Be Smart at the Mart

Jan 14, 2016 4 Comments

As the last of the “50% off” sales straggle to a sad end and intrepid buyers of all-things Christmas head for “Market” (as the Atlanta Gift Mart is euphemistically known), I thought it might be worth sharing some observations from the Holiday business 2015:

It seems to have been a happy Christmas season for most garden retailers, despite a falling stock market and a burgeoning on-line business. The spending patterns of the American consumer for 2015’s Christmas reflected the greater changes seen through the year by the independent garden retailers that we know. Average spend per customer in Nov/Dec was up on the previous year by a range of 2% to 12%, while the favorable weather across much of the country drove customer count up by an even higher range for the majority. While predictions for general retail spending in the Malls were modest, garden retailers seemed to beat the street. Did consumers trade savings at the pump for a bigger wreath? J.P. Morgan Chase says that the average household is saving over $260 per year on cheaper gas and that they will spend up to 80% of it!

What consumers spent their money on is important as buyers head for Atlanta and Dallas, hoping to predict what shoppers will drool over in 10 months’ time – never easy. Christmas merchandise has but one chance per year to wow the consumer.  It takes real talent to repurpose a Nutcracker as a garden gnome five months later!

Fresh Is “In”

Feedback from our networks and clients was of strong and consistent traffic across all regions, demographics and store sizes. Fresh was “in” everywhere. Fresh cut trees, greens, roping and wreaths the bigger the better, the more unique the better in all categories. Customized wreath-making stations were selling them as quickly as they could be made. Where buyers could find them, re-orders sold out on cut greens, wreaths and outdoor “Porch Pots”.

Meanwhile, artificial trees were only strong at the top of the price range and what was once the very essence of a retail Christmas, ornaments and collectibles, especially collectibles, languished inside many stores. This last category, known to some of my English friends as “landfill,” may have seen its best days for a while as the collectors of such things as nutcrackers, carolers, nativities, Victorian nostalgia and so on, fade away themselves. And younger consumer may be turning away from decorative “stuff”  to spend on other, more practical or experiential, things.

A Department That Keeps On Giving

Given the (expensive) buying expeditions underway to the shows it might be helpful to know what those other things are!

Sales of all sorts of personal items, presumably destined for under-the-tree gifts were very strong, but the key change here is from Christmas gifts to all year round gifts. As one owner said “I want something I can sell into March, not just up to Dec 25th!” Despite the warm weather affecting sales of winter-wear in the Malls, sales of scarves, gloves, socks, sweaters and jewelry in garden-stores were extremely good in Nov/Dec. Any retailer with new or unusual styles of existing items such as super-cold drink containers sold out, while local-made apparel, food and drink were hits across the country.

I am not sure if I have a conclusion from all this information as you work the booths at market but caution is advised; change is in the air for Christmas “gift” shopping.  One of the big winners at Christmas was gift cards for future experiences: eating out, concert tickets, classes (glassblowing, cocktail making, etc.) or taking a trip.

Take Care With Those Bears

Sure, consumers are still going to decorate with lights, trees, ornaments or swag and will still buy lots of “stuff”. They will still change color schemes and update their homes each holiday season. But the highlights of their spending now seem to be less on Christmas/Santa/Holiday themed products and more on giving personal all-round gifts or new exciting things not necessarily connected to the specific season. Consumers are going for “fresh,” honest and, where possible, local products if they give products at all.

Sooo, buy carefully in the next few weeks: it’s hard to turn the boat back to China once you have confirmed!


photo credit for the lit “future garden gnomes” above: Moonlightway via MorgueFile

  1. Maureen Murphy
    Jan 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Great article and perspective on the changing marketplace, Ian. We are just finishing up six days in Atlanta…had to wade through a lot of land fill! However, we were surprised to find a good bit that meets our criteria of relevant, functional, inspiring, on trend, simple, fresh and beautiful. We’re over the poorly made “shabby chic” garden goods that are made to look like real things, yet fall apart as you unpack them. The trick is to know what our market will bear in terms of price point for quality things….just say no if it’s too expensive, even though it is wonderful and we know they would love it before they check the price tag.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jan 18, 2016 at 3:36 pm


      Thank you for your in-the-trenches perspective, hot from the aisles as it were! I really like your buying criteria you shared here. Your thoughts on pricing for your own market is also crucial; I am always surprised at people who buy at shows and THEN go home to figure out what price they can get for it. Retail pricing and therefore margin, is surely a negotiation point before buying anything at any show…! Thanks again, safe travels.

  2. John Connel
    Jan 24, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Hi Ian…great article that confirms our own thoughts on Xmas 2016. Having just visited the Harrogate Fair last week and off to Christmas World in Frankfurt next week were also looking for some new ideas to inspire our customers and re-focus our ranging. Its all becoming a bit predictable and cluttered. Any thing New and exciting at the Atlanta show that could work over here? Kind regards from across the pond. John.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jan 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Happy New Year John!

      Thanks for your thoughts from across the pond, nice to see they align with US trends. You use the word “cluttered” which reminds me of your rallying call of about 12 years ago: “Clear the Clutter!” Happy Days eh.

      As for what is new and exciting, I don’t think the shows are the leader in that respect. It is at the retail level where the innovators have created new waves by selling experencies such as classes on…. well almost anything from wreath making to cocktail making and from bee keeping to chicken rearing! Anything that can be sold as fun and escapist with a take-home product at the end seems to be the hot topic right now. Imagine that, collectables giving way to experience-ables! Thanks for taking the time, best wishes for good spring in Blighty!

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