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It Ain’t _ _ _ _ Until It’s Over.

This is addressed mainly to garden centers that are located in the areas that experienced a very strong and warm early spring, a very wet and cool early May, followed by recent high humidity and daytime temperatures. This year that covers most of you.

In the past several days I’ve talked with several garden centers and found all of them to say something to the effect that there was NO WAY they could make up what they’re behind this year. I think they are WRONG.This has already been a very, very, very long spring for retail-growers who began gearing up their greenhouses in January and February to supply their stores this spring. You retailers who buy and sell finished product have also grown very weary. I know you are tired, and I appreciate the hard work you have put in. I’m sad that any high hopes and ambitions you had for this to be a long overdue banner year has been dashed by the weather. This brings about FATIGUE. With fatigue comes a sense or a feeling that there is no hope. It is just a feeling at this point, in my opinion. Read on to find out why I feel that way.

I have two areas of thought on this.

One is that you should not hang up your towel for the  year just yet, or ever.

And the other is that you must not throw in the towel because if you do that you are just sealing the deal and guaranteeing your own fate.

Why There is Hope:

While it may not be in your recent memory either think back or look it up because you have probably been this far behind before at least once if not two or three times in the past ten years.  My mind has gone back to some conversations with garden center owners during those years. What happened? Your customers weren’t done gardening and they came in and bought stuff. Yes, they were hot. Yes, they were tired from keeping up with the mowing and weeds that got ahead of them while you were waiting on them to come buy flowers and plants. YES, the plants they planted earlier were frozen or just sat there languished in the cold soil. And YES, they came in and bought stuff. Many garden centers have made up what they were behind at the end of May by the end of the year, if not by the end of June just because they did not stop taking care of their customers.

Color in the Carts

Your customers still have boring yards and gardens and NEED MORE COLOR! Be ready for them with MORE COLOR. Be extra helpful to every customer so your average transaction goes up where it should go rather than down where it will if you allow it to.

Dirty is the ENEMY of color!

Your lesser competitors will have droopy tired plants, weeds growing from every crack in the place, tired and hopeless employees, and grumpy owners. They will have stopped bringing in NEW color, or rearranging what they have so it looks NEW and EXCITING! Don’t be one of those people. Only you can choose if you will beat them or join them. Have a cleaning blitz tomorrow and every morning before you open.

Did you send the invitations? Send MORE.

It is hard to get motivated to clean up the place when you’re dead tired. So send out invitations and have a party. In other words – ADVERTISE! I know you have already spent a lot on advertising. It is too bad that the weather took away a lot of the potential of that advertising. Still, you must wave your flag and make some noise to remind your customers to GET COLOR, and also to remind them where they can get it.

Keep Your (and your customers) COOL!

Buy some more fans and ice down the bottled water for your customers. Put up the shade cloth and take down any extra plastic. Keep yourself, your associates, and especially your customers as cool and comfortable as you possibly can while they shop. It will mean more COLOR in their carts.

NEVER talk about how hot it is. NEVER advertise “SIZZLING HOT SUMMER SAVINGS” or do anything that reinforces a negative. If you want to talk about something, talk about the cooling effects of certain colors and color combinations, and the importance of shade to keep cooling costs as low as possible.


The sound of a ringing phone is almost as good as the sound of a ringing cash register this time of year. Those customers that are bugging you about bugs just need to be invited to your store so you can help them better. Get really good at this and while the others dread the phone you’ll have their customers in no time.


If you’ve given up on your goals this early at least set new ones that are slightly lower. Don’t just go goal-less into the future and let your competitors win with your customers.

Saving Money IS Making Money

While top line revenue is our focus right now, it is only part of the story. Read all about Saving Money IS Making Money coming up in my next post.

20 Responses

  1. Dear Sid and others,

    I have been doing this a long time. With a business model geared to sping color and annual sales we have never made up for sales lost in May. Those are just the facts.

    We are tossing material everyday. No need to maintain nice material because it will not sell. We will convert as much of it as possible to absolutely beautiful containers for the summer. Already planning on reducing staff hours. After the first full weekend in June our sales have always dropped by 50% and our staff hours will drop accordingly.

