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Digging it: interest in vegetable gardening sprouts, lawn and garden departments thrive.


TRENDS SHOW MORE AMERICANS ARE digging in and getting their hands dirty with gardening these days. "Recession gardens" are sprouting up around the country as more consumers take a stab at growing their own fruits and vegetables to help trim food expenses. With more consumers embracing this GIY (grow-it-yourself) trend, now is the time for retailers to cash in.

Roughly 43 million households in the U.S. will grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs this year, up 19 percent from last year, according to the National Gardening Association. And good news for retailers, one fifth of these gardeners will be first-timers who are going to need to stock up on all of the necessities, gadgets and other doodads. They are also going to need your guidance, so offering expert advice to these novice gardeners will keep them coming back to your store for new products and helpful tips.

Thinking outside of the box. staying ahead of the gardening season and providing unparalleled service/advice are the best ways to keep your lawn and garden department thriving year round. Check out some of the ways two retailers stay successful in this competitive department.


Green Thumbs Galore

Gardening can be both relaxing and cost-effective--59 percent of gardeners say they garden because it saves them money on food bills. Shaving off a few dollars from their grocery bills and having fresh produce at their fingertips, these gardeners have the best of both worlds. But, they are going to need your help. To be successful gardeners, especially the first-timers, they will need the proper tools, fertilizer, soil and seed. Being prepared for their questions, concerns and requests will keep you profitable throughout the season.

Jim Hellen, owner of Great Falls Ace Hardware in Great Falls, Mont., has seen significant growth in his seed department. "We have had 25 percent or more growth in just the seed we sell.

This year, it was almost 100 percent growth over last year," says Hellen.

Rob Mathews of Mathews True Value Home Center in Pendleton, Ind., has also seen an increase in vegetable gardening product sales. "Without a doubt our live plant vegetable sales and seed sales saw dramatic increases this year," he says. "I think that is definitely attributable to people growing their own gardens more; however, I think it also has a lot to do with how much we expanded our selection," says Mathews. Luckily, increased spending in the department is not just with vegetable gardening supplies. Flower gardening, landscaping and water gardening have all seen increases in the last five years.

"Know Your Windows"

The gardening season is made up of several small windows of time, explains Hellen. From fertilizing, planting, watering and pruning, gardening consists of many steps and retailers should be ready for them, be says. "Know those windows and have the product there when the opportunity is there," he says.

Although shipping can be tricky, try to have the right products just a few weeks before the window opens and close it out once that particular part of the season is finished. "Get in and get out," says Hellen. But, that is easier said than done sometimes as the gardening season can be as unpredictable as the weather.


Jumping the Gun

After a long, cold winter, customers often get a little case of spring fever, which can throw off the supply and demand schedule. "Customers get very antsy once spring starts to get here. It's to a point where if we have a 50 degree day in late February, they want to know where the pansies are and they're asking for vegetable, perennial and annual plants in late March and early April," says Mathews. Although this may throw off the anticipated schedule, Mathews explains that customers buying too early often helps sales because the recurring bad weather kills off whatever they tried to plant.

The lawn and garden department, in general, is a tough category in terms of orders and shipping. Planning your purchases to arrive on time and trying to predict what customers will want is hard for any retailer to master. "Seasonality combined with forecasted purchasing makes this department a challenge," says Mathews. "We order most of our base level inventory for the department in October for late winter/early spring shipment, staggered through mid-summer.

This is a huge challenge, but necessary given the terms."

Getting your orders in early is key to any lawn and garden department. "If you don't order early, it may not be available in the middle of May or June. This obviously makes inventory management tricky, because you don't know exactly what you're going to sell in a given year," adds Mathews.

One good idea is to take advantage of wholesalers' pre-season booking program, not allow you to order merchandise early, but delay shipping and payment until the season begins.

Preserving Profits Year Round

You might think that the lawn and garden department is limited to spring and summer, but you can drag out the profits and appeal into the fall months. Hellen has teamed up with his county's extension service to offer different seminars on specific lawn and garden subjects and was looking for a way to keep the momentum going in September and beyond. So, in late August, Groat Falls Ace Hardware hosted a canning workshop which boasted a tremendous turnout. "We ended up with 44 people here," says Hellen. "The key thing for me was out of that 44, 18 of the attendees had never been in my store."


With one class, Hellen gained 18 new customers. Along with information on canning, the extension service also offered free testing of customers' pressure gauges and seals. Hellen explains that he saw an increase in sales of gauges and seals that day because of the testing and the workshop. The canning workshop was so successful that he already has two more in the works; one on canning juices and another on salsas and dips.

"The beauty of it is that the workshops are in September and so often we are used to the winding down in lawn and garden in August. This whole canning process allows us to extend it ... there are things we can do to prolong those green thumbs for people," says Hellen.


Don't downsize just yet. As the growing season ends and preserving season begins, keep your lawn and garden department top of mind. Keep an eye on your inventory and start making plans for next year. With customers' new appreciation for gardening, 2009 has been a growth year for the lawn and garden department, and 2010 is set to be even better.

By Kaitlin Foley,
Recession Causes Resurgence in
Food Preservation Supply Sales

Household Purchasing (Millions)

Product                      2007   2008

Canning Supplies              4.0    9.7
Freezing Supplies            15.6   16.2
Food-Processing Equipment     3.3    4.1
Food-Drying Supplies          1.6    2.4

Source: National Gardening Association's 2008
National Garden Survey

Average Household
Spending on Lawn
and Garden Activities

2003   $457
2004   $449
2005   $387
2006   $401
2007   $428
2008   $444

Source: National Gardening Association's 2008 National
Garden Survey

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Foley, Kaitlin
Publication:Hardware Retailing
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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