Temporary Garden Center Locations Are Popping Up Everywhere

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Temporary Garden Center Locations Are Popping Up Everywhere

Garden centers are beginning to embrace a new market avenue to pump up spring sales. Whether they’re called pop-up, remote, seasonal or temporary locations, these enhanced roadside stands are an extension of flagship stores, creating an opportunity to gain more market share and ultimately generate more profit. Like Christmas trees and fireworks, annual flowers have a peak season – the month of May, generally, but geographically dependent (more toward Mother’s Day in the South, but holding out until Memorial Day further North). Shoppers want to buy flowers and they want to beautify their yards. The challenge often is simply getting them in the store.

As Gabriella Heath, Flower Mart manager for Linder’s Garden Center, explains: “Some folks are looking for convenience – there’s less parking hassle, shorter lines at the register and the same product at the temporary locations, which are attractive features to some folks.”

Taking The Lead

Linder’s may be the industry leader for temporary locations. Celebrating its 100 anniversary this year, it has one, 5-acre flagship store in St. Paul, Minn. However, from late April through mid-July, Linder’s market reach blooms as it supports 51 temporary locations in the Twin Cities metro area. Flower Marts, as Linder’s calls its temporary locations, account for more than half the revenue collected during the spring season. But establishing such a presence is no small task.

Flower Mart Fundraising

Linder’s Flower Mart offers two fundraising programs for area non-profits. The first, offered year-round, allows the fundraising clubs to purchase gift cards in set denominations at a discount. When the club members sell the gift cards for face value, the club keeps the difference. The other program is tied directly to the Flower Marts. Groups register with Linder’s for a designated Friday-through-Monday period during the month of May. Multiple groups can register for the same period. The group is e-mailed a fundraising slip that members copy and distribute to as many people as they like. Shoppers relinquish the slip at checkout from any of the Flower Mart locations, and Linder’s donates 15 percent of the before-tax sales to the fundraising organization. In 2009, Linder’s distributed more than $70,000 through the Flower Mart fundraising program.

Linder’s first temporary location was erected in 1988. Temporary locations, often situated in the parking lot of a mixed-use retail facility, require conditional use permitting from the local municipality, lease arrangements with a property manager and licensing agreements for water and electricity. Linder’s secures a three-year permit for the specified spring season so each site doesn’t require an annual renewal.

You’ve Got Issues

McDonald Garden Center in Virginia Beach, Va., trialed one temporary location in 2009 and opened 14 this year. McDonald’s has three year-round stores, the youngest being 18 years old. Mark Anderson, garden market director, says it took an overwhelming amount of time and energy to deal with the zoning issues because it had been so long since McDonald’s had worked with the city offices. He’s hopeful this year’s experience will make next year’s process easier to navigate.

Kris Shephard, president of Alsip Home and Nursery in Frankfort, Ill., has also been working through municipal regulatory restrictions in Alsip’s first year, utilizing a temporary location, dubbed Alsip Garden Mart. The town allowed for only a 60-day permit and the local code limited the amount of signage that could be displayed. But with 12,000 square feet of plant material, including two 21-by-96-foot greenhouses, the Garden Mart should draw quite a bit of attention to the spot in the mall parking lot.

Breaking It Down

Erecting and later storing the structures of one temporary location may not present much of a challenge, but building 51 sites in a few short weeks seems like a daunting task. Heath reports that the Flower Mart construction crew has it down to a science. The parts of each “facility” are numbered (1 to 51) and palletized when disassembled. Once the permits are secured, usually by late March, a crew of 15 to 20 folks goes to each site framing the 84-foot greenhouses, adding benches, a patio area and fencing. With years of experience, they can complete two per day. Another crew then descends to hang banners, hook up the electricity and finally add plants.

The support supplies, from frost blankets and cash register to pens and staplers ,are delivered on a dedicated cart for each site. It’s not hard to believe Heath has a degree in engineering and logistics management. However, she is quick to share the credit for this well-oiled machine. “Without the hard work of the growers and the technical support, it wouldn’t work,” she says.

As one of two Flower Mart managers, Heath’s responsibilities include hiring the staff, assistants and supervisors for each location. She has found that a background in horticulture and business is ideal, but not easy to find. The 51 locations require 700 seasonal employees, but with a 65 to 70 percent return rate, each season only requires about 200 new trainees. That averages out to 13 employees per location, comparable to McDonald’s estimate of 10 per location.

Security at these mostly open-air facilities is a concern, but garden centers take certain precautions, from removing all valuables at closing each evening to using the closest bank possible, often one in the same shopping center. Alsip reports what is perhaps an ideal situation where mall security provides frequent surveillance and, in addition, a police substation is located in the mall. While cedar fencing defines boundaries in an aesthetically pleasing manner, it offers little safeguards against petty theft of plant material. Employee training and strategic traffic flow may help deter sticky fingers.

Limited Possibilities

Most temporary locations focus on plant material, especially colorful annuals. They may also provide limited hard goods, from fertilizer and pest control options to gloves and mulch. Remarkably, Linder’s grows all its annuals and 80 percent of its perennials, buying in shrubs and tropicals. Again, the limitations of a temporary facility and municipal restrictions may limit the sale of some hard goods.

While many factors must be considered when selecting a location, Shephard sums up location nicely. “We wanted it to be reasonably close to our permanent store so we could manage it more effectively, but didn’t want it too close as to only cannibalize from our existing customer base – we wanted to develop a new customer base.”

At this point, Alsip is not capturing customer information for market analysis because it is operating with the use of a generator and did not set up a point-of-sale system. McDonald’s, pulling electricity from a city pole (using a temporary meter) or from a nearby tenant, is fully utilizing its Garden Rewards loyalty program. Linder’s is just beginning to collect email addresses as part of a $100 gift card giveaway honoring its 100 anniversary, but it can trace some repeat customers through repeat business. The landscaping department reports that nearly half of business can be attributed to Flower Mart customers.

Most garden centers are open and active year-round, but much of that activity involves preparing for three seasonal sales periods (spring, fall and Christmas) that last four to six weeks each. Maximizing sales during those three shopping seasons is key to profitability. Temporary locations at the height of the spring season are one strategy to expand product availability, reach a broader customer base and build relationships that will attract customers to the flagship store for their gardening needs the remaining 10 months of the year.

Megan Bame is a freelance writer in Salisbury, N.C. She can be reached at meganbame@yahoo.com.

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