Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog


It’s Not Over Until the Fat Albert Sings!

Memorial Day and it’s only the 26th of May? We should thank the Calendar Gods for this unusual turn of events, a week of May left after this holiday. AND getting another Saturday (retail’s best day in our best month) is a real bonus. Thank you, thank you.

For those working in warmer climates who have been chasing their tails since February, it is tempting to breathe out slowly, look up to the skies and say “….ahhh, it’s over for this year.” But after a long and brutal winter, much of the garden industry team is hoping to keep the momentum going.

“Help Me Catch Up”!

On my recent coast to coast travels I have seen more consumer excitement this year than for several years, while the “sales numbers” are close to 2007 levels, even if overheads are now at 2014 levels! The season seems 2-3 weeks behind the recent normal, so in the colder climates many homeowners are just now making their first visit to a garden store. We missed the crabgrass control and the seed starting business there. Ah well. Maybe we help them catch up on the very late season by suggesting a 1 gal tomato or even a nice pre-caged 3 gal complete with green fruit rather than that little 4” pot they were considering. Maybe we should tell customers to jump the smaller perennials and packs of annuals for bigger instant-show sizes. It feels like April-May happened in a week and it could be 92 degrees tomorrow.

But in most of the country, Memorial Day kicks off summer entertaining and outdoor living: so consumers should now be decorating for next week, not next month. Those market packs and 4 inch sizes just won’t cut it but shoppers may not know that. Merchandising and one-on-one conversations should help customers with that reality. When temperatures climb in today’s garden world, the best laid plans for the bigger spring projects quickly get put aside in favor of decorating and for that they need volume and an instant show!

The truth is that some colder climate stores may have missed one of the (3-4?) yearly trips a consumer makes to a garden retailer. It might be awkward for the merchant or buyer who still has 5 weeks back-stock of small or earlier material but when consumers are playing catch-up, they need help to make that leap from early spring cheer to full summer in-your-face-decoration. That takes some preparation and training by owners and managers. It also takes some skills in silent selling (i.e. merchandising) and in sales conversations to skip those spring projects to go straight into full-sized, lush, restful summer landscapes, patios and veggies.

Summer Livin’

Meanwhile in the warmer southern areas, garden retail is now well into the summer decoration and outdoor living mode. This means a team focus on entertaining, decorating decks, hiding those ugly areas and having succulent fresh herbs even if there are still lots of unsold April-May material being watered every day. Yard Sale!

In the dry west, it will be harder to raise a cheer from staff who see freeway signs about drought every day and are themselves ready for a few slower weeks. But if consumers can’t get honest, experienced help in successful hot dry gardening, the industry needs to take a long hard look at itself. We should be the go-to resource center for all the concerns that homeowners have. What will the drought do to my mature shrubs and lawn? How do I keep my veggies going just as they are starting to produce crops? What can I replace easily next year or when it rains again?

Just like the farmers faced with less water, homeowners may have to choose between keeping alive short or long term plants. This will need help and support, for instance suggesting investments in long term items like mature trees that by now may be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Employees should ask the homeowner’s priorities, “must-save” plants, how long they plan to stay in that property and so on. Help to reduce drought losses will build loyalty in the future.

Fat Albert Isn’t Singing Yet

So, it’s not over is it?! Now comes the third season of the year: in fact this year’s early Memorial Day might signal a BIG double season; helping catch-up in must-plant Food Gardening products AND a strong confident start to summer living. So plant that 5 gal tomato and fire up the barbeque!

May 27, 2014 12 Comments

Mom’s The Word!

With due respect to those in earlier climates (who might see Mother’s Day as the start of things slowing down), for most of Northern America the fun in garden retail is just starting with Mother’s Day.

Not only is this the busiest weekend of the year for many retailers, it is also the first big weekend, so it is a baptism by fire for many (INCLUDING the customer who may not have been there since last Memorial Day and won’t have a clue where “the annual greenhouse” or even the bathroom is.)

Here are a few winning tips from veterans which might help those newer people who have not been through the crazy season yet:


–          This may be the first time some customers have even been to a retail gardening store; deer-in-the-headlights time, so they don’t need equally stressed employees!

–          No matter how pressured you feel, you MUST run short meetings focused purely on immediate business, ad specials, rules, reminders, positive cultural re-enforcement. Repeat policies about breaks, cell phones, etc. that staff last heard 5 weeks ago on orientation day.

–          Remind staff that although this is the week to be great hosts, they still have to make the sale: no one is going to return next week having had a chance to think about it!

–          As there will be little time to think, the “Top Five Common Questions to Expect This Week” reminders need to go out early and be posted everywhere (see my previous post for more details)

–          Ensure in advance that each department knows what is looking gorgeous or is the ‘hot product’ in the other departments; Saturday morning is too late.

–          Make sure every employee is assigned to their core task. (I once watched a nursery’s main “Plant Expert” spend all Mom’s day on a bobcat as he was the only loader scheduled on-site that day.)

–          Practice MBWA (Management By Walking Around) – don’t get stuck selling trees or directing traffic.

–          Be ready with the rah-rah, cold drinks, bathroom breaks, checkout-helpers, more rah-rah and lead the team with a smile yourself. (It’s your job to absorb the stress of a poor April, sorry!)

Team Members

–          Don’t expect early lunch! (Remember that this one weekend might bring in more business than the whole month of January!)

–          This week will bring a lot of non-gardening customers so be aware of your use of jargon and technical phrases (“Do you want six inch or one gallon?”)

–          Identify 4-5 Mom-type gifts in your area for that question “What do you have that’s a bit different for my Mom?”

–          Identify the most gorgeous flower, the most fragrant houseplant, the biggest-impact hanging basket and know where they are, their price and the extras or tie-in sales (greetings card, nicer pot, easy basket watering device and so on).

–          Don’t expect the department expert or other managers to “come in” when you call them on the radio with a question. They may have 5 customers in front of them or be deep in the warehouse looking for that extra case of product.

–          Expect everything and anything! It could be a $50 gift certificate or a complete landscape design. Welcome people, share their excitement and give them what time you can, but also give them a way to ask for it later, online, or by phone. Most customers will recognize how busy you are.

–          Compared to bland malls or impersonal on-line shopping, this is THE time to make the annual task of shopping for Mom a delightful, fun experience.

Have fun and the week will fly by: who knows, you may win a customer for a lifetime.

Happy selling, happy Mother’s Day!


May 5, 2014 11 Comments