Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog

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So, How Was It For You?

It’s been a busy summer of travel, conferences and clients making me remiss in the blogosphere, which makes now the perfect time to say: “So how was the garden retail business for you in 2017?”

I was guilty-as-charged in being distinctly bullish about prospects for a banner year this year. The economy is firing better for most (though not all) people than it has done for years. We see a soaring stock market, rising household income and talk of a $1000 cell phone. Landscapers and housing contractors are sold out for months (years in Utah, so I am told), while there is just enough inflation around to encourage some much-needed price raises. It should have been a banner year, just like 2016 should have been too. But neither year reached the expectations of retailers that I know. I see reports that one of the home centers is up 6% in sales across the board, but much of that was contractor-driven. Meanwhile plant and hard goods suppliers I know say it was “just so-so.”

Two steps up, two or more back

Most independent garden retailers saw a modest, 2-5%, rise in sales, but a smaller or flat traffic count with a compensating rise in Average Sale, just like the last 15 years. But rises in sales were largely due to the price rises that I (and others) urged retailers to adopt. Given the ever-rising costs of business some might even say they went backwards despite an increase in the top line sales. Yes it was a poor weather year for many, but there has always been weather – this is something else.

So I am officially declaring that for the first time in my lifetime, the DIY garden business hasn’t surged after a recession – and it’s not going to under the current model. There has been such a fundamental change in the consumer’s lifestyle and demographics since 1983, 1990 or 1999 that history is not a good guide here. What worked for the last 45 years isn’t working.

Let’s analyze before we strategize

But before we “de-construct,” as they say in trendy circles, let’s hear what happened from the trenches: your trenches. I have good data that shows the DIY sales leaders this year were such categories as indoor plants, (green and/or blooming), succulents, edibles, pottery, personal (think purses, jewelry, apparel etc) and self-indulgences (everything from big blousy hydrangeas to YETI). Meanwhile normal-sized “color” was flat and “woodies” were down significantly in DIY business (unless you have lots of new homes locally).

In other words, consumers decorated a lot… but didn’t dig much.

So, how was it for you? What were your category winners and losers? Did you see “decorating” as a major revenue stream and invest in it, or were your buyers still buying like it’s 1997?

I look forward to hearing from you as we “re-construct” the garden retail business together!

Sep 21, 2017 26 Comments