While the core of most garden centers is the plant material, the weather in many parts of the country doesn’t always lend itself to lucrative off-peak seasons for plant retailers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be profitable twelve months out of the year. More garden centers are finding that gift shops, with the right mix of product and merchandising, can help sustain the business even during the slower months.
Tina Lee, co-owner of DeWayne’s Home & Garden Showplace in Selma, N.C., says her store’s gift shop has been a huge asset to the business, especially during the winter months and now as drought conditions continue throughout the South, cutting the garden center’s plant sales in half. “The gift shop is keeping us ahead, and it’s growing, so I don’t even think we’re down this month,” says Lee. “It’s been wonderful to have something to fall back on in these times of stress.”
Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago also has been successful with its gift shop, which carries a wide range of items, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the area. Kathleen Chefas, gift shop manager at Gethsemane, says Mariage Frères tea, imported from Paris, does extremely well, because Gethsemane is one of the few places that offers a wide selection of it. The garden center also has begun selling Polish pottery, which has been a hit, too.
During the holidays, Gledhill Nursery in West Hartford, Conn., turns its gift shop into a Christmas shop, offering an array of holiday décor, stocking stuffers and more. One line of products that has done especially well for Gledhill comes from a company called Meadowbrooke Gourds. Gourds are dried, handpainted and turned into beautiful birdhouses, and a fall and winter line includes handpainted Santa and snowmen figures. “We have those set up now, and they’re just a huge hit,” says garden center manager Jessica Diaz.
Hitting On The Trends
With so many different gift items out there, it can be a daunting task choosing what to buy. Lee says she and her fellow buyers find the majority of their gift items at the Atlanta Gift Mart. “We try to go at least twice a year, but we definitely go in January and we’re usually there about a week,” says Lee. They then return in March to finish up their Christmas buying. The best way, they’ve found, to hit on hot items is simply to browse the showrooms, according to Lee. “We never go to market with anything we’re looking for in mind, because you’ll never find it,” she says. “If we see something we’re confident in, we’ll invest in it.”
That’s another aspect Lee says helps DeWayne’s succeed in the gift department. “If we believe in something, we’re willing to take a big risk,” she says. One example is Pandora jewelry, which DeWayne’s began carrying about a year ago. Lee says in order to become a Pandora jewelry dealer, a retailer has to buy about $5,000 or $6,000 dollars worth of product. Up front, DeWayne’s bought $25,000, not knowing if it was going to sell or not. It turned out to be a great business decision. Pandora jewelry is now the third best selling item in the gift shop, following Vera Bradley accessories and Rainbow sandals.
Chefas says she finds some of Gethsemane’s best gift items by just shopping at different stores wherever she goes. Recently, she took a trip to Maine where she saw some products she really liked. “I do the people the courtesy of buying the item, and then I track down the company,” she says. “In some instances, they were just small little places out east. So, we’re always shopping.”
Like Lee, Chefas also shops the markets. She likes to be able to see the product before buying it. “I don’t generally buy from a catalog ever, unless I’m familiar with the company and I know the quality,” she notes. “I don’t’ generally go looking for something specific. I can tell when I see something whether it’s something I can sell or not.”
Diaz says she doesn’t go to the markets every year, but she notes that they’re a great place to find new, trendy items. “We go to a lot of vendor shows to actually see what’s new and trendy out there,” she says.
Several manufacturers shared their thoughts on what will be hot for 2008, including Jodie Winters, director of outdoor living for New Creative, which designs, imports, manufactures and distributes gifts and accessories. She says New Creative’s best sellers have been products in the Seeds Of Faith line. “Three artists have developed collections that all come with a story – something that has meant something very close to them,” she says. The result was Seeds Of Faith. The items in the line all come in cute, decorative gifts boxes. “It’s a great pick-me-up gift,” Winters adds.
Some of the products in the line include plant picks with inspirational words on them, a St. Francis fountain, wall décor, planters, chimes and more. The line will continue in 2008, with some new additions to round out the collection. “We’re seeing great success with anything that sparks emotion and that is inspirational,” Winters says. In 2008, New Creative is going to focus even more on gift packages that make for quick, pick-up-and-go gifts.
New Creative puts great care into ensuring its products meet the demands of growing trends, while also meeting high quality standards. “We work on developing new finishes overseas with our vendors as well as our in-house design department. They are great at helping the vendors,” she says. “They actually go overseas and hand-sculpt (the items) to make sure we get the detail we’re looking for.”
The Gardener’s Gifts
For retailers who want to sell garden-related gifts, Garden Works will be offering the Supersoft kneepad, new for 2008. It’s an extremely soft, comfortable, contractors’ grade kneepad, says Dave Kirby of Garden Works. Another great gift for gardeners from Garden Works are neoprene tool holders. “If you’ve got sharp tools, you can put them in there, and if it bumps up against you, it’s not going to harm you in any way because of the neoprene material,” Kirby says.
Another new item Kirby anticipates will be hot in the coming year is Garden Works’ new kitchen composter that allows consumers to compost their food waste easily. A charcoal filter on the composter hinders the smell. “More and more municipalities are requiring that food waste and yard waste be disposed of together,” says Kirby. “In smaller kitchens, it can sit under a sink, or you can even mount it on the inside of a cabinet, for instance.”
Dress It Up
Apparel, including hats, is another realm of gifting to consider. Alice Eichelmann, owner of Tula Hats, says styles with wider brims have been growing in popularity, thanks in part to health-conscious consumers. “People are wanting more coverage from the elements because of skin cancers, and their doctors are telling them to wear hats, and they’re wanting the widest brim they can get,” she says.
In addition to their health benefits, Tula hats are sustainable, made from palms. Just before the palms fall, they’re harvested to make the hats. If they hit the ground, they dry out and can’t be used, Eichelmann explains. There are no chemicals added to the hats, either, so they’re natural as well as comfortable. Eichelmann says some of the best selling hats for the garden center market include the Elegant Ranch, the Gardener and the Lifeguard designs, which all feature wider brims.
For The Birds
The birding category is another hot one for garden center gift shops. “The first six months of 2007 were incredibly busy, and our retailers reported a tremendous increase in sales in the birding industry,” says Ruth Bloedorn of Backyard Nature Products. She notes, too, that items made out of recycled poly-lumber have become the company’s most popular products. Backyard Nature Products doesn’t import its recycled materials, either. They all come from the United States. The company also will be introducing some solar powered products for 2008, including a waterfall rock and a bubbler/fountain for bird baths.
Betsy Harrington, senior VP of sales for Woodstock Chimes, says gongs have been the company’s best sellers, and she anticipates they will continue to be next year. New variations of some of Woodstock’s popular gongs will be available for 2008. “We just keep bringing out more, because it’s just a love affair out there with these things,” says Harrington. She also says garden centers have seen success with Woodstock’s musical instruments. The company offers everything from maracas and kazoos to guitars and harmonicas that make great impulse buys and children’s gifts. “It’s really interesting how many of our garden centers are picking up some of those products,” says Harrington. “It can be a 4-foot shelf with just a cute little background along with garden gloves, and it’s a harmonica and gardening – it’s a really good add-on for companies that are looking to just be a little different and step out just a little bit.”