5 Questions With Wallace’s Garden Center

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Birding isn’t likely to surpass gardening in popularity any time soon, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a profitable department in your garden center. Wallace’s Garden Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, for example, recently updated its bird section, with very positive results. We caught up with Wallace’s Nursery Manager, Kate Terrell, to find out why birding is working so well for them.

Q: What was your birding department like before? 
It’s always been kind of a corner of the main section of our garden center and it was just organized by product. All the feeders are here, the houses are here. 

Now we’ve changed it. We hung a grid over the top, so the feeders hang down to about six feet. You can still get them down yourself, but you can see how they look hanging up. We added skins to the pegboard of the shelving so it looks like a blue sky with clouds. 

Hanging down from the grid there’s a big Wild Bird Haven sign so people can see where they need to go. We also widened the aisle between the center island and the wall to about 6 feet. Before you’d have to park you cart at the end and walk into it. Now you can easily drive your cart right through.
Q: How have you changed the way the department is merchandised?
We took our main shelving unit which is almost 24 linear feet long and divided it into four-foot sections, separating it by what kind of bird you want to attract.  There’s a section that’s all cardinal – feeders that cardinals use, safflower seed, Cajun cardinal seed. There’s a hummingbird section. Goldfinch is the state bird of Iowa, so we have a big goldfinch section.

It seems to help, especially with first-time bird people or if they’re trying to buy a gift for someone. They can know, OK, these are finch feeders, this is what I want.  

Q: Has your product mix changed?
Yes, we had gotten into the basics for a while, but now we’re trying to carry a full line and adding some more high-end items. For example, there are some feeders you can attach to your window so you can watch the birds right outside. Some of those are priced at $89, so we’ve gotten a few more price points in there. If you need anything for your birding hobby you can now get it here.

Q: Is birding a growing category for Wallace’s Garden Center?
It’s grown this year. We’re going to be just about $3.5 million in total sales and birding is about $60,000. So, it’s not huge but it’s definitely a staple – especially in January and February. Even when the economy was bad last year, we had people come in and buy 200 pounds of seed a week. Bird people are very committed. It’s not a hobby they go in and out of. 
Q: You mentioned birding was up $6,000 in 2009. How much of that would you attribute to the changes?
It’s hard to say. In January and February we built a 15,000 square foot Nexus greenhouse atrium that houses all of our pottery, and birdbaths are back in there, as well. Anything that has been in that new area has also gone up in sales pretty significantly, 10 to 20 percent. I know that we are seeing a lot more traffic in the Wild Bird Haven area of the store, though. People are actually shopping the shelves and looking at what we have. I think it’s a combination of both of those that has helped to increase that category almost 11 percent.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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