Athens Stonecasting current owners purchased it 30 years ago. At the time, distribution was limited to local markets in the Southeast. It still manufactures its products in the U.S., but now ships across North America and Canada. Athens Stonecasting is the largest producer of concrete statuary in the country today.
Q: What trends in planter shapes have you noticed over the past five years?
Tuton: Traditional round planters continue to dominate the market. But we have also seen an uptick in our contemporary cylindrical planters and tapered round and square pots. Fleur-de-lis designs have come on strong. And as I mentioned, low-profile bowl planters have been popular, with the 36-inch-diameter bowl the best seller.
Q: Which differences have you noticed in the tastes of various regions of the U.S. when it comes to finishes and styles?
Tuton: While there are some regional differences (such as the dolphin fountains in Florida and elephant fountains in Alabama), these choices are often driven by school mascots, native animals or local lifestyles. The basic planters, birdbaths, benches and statues that Athens Stonecasting offers sell across all regions. Even unique items like our Western Boot Planter have universal appeal in urban and rural areas. The northern tier of states seem to favor the darker color stains, and the South and Southwest tend to stay with the lighter tones.
Q: What valuable lessons has Athens Stonecasting learned in the past year about doing business in these economically challenging times?
Tuton: From the beginning, Athens Stonecasting’s business model was to provide concrete statuary at an affordable price. This allowed the retailer to make money selling it, while offering the consumer a good value. It was a win-win. We are constantly watching costs and improving processes in good times and in tough economies. In an effort to further assist our retail customers we are adding imported Vietnamese Pottery Pallet Assortments to our collection. This will help drive down freight costs when shipping the pottery with our concrete statuary.
Q: Heavy items can be a challenge for garden center employees. What tips would you offer on how to best move your product within the store, or when delivering it to customers?
Tuton: Wheels are your friend when moving heavy concrete. Whether it is a fork lift, tree dolly, pallet jack or garden cart, they all require a smooth paved surface to operate most efficiently. Keep this in mind when allocating space for concrete statuary. And the closer to the actual loading zone, the easier it will be to handle. Understand that we also have hundreds of concrete statuary pieces that weigh less than a bag of soil or fertilizer, and can be handled with a regular garden cart.
Q: What guidance can you give to retailers about the process of buying ornamental concrete products like statues, benches, tables, birdbaths, feeders and fountains, and other gifting items?
Tuton: First and foremost, place your order early! Since each order is custom finished, if you wait until February or March to order, there will be a huge backlog. We suggest you support the basics using sales history as a guide, and then mix in new designs and finishes. Always make sure you have a solid inventory in price point items – items under $50 and under $100. For fountains the action is under $500.