How Garden Shops Can Best Weather An Unusually Early Spring

Snow on fruit tree blossoms FEATUREWhen spring comes early, there’s generally a sense of joy, tamped down slightly by the dread that this is all the spring you’ll see.

While you have no control over the weather, any smart business person can take steps to make the most of the early sales, while also guarding your finances in case the season actually does turn out to be short lived.

Or, as garden industry consultant Sid Raisch says much more elegantly: “I always say that ‘A great season requires a long season,’ but there is more to the story. While an early spring could result in a great season, there are many ways it can still go bad beyond a surprise late snow storm. An early spring is an opportunity to a better spring, but not a right to one. Good luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

In addition to Raisch, we also reached out to consultants Sid Raisch, Ian Baldwin, and Steve Bailey about what advice they’re giving their own clients. Here are their tips.

Ovoid Overstocking

One of the biggest unseen risks of an earlier spring is giving into euphoria, Raisch says. He calls this reacting, rather than the more effective mode of responding thoughtfully. If you push suppliers to ship too much inventory, Raisch points out, you can be stuck if the weather just as suddenly turns cold again.

“A good response is to consider the appropriate inventory compared to the foreseeable window of opportunity,” he says,

Or as Baldwin succinctly phrases it: “Spending too much of that extra early cash, thinking the season will be longer. It won’t, just earlier!”

Don’t Hire In A Panic

“Another reaction is to start seasonal employees earlier,” Raisch says.

Remember there’s no guarantee the increased employment costs will be recovered with an increase in early sales, he adds.

Baldwin points out that there’s a lot of traps hidden within the simple concept of bringing in the seasonal staff early. If you are rushing, you can make poor hiring decisions, which will have an impact on everyone at the store, especially if you dislike firing people before the season ends.

Another unforeseen consequence of hiring in a hurry is that you tend to throw those new workers into the deep end without sufficient training, he says. And not only does training usually end up being shoddy when you rush the hiring process, that same mind set leads to ditching staff meetings because everyone is “too busy,” Baldwin says.

But Don’t Be Overly Cautious

Now that Baldwin and Raisch have done their best to damp down your excitement, they turn to advice of positives steps you can take.

Even though they advise against bringing in inventory as if it were Mother’s Day weekend, they do encourage garden retailers to ramp their inventory up.

As Baldwin points out, misdirected buyers can be so cautious, you run the risk of running out of product just when customers are wanting to buy. That’s just bad retailing.

Also consider spending those dollars with your best vendors and continue cultivating a strong relationship with growers and suppliers who most matter, Baldwin advises.

“Suppliers may tie off their limited supplies to their most loyal deep customers, to the loss of product for those who shopped around in days of plenty,” he says.

As you might not expect from the financially minded Steve Bailey, whose world is made up of tidy columns of figures, his advice is to toss rigidity out the window. “Be flexible and be able to react to increased or decreased Revenues and Expenses,” he says. “In other words, do not budget in a static fashion, but rather a dynamic way so that any increase or decrease affects the budgeted number.”

Final Words Of Advice

“The best advice I can give here is to say that every customer, every day, matters a lot,” Raisch says. “At peak times, there is a limit to what you can do to help a customer. But when you can help a customer, that’s where the difference lies — to the customer, and to the garden center. Paying close attention to every single customer you can every single day can overcome a late spring break, and ignoring them can erase one.”

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