Fall 2009
The Great Outdoors! By Sharon Anne Waldrop

Digging in

Susan Robbins believes it’s no surprise that gardening has branched out to touch so many people. “You’d have to think really hard to find something negative about gardening,” says the director of commerce for the National Gardening Association. “It promotes a healthy lifestyle and is an economical way to beautify the environment, and a nice garden says good things about the person inside the house,” Robbins says.

According to the National Gardening Association’s 2009 report The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America, gardeners are everywhere. They’re on the rise regardless of age, income, education level, marital status, household size, or gender.

The green movement has probably contributed to the surge. In a recent trends report, Garden Media Group, a public relations and marketing company in the gardening industry, says that gardening allows consumers to display their “green pride.” Creating natural habitats with native plants that attract birds, bees, and butterflies, shows the gardener’s interest in the environment.

Growing vegetables has also achieved popularity and the report suggests that over half of all Americans are doing it and seed sales have more than doubled over last year.

Taking it outside

The growth in the popularity of gardening follows closely on the heels of an increased interest in the outdoor living trend. “Gardening really started to boom several years ago with the outdoor living trend when people started expanding their living space outdoors,” says Susan McCoy, trendspotter and Garden Media Group’s president. Staycations (spending a vacation at home), entertaining and related trends have fueled an interest in investing time and resources outdoors—to the space outside the physical confines of a house.

Interestingly enough, the recession has also helped. “The downturn of the economy has really made people step back and re-evaluate what’s important to them,” says McCoy. She adds that the important things to people are those that make them feel good, and gardening is one of them.

Fun and functional

So what products cater to this growing segment of your customer base?

Gifts that are functional and nice to look at serve a dual purpose. The gathering baskets by Tag, Ltd. based in Chicago, IL are an example. The wire-framed baskets are made out of sea grass and, according to Garry Schermann, the company’s vice president, are sturdy enough to gather fresh-cut flowers or food from the garden, yet pretty enough to use to display the items on a table indoors or out.

Toland Home Garden based in Port Townsend, WA, offers glass wasp traps (among other products) that also make for functional gifts. “They are pretty and have a function while taking care of those pesky wasps at your picnic,” says Cheryl Spector, national sales manager. The wasp traps come with a wire hanger and can be easily removed to take along on picnics, Spector adds.

Michael Bodo, vice president of sales for Echo Valley in Ann Arbor, MI says that décor items with a combination of light and motion are top sellers right now. “Our whimsical garden stakes and figurines with lighting are moving fast,” he says, adding that small retailers have done well selling these items. Echo Valley’s Garden Pot Stickers—which are garden stakes suitable for both indoor and outdoor plants—have proved popular as impulse buys at the register, Bodo says. They come in ladybug, butterfly, and dragonfly designs.

Solar shines

Michael Gingrich, vice president of Quincy, IL wholesaler Melrose International, says customers like the concept of solar energy and the fact that solar instruments don’t require batteries, electricity or cords. The concept is also “green.”

Melrose sells 32″ tall solar globe stakes that appear to float in orbit at night—these have been very popular, Gingrich reports. Melrose also sells solar stakes with insects such as butterflies and dragonflies in place of the round globes. The company’s line of garden angels is also doing well.

Cheryl Spector at Toland Home Garden shares the enthusiasm about solar power. The company’s decorative solar products, which include rain gauges, are some of their top sellers.

Retailer Sam Stavros has seen that anything with a solar bulb on top will sell “like crazy.” The owner of Urban Garden in Santa Rosa, CA, sells solar lights, fountains and other decorative items for the outdoors.

Retailer Jack Oliver in Columbia, SC, has also seen solar sell well. Garden flagpoles with a solar bulb attached to the top are a favorite item by Toland that he sells in his store—Oliver’s Pool, Spa and Patio.

For the birds

Birdhouses and feeders add beauty to backyards and gardens while providing shelter to wildlife. Rosemary and Time in Markham, Ontario, Canada will include new birdhouses and feeders with the launch of their spring 2010 line. The new line will also include garden stakes, ornaments, and other decorative garden items. “We have hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders that are shaped like a bell. They are very artisanal; no two look alike,” says Tine Pratt, sales coordinator. The company also offers rustic cast iron birdbaths that measures only about 16″ x 14″ and displays easily in small stores.

The company Home Bazaar in Bethpage, NY, specializes in decorative birdhouses and birdfeeders. Most of the houses are designed to accommodate common cavity dwellers: wrens, finches, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. The company also makes Purple Martin houses. David Silverman, company founder and president, says customers also buy the houses for use as decorative accessories indoors.

Gardening heavyweights

You might not have enough room in your store for the larger and heavier garden statuary but they are a wise investment for retailers who want to invest more heavily in the product genre.

For example, Emissary in Atlanta, GA, sells ceramic statues that complement their garden stools and seats. Castart Studios in British Columbia, Canada, is one of many companies that wholesales garden statuaries and other accessories in different styles. The company also sells Japanese lanterns (for Zen gardens) and containers in a variety of sizes.

It is important to note that outdoor accessories are a wider subset and include accessories for more than just gardens. Outdoor rugs and mats, citronella candles in fancy packaging and huge sculptures, form part of this subset and are a category worth taking a closer look at.

Gardening year-round

Garden stools sell year-round, even in environments where it’s too cold to sit outside in winter, according to Peter D. Nealing, president at Emissary. He says that customers in cold climates use the stools as tables to place ceramic statues or other garden décor items, or they bring the stools statues or other garden décor items, or they bring the stools inside for the winter to use as a decorative seat or table.

Container gardening is another outdoor concept that gardeners can bring indoors in winter. As a result, Emissary sells garden containers and planters year-round, and they also have an ample selection of small planters and containers suitable for display in small retail shops. One of the benefits of container gardening is that anyone can do it. “If you don’t have a place to plant a garden, you can still have a small container garden anywhere,” says Nealing. He says that a lot of people grow tomatoes in planters, and one of the benefits of container gardening is that it’s easy to control the watering.

According to the National Gardening Association, herb gardening is the second most popular gardening activity. To cater to this trend, Tag offers an herb garden kit that consists of six terracotta pots packaged in a wooden crate. The set includes six wood-framed blackboard stakes and a bag of chalk for identification. Seeds are not included; customers choose seeds based on what they normally use at home and want to grow. These kits can be used indoors thereby extending the season year-round for your customers.

Your customers and the people they buy for don’t need a lot of space to grow a garden and appreciate décor items to make whatever space they have, even prettier. “A garden can be just a pot on a balcony in the city,” says Robbins from the National Garden Association. “Any amount of gardening, no matter how small, can be positive and there’s good energy around giving somebody a gift that contributes to a healthy activity.”

Stock the right products for this growing segment of customers and watch your profits grow.

Mouse over images below to view.

Sharon Anne Waldrop

Sharon Anne Waldrop resides with her family on a horse farm in northern Georgia. She writes about business and finance for national and trade magazines, and has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Hotel & Motel Management.

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