

So far, Redenta’s is bringing in only some of its spring inventory, but will bring in much more in early March if the weather continues to hold. Most of Redenta’s plant yard is exposed to the elements, so it’s a risk to bring in too many plants before the usual last frost date. But the store needs the sales to help make up for the cold early spring, which was followed by flooding rains that lasted weeks in 2015.

Another issue facing retailers is how to warn customers who want to buy and plant immediately.

“The weather has been very mild, and our customer base has definitely noticed!” says Jennifer Gibson, marketing manager at the Good Earth Garden Center in Little Rock, AR.

So far, Good Earth is following a similar game plan to Redenta’s and stocking hardy, early season items such as fruit trees, cool season veggies, and herbs, which have been selling well.

They’ve dodged a bullet with unrealistic customer expectations. “We created displays with early season flowering shrubs and perennials a little earlier than usual. The traffic this past Saturday was great and fortunately, our customers are seeking items that we have in stock … trees, shrubs, and pottery,” Gibson says.

Attendance for classes has been fair, though not at capacity for both Redenta’s and The Good Earth. So although sales are starting early, it will not make up for fewer sales during the height of spring if the weather changes for the worst.

“From a prepping standpoint, the mild weather has created more of a sense of urgency with the staff to be 100% ready the moment we can really trust the weather not to turn cold again and annuals arrive,” Gibson says.

But in the meantime, the warm weather is creating customer-building opportunities.

“We have had a lot of new customers stopping in,” Gibson says. “Many have said they have always wanted to stop in and never had the chance before. My guess is that the nicer weather is creating a better opportunity for outdoor exploring as people look for ways to spend more time outside in the spring-like weather. Because this is a slower time, we get to really connect and give little tours to the newbies so that once spring really starts, they have a head start and feel comfortable and confident about shopping at The Good Earth.”

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