I find it amazing that so many of us across the country have had the same experiences in our garden centers this year. If you had decent weather you did good business this spring. If you had crummy weather, like the east coast then business was not so good. Besides the weather, which is always the main factor in business, the areas where we did well and not so well are the same. Vegetable plants ruled this year, followed by fruit trees, and fertilizers to keep them growing. Also smaller pot's of color, 4" and jumbo packs did quite well. Statuary, one gallon and larger shrubs and trees, as well as any outdoor furniture, not so well. All in all it was a great year for those who the weather gods smiled on. After the dismal Christmas season I didn't know what to expect. There was nothing but doom and gloom in the retail sector. With the first sales of bare root fruit trees we could see that things had changed, and edibles were going to be in. This carried on right through the vegetable planting season, and now we are selling organic fertilizers and pest controls to keep those gardens humming. I don't know what the future holds. I would suspect that sales should be good for pre-booking fruit trees this fall. I would guess that the Christmas season will be slow for us, as we reallyÂ don't have much of an indoor space. I think the Christmas sales season has changed, with people choosing to spend much less on gifts. It actually makes me glad we never really "got into" Christmas as far as nursery sales go. I think a lot of retail garden centers this year will find smaller gifts selling better than high ticket items. People want to celebrate, just not so expensively. Great opportunity to sell an, "old fashioned Christmas" this year. Quality tools for the new vegetable gardener, simple wind chimes, and even gift certificates (if the customer base believes you'll be around next year.) I wonder what happen's to any Smith and Hawken gift certificates out there?
As far as next year goes, I believe we will see a continuation of the great sales of edible plants. I expect fruit trees and vegetable sales to carry the day, weather permitting. What with the recent late blight scare, and the realization that it was box store exasperated, the smaller retail garden center that has made a connection with the neighborhood should fare well. The main grower for the box stores has also decided not to grow heirloom tomatoes next year. Another great opportunity for the independent nursery to advertise greater choice.
We should start to see an uptick in people opening or interested in opening a garden center. It's now a trendy thing, and that's OK. People can see what businesses did OK during these times, and what businesses actually add value to the community. I am certainly receiving lot's of e-mails from people interested in opening a nursery. Of course being interested and actually doing it are different things, but never the less being a nursery person is once again fashionable. That of course can be a problem, because like gardening, it can be a serious business. Are people really willing to put in the time and effort that is required to be successful?
One wonders how many people who planted a tomato in a Topsy-Turvy will do that again? I can't think of any one item this year that so perfectly expresses peoples excitement about gardening, and yet tells of their utter lack of knowledge about gardening. This things just don't work out here where summer time heat gets in the 90's and 100 degree F range. They dry out much too quickly,yet I have many customers who bought them (not from us). People still love the idea of a gimmick, whether it works or not. What other gimmicks will be peddled next year to anxious, amateur gardeners? I'll tell you right now we don't sell gimmicks here, and no matter how much people plead there will be no Topsy-turvys sold here.
I am quite excited about the possibilities for us in this economic climate. Smaller is better, local is better, and we are about a small and local as you can get. My 25 years plus in the business is paying off as people are looking for information and advice. Sure the internet is great for research, but knowing someone local who has the advice for local gardening is invaluable. Sometimes just wading through all the info available on the internet makes one pine for the friendly nursery person, who can pin point the information you need now. Yes, I do beleive we are seeing a Renaissance in smaller, locally owned nurseries and garden centers. It's hard work, long hours, and year after year of routine, but for those wishing to pursue a career in this field, I can not think of a better time in the last 25 years to do it.