I heard yesterday that we have 60 days to sell in spring regardless of the start date. If true, it would help explain why spring 2012, which started early, fizzled earlier than usual.
Do the retailers in the group think the 60 day theory is true?
Paul, I have been a grower/retailer for 41 years here in S.E.Texas and over the years have noted that the "boom" Spring sales get shorter and shorter. In my area some of this is due to the fact that