Fall 2013
The Great Outdoors By Heather Johnson Durocher

Your customers are taking it outside. The “nesting” trend means more time spent in gardens and the outdoors. More effort and products invested in creating the perfect haven. So, dig right in!

It’s common for Ricki Creamer’s customers to steal her ideas for outdoor home gardening and decorating—and that’s just fine by the owner of Red Cedar Country Gardens, a nursery and gift shop in Stilwell, Kansas.

How exactly do they “steal” her ideas? Easy: this retailer informs shoppers of the latest outdoor garden and décor trends by offering up-close-and-personal peeks at her lush landscaping, “miniature” gardens, deck furniture, and beautiful accessories like lamps and mirrors. “We live on the property, too,” explains Creamer of her home’s location adjacent to Red Cedar Country Gardens, “and my gardens and patio are open to the public to view. We have it all set up, so it’s a nice vignette for them. They see everything we sell plant-wise growing and blooming, and the placement of the shrubbery and landscape, so they can see how to use all of their things. It’s a good selling tool.”

CarruthStudio5-copyWhile a marketing approach on this scale isn’t feasible for every retailer, it does speak to the power of showing your customers how they, too, can display their own personal style of outdoor living—something consumers clearly are interested in doing.

“There’s a big trend toward decorating—putting your own personal touch on your outdoor space,” says industry expert Suzi McCoy, president of Garden Media Group, a home and garden marketing firm in Kennett Square, Pa. “It’s decorating not just with pot-scaping or container-scaping, but putting out beautiful outdoor lamps and outdoor rugs. It’s accessorizing the outdoors.”

McCoy herself says she has a screened-in porch “that looks like a room in my house,” an example of how the trend of “nesting” or “cocooning” continues to be big. “People are searching for ways to be happy. I know that sounds corny, but they have recognized with the economic conditions that happiness is far more important that living in a mansion…people are finding you can have that bliss in your garden,” says McCoy.

Indeed, recent research reveals U.S. consumers place an importance on creating enviable outdoor spaces. The increased emphasis on “nesting” has meant a growing focus on casual entertaining outdoors and creating an atmosphere that complements that activity well. According to the 2013 National Gardening Survey, there was a small increase for the second year in a row in lawn and garden participation and sales. “We’re delighted to see more people doing lawn and garden activities for themselves and especially pleased to see an increase in lawn and garden sales for the second year in a row after being down the previous two years,” says Mike Metallo, president of the National Garden Association.

Nationwide, household participation in do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities showed an increase of 2 million more households, or 2 percent, in 2012 compared with the year before, translating into an extra $354 million in retail sales of lawn and garden products across the nation. In total, U.S. households spent $29.5 billion on their lawns and gardens last year.

A personal touch

MarkFeldstein1-copyGarden and home décor and accessories run the gamut, from bigger pieces like tables and chairs, to lawn and garden ornaments, even backyard games that enhance the outdoor entertaining experience.

Anne McFarland Brown, director of product development for Magnet Works and Studio M in St. Louis, Mo., believes products that reflect an individual’s or family’s tastes are big sellers right now. Magnet Works is known for its decorative mailbox coverings, and in more recent time has expanded its lines to include flags, mats and peace poles that can be placed in the front of back yard.

“One of the desires for Studio M was bringing art to the garden,” McFarland Brown says. “We wanted something purposeful, colorful, and meaningful that represented the family and could be shared with their community. Families can ask themselves, ‘What do we stand for as a family? We stand for love, we stand for community, we stand for organic.’ It’s a great conversation starter for families.”

These peace or art poles come in different themes too. For example, customers can buy a bird-themed pole, a Christmas pole, even a snow-marker pole. “They’re all very unique,” she says of the three-feet to six-feet tall poles that also can come with metal panels so that a home address may be added to the side. “You can apply metal tiles so you can create your own address.” Made of PVC, they are so popular that the company is now looking at offering complementary products such as lighting and planters.

