Indoor Plants: Your Unsung Heroes

tropical plants at Wilsons Garden Center

Interior plants are frequently treated as second-class citizens at garden centers. Foliage plants are tucked into random greenhouse spaces that may get occasional foot traffic by lost customers seeking birdseed.

I’m exaggerating, but here at Wilson’s Garden Center, we’ve made a commitment to showcase and promote interior plants as healthy necessities for indoor environments. These workhorses act both as air purifiers and oxygenators, not to mention the tranquility and sense of wellness they contribute to a living space.

Celebrate The Benefits Of Plants

A whole section of our indoor garden center, 3 percent of the total display area, is dedicated to these unsung heroes, with one staff member, Geri Timm, overseeing this department. Geri is the interior plants horticultural expert, managing the buying, customer service, signage and displays. She is also one of the stars in our YouTube videos.

Interior plants provide a steady source of income, amounting to 4 percent of total annual business. Agreed, it isn’t a huge number but as we know in this business, every bit counts. This is especially true in the years when poor weather or economic downturns impact sales. Many areas in the Midwest and Northeast were hit by cool, rainy weather this spring, putting a sizeable dent in April and May outdoor sales. Interestingly, our interior plant sales jumped 9 percent as of June.

Differentiate Yourself With Specialty Plants To Increase Profit Margins

Although we are a year-round garden center, we do about 85 percent of our interior plant sales between January and June. Succulents, cactus, foliage plants, hanging baskets and tropicals make up most of the inventory. Of these, succulents are the hottest sellers. When customers enter our garden center. they are greeted by a striking 150-square-foot display of succulents.

Miniature plants also move well, with many folks getting into fairy gardening. For the past six years we’ve run a spring Boston fern sale; buy two for $25. Many people purchase these each year for a fresh look. This spring we sold more than 1,000 ferns.

This year we currently have a 61 percent margin on interior plants. Last year it was 63 percent. Margins can swing between 50 percent and 70 percent, depending on the perceived value of the plant and shipping costs, which can be as high as 25 percent to 30 percent.

We order most plants on an as-needed basis, although we do purchase some unique varieties through our broker at the TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition) show. We work with a number of great vendors, three of these being Florida Cactus, Morning Dew Tropical Plants and Deroose Plants.

Engage Customers And Make Them Comfortable

Several initiatives have helped boost sales in interior plants. We have a Creation Station that is manned by one of four staff members. Customers can shop for plant combinations, assisted by a staff member if requested, and then we’ll assemble the container for them. This station is also used for the production of foliage containers, as well as silk and dried flower seasonal planters and Christmas décor.

We’ve stepped up the signage in this department. Colorful signs promote the health benefits of houseplants, including their ability to remove toxins from the environment, provide an enriched level of oxygen and infuse a sense of tranquility. We also rotate signage on plants that tell their stories — for example, who the breeder was and fun, interesting tidbits.

We want customers to feel like they’ve stepped into a lush, tropical rainforest when entering the interior plants department. Like many garden centers, this area can get quite hot in summer. To make customers’ shopping experiences more comfortable when outside temperatures are over 85 degrees, we provide complimentary, cold bottled water as they enter the garden center.

Keep The Traffic Moving All Year

To encourage repeat visits throughout the year, we are diligent about changing displays so there is always something new for customers to see. We have a loyalty program called Great Gardeners, which includes special offers through eMail, Facebook and eNewsletters.

Our Bonus Bucks program is organized into three seasons: Spring Greenbacks, earned in the spring and redeemed June 16 through July 3; Fall Bonus Bucks, earned after July 3 and redeemed October 16 through October 31; and Jingle Bucks, earned after October 31 and redeemed December 16 through December 31. For every $10 spent, patrons earn one Bonus Buck. They can use the bonus bucks for up to half off their purchases.

Use Signage And The Media To Spread Your Message

Eighty percent of our advertising budget is spent in spring. We alternate between radio and television ads over an eight week period, plus we have some print ads, as well. We also have a postcard campaign with four to six mailings a year, announcing specials and events.

Last year we installed a 7- by 14-foot electronic sign board, which has had a positive impact. We keep our messages short and sweet, so that even folks driving past at 60 miles per hour (we’re near a major road), can easily read our specials. Although it might seem silly, even a simple countdown until spring gets responses.

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