  2. Sid
    As soon as we finished talking I left the office to find the cash wrap full of eager gadeners with their double and trople decker carts loaded to the gills (if carts have gills) with plants. Spring hasn’t crashed quite yet…

  3. In Pa., we can have pivotal Junes. We don’t consider the season over till the end of July and then we move into “hold onto the cash” mode in all things. This however, is never giving up the retailing benchmarks like cleanliness, displays, etc. Standards erode slowly so you don’t even notice until the customers do.

  4. Sid,

    I love this piece. I am one who is tired and am trying HARD TO CARRY on. I have advertising scheduled thru June and thought about dropping some of it because of the weather in May. Mother Nature is still my boss, and I TRULY thought that this year would be different. It has been at least 4 years for April and May to both be decent. I will carry on my advertising and hope I can muster up enough strength and motivation to keep the staff going……………..this piece has hit my season on the head!

  5. I also am a believer after 37 years in the business you never make up what could have been, but every year seems to be that way. The weather is our biggest problem to sales. Had my first person in today asking about that big final sale and when is it? Years ago it was at Memorial Day but we have pushed it back now to the last weekend in June. As tired as I am today I wonder if we ought to go back to being done by Memorial Day!

  6. Tim McGonagle,
    I don’t know where you’re located or the nature of your business enough to have an opinion on whether you should close by Memorial Day or not. But my point is that our reactions and attitudes can seal our fate, especially because they are contagious and effect the staff and customers.

    The “end of season clearance sale” has been a plague on garden centers and moving it back may get a better result than doing it earlier, but if there is too much stuff to clear out there is no reason not to wait. In other words, it can violate the “should have bought it when you saw it” effect and just carry on the tradition of waiting for the sale. But you are clear that you need a break. Take one. One step back so you can take two forward. Your friend, Sid

  7. You Go Sandi!

    I cannot recommend this without knowing more of any particular situation but it may actually be better to increase your advertising over what was planned in the next few weeks. Yes, the cost will go up above your budget, but if you don’t the end cost of loss of sales may be even more. It’s a tough call but one that should be visited. Sid

  8. Denni, I’m glad you brought up the word “pivotal”. The reason June has been a pivital season in the past is that it is when customers come in and ask themselves, “Why would I come back here again until NEXT spring?” If their first time in is their last time we lose. Never give up! Sid

  9. No it hasn’t Tim Elbert. And as we discussed, the heat can come on really fast. There is a huge difference between a hot, humid store that can’t be shopped without a sweat, and one that is “relatively comfortable” where they can tolerate the heat to get what they want. I remember being at Buchanan’s Native Plants in Houston several years ago and every so often throughout the place feeling a breeze from small fans that were almost hidden between the plants in the herbs & veggies, trees, pottery,…they were everywhere. Now that’s keeping your cool! Keep loading up those carts! Sid

  10. I agree totally, Sid—Bring on the Color!! But remember as well that that does not mean only flowers, foliage has wonderful color as well. Too many retailers focus totally on flowering annuals, and once they start to look ratty, it is DONE. We have one range that concentrates on a huge assortment of colorful vegetative foliage and tropicals–it looks great and will continue to look great, ready to go to retail. Our thinking is that we provide an unuaual and exciting palette for the exceptional designers at the retail stores to create combos that POP, not the same combo as the guy down the street, or even worse, the box store down the street. Our aim is to continuously provide fresh, interesting material—KEEP IT FRESH and we feel customers will continue to buy. I’ve been known to ‘rant’ about this topic!!
    Sid: FYI–this week was about 85% as big as Mothers Day week, and we still have fresh rotations coming on, but in much smaller quantities.

    Sid: FYI–this week was about 85% as big as Mothers Day week, and we still have fresh rotations coming on, but in much smaller quantities.
    lloyd traven

  11. Great comments Sid. We used to have the mindset that things were downhill after May and joining the Group and seeing other’s weekly sales well into June opened our eyes to the possibilities. Each June since then has been better and better. Is it May? No, of course not, but it sure can make a difference. Clean and fresh in late May and June is often quite a surprise to shoppers and that is a comment all by itself.