Garden Decor Accents, a Crystal Lake, Ill.-based company that sells garden fountains, garden statues, solar-powered garden accents, hammocks, garden gnomes, picnic backpacks, birdhouses, garden lanterns, and home accents, is seeing a surge in animal-related product sales. “Our whimsical solar dog fountain is a big seller for us,” says Dianne Matteson, general manager. “We find that our customers want to express themselves through their outdoor living spaces—to show their own individuality and creativity,” Matteson says.

Claire Woodsum, who handles product development as well as marketing for wholesaler Foreside Home & Garden, agrees consumers are seeking significance in their purchases. “In terms of their homes and gardens, they want to make a statement, they want to do something that’s special to them,” says Woodsum, of Fallbrook, Calif. Offering what she calls “unique statement pieces” to your customers is smart, she says. “When you sell a small $10 dog it’s certainly a cute piece,” she recently shared on a retail-focused blog she writes on Foreside’s site. “But selling the 33-inch Farm Dog that greets your guests at the doorway makes money, provides fun and helps your customers remember you.”

Pint-sized treasures

one-hundred80-deg_SF0033-Miniature gardens continue to sell well, say those in the industry. McFarland Brown, of Magnet Works and Studio M, says “it’s all about encouraging families to create these little spaces in their gardens, and it brings the kids into the gardening,” she says. Shops can easily set up displays of these items, she adds. “You can set up little vignettes,” she says. “We’re selling these like hotcakes. People can’t keep them in their stores.”

Miniature gardening has been especially popular in recent months, says Linda Geho, marketing director for Jeremie, an Atlanta, Ga.-based manufacturer of garden and home décor and accessories. This is great news if your store doesn’t have a ton of space for larger outdoor products, she says. “It’s a great return for not much real estate,” Geho says. “Repeat business is booming because customers keep coming back again and again to add to their gardens.”

Joyce Watkins, buyer for the retail store Merrifield Garden Center in Manassas, VA, attests to the overwhelming popularity of miniature gardens. “People just love it—I can’t even begin to tell you how much of that merchandise we’ve gone through,” Watkins says.

These products have evolved to include intricate pieces beyond the basic rusty wire, arbors and benches; now, there’s stepping stones and water features, buckets and wheelbarrows, and tools, just to name a few, she says.

Geho says Jeremie’s most recent additions to the miniature garden line include Tabby Cottage with Living Roof and Birder’s Cottage. There’s also been a jump in miniature garden kits. “Though many garden retailers prefer to choose their accessories a la carte, many like to offer their customers the choice of a kit to get them started in miniature gardening,” she says.

The sound of music

Woodstock1-copyAnd don’t overlook the appeal of sound when it comes to investing in outdoor products. As Garry Kvistad says, wind chimes like the ones he creates “are musical instruments that are played by the wind.”

“I like to think we’re creating a sound environment,” says Kvistad, founder and owner of Woodstock Chimes in Shokan, N.Y. “We seldom take the time to explore the sound of our environment. The wind chimes enhance that. Sounds around us influence our well-being for sure.”

A recent addition to the line is a “rainbow maker” featuring Austrian crystals. “They do for light what our chimes do for sound,” he says. “They send light waves of color around the room. They are very, very beautiful.”

It’s all fun and games

Your customers also may want to indulge in some good old-fashioned outdoor fun with their family and friends. Trevor Mullen, vision manager with Franklin Sports in Stoughton, Mass., says the company’s products are sure to help with this.

“I think the traditional games have always been a staple seller for us because everybody wants to have some sort of games they can play in their backyard,” Mullen says. “It’s a way to bring family and friends over and do something that people of all ages and skill sets can do, and feel like they’re going to have some fun together,” he says.

Such games include traditional ones like croquet and bocce ball, as well as the fast-growing “tailgate-style” games such as bean bag toss, washer toss and “can jam,” Mullen says. The Soft-Tip Target Toss is a perennial favorite, he adds, because it’s a safe version of lawn darts.

The great outdoors embraces entertaining in a big way as well. C.R. Gibson has an entire line of casual entertaining products that are meant to complement patio dining in fun new ways.

It’s all about enjoying the great outdoors – whether it’s through spending time in the garden, whiling time away on a hammock; playing games or entertaining friends. The love of entertaining has moved outdoors and retailers would be wise to follow this trend closely.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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