After a cold, wet spring, the summer of 2011 has mostly been good to garden centers. Many retailers from across the U.S. report June sales that were strong enough to make up for poor Mays, defying the industry’s rule of thumb that once you lose May sales, they are gone forever.
“June was very strong for us,” says Kris Shepherd of Alsip Nursery, located in the Chicago metropolitan area. “We made up all of May losses and a good part of April’s deficit.”
That sentiment was echoed by several retailers, reporting strong double digit increases of June 2011 over June 2010. Pennsylvania-based Bucks Country Gardens’ Tom Hebel shared his June sales: “June sales up 24 percent and margin dollars up 20 percent.”
For the Northwest, July was the savior month. “The weather finally stabilized and has been perfect,” says Bayview Farm & Garden’s Maureen Murphy, whose store is on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. “We had been way behind because of the horrible, non-existent spring, but things started turning around in July and came screaming back.”
For most of the country, though, July was a scorcher. “We went from too wet and cold, to too dry and record breaking heat! July was the third hottest month on record for Missouri,” says Sandi Hillermann McDonald of Hillermann Nursery.
Mostardi Nursery in the Philadelphia area successfully battled the weather with a bucks program. “By month’s end, we broke the record for hottest month in recorded history… whoopee! Fortunately, bonus bucks came to the rescue, since we redeem them for the entire month and always see a noticeable boost in traffic both at the beginning and end of the month. We had high single digit sales gains each week,” says owner Stephen Mostardi.
August continued the heating trend, and more retailers report that the high temperatures impacted sales, although one Midwest retailer who prefers to remain off record reports his store’s strongest August sales since 2007, which are 65 percent over 2010’s August.
Knupper Nursery & Landscape, a Chicago area store, also had a strong August with a 34.6 percent upswing from August 2010. But Knupper’s strong August is only due to a single promotion, owner John Heaton says. “The August number would be down 8.7 percent except for one large sale that we do not normally expect. Our year-to-date sales as of 8/25 is down 3.30 percent, which I am very happy for after the very poor weather in April and May.”
Most of the strong sales can be attributed to having comparatively good weather compared to a long, cold, wet spring, retailers say. June’s fair skies allowed retailers to maintain strong margins, selling product with virtually no price reductions. By summer’s end, however, strong sales were often due to discounts.
“I think people are tired of sales, and I can’t wait to sell fall color and something at regular margin,” says Hebel, whose August sales totals were down only slightly at 3 percent, but saw margin dollars dip 20 percent.