  12. Ed,

    Your season in Madison WI is so compressed that it is likely that many of the “once a year whether they need it or not” gardeners by default took mom out to eat and hit the lakes and links.

    Many of the moderate to serious gardeners will benefit from so many garden retailers dropping the bottom out of prices in a panic. In my opinion the best financial move is to focus on great product and service at full price and margin with some limited “deals” to satisfy the still popular and inherant “thrill of the deal” need even rich people posess. When prices across the board drop to 20% or more off there is no way to “make it up on the volume” (at 25% off you would have to double unit volume to earn the same profit). On the surface it might seem better to move the product out, but there is long term cost of setting future expectations which erodes the value of the product and the retail store brand. I’m not directing this to you Ed, because I know you know better, but I wanted to go on the record with this opinion for the benefit of others who will read it.

  13. A DIFFERENCE is what we’re after Joe. It may not make up all of the difference, but every single dollar counts, and if we bear down and focus on attracting and satisfying customers and keeping them cool much more will be accomplished than would have otherwise. Sid

  14. You are so right Lloyd and I agree with you completely. When I say color I mean any color, not just a flower, and I also mean texture and not just leaf texture. Maybe I should use the term “PIZZAZ”?

    For example, I was with a client in upstate NY last Sunday and their retail bench was empty of ‘Marguerite’ Ipomoea which is a “Never-Out” for any garden center. There was no excuse because the plants were in the growing house. I think someone got fired over that. A customer asked me for a plant besides Impatiens that would flower in the shade. Even though she said “flower” I redirected her to their wonderful selection of Coleus. Last week my dentists assistant asked about low growing flowers for sun and I directed her to a clients store for their amazing selection of heuchera.

    Hey, I’m ranting with you Lloyd. COLOR includes foliage color and textures. When i say “keep COLOR on the bench” I mean keep them interesting or die. Sid

  15. Once again you hit the nail on the head! I’m tired as hell and I’m not going to take it any longer. The Inland NW is wet & cold, and the city is closing the road in front of Plantland for 3 weeks in June. We are coloring up, building Summer pots and July 4th Baskets. Some days we would like to quit and go home but we won’t let our customers down. We’ve put our game face on cuz It’s Show Time!

  16. Sid and all:

    Perseverance is our operative word. After surviving the last 19 months by applying every effort into restoring our business, only to have a “thousand year flood”, is insult on injury. We lost an entire week…Mother’s Day week, in cleanup.

    We have endured the subsequent water restrictions for the last month (two of Nashville’s three water treatment plants were inundated). Consequently, sales in May are down 45% from last year.

    I have no idea how many consecutive 100+ hour weeks I have worked. I don’t know if I’m courageous or crazy. We can’t afford to let up. Every bit counts. I put out an e-newsletter to 5500+ readers and have a two-hour local radio show every week. If there are stones left unturned, I haven’t found them.

    If it sounds like I’m on the pity pot, I’m not. As Sgt. Friday would say. “Just the facts, m’am”.

    We are going to be okay. If your May didn’t go as you’d hoped, believe me, I understand.

    It’s not always easy to know what the “next right thing” is to do. I guess I’ll just keep “doing” until I figure that out.

    Sid’s right, It ain’t over…


  17. David you have an incredible attitude. If you can face a 1000 year flood this way everyone else is just whining. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. One thing we do know is that consumers tend to turn to restoring their senses through gardening after major disasters and I hope this is true of a flood of this nature. What can any of us do to be of real help? Sid

  18. Bill you have a ton of guts, grits and determination. Road construction is never a fun thing to deal with. While its better to have it after the peak of spring what do you do when there was no peak of spring. I hope your customers respond to your chutzpah. Sid

  19. Thanks for that positive push! There’s always next year, right?

  20. Yes, Tamara next year will come. It was said, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Get to next year in the best shape you can. Last year had its challenges as does this year, and next year will have its own. Always be prepared to handle the worst you might get.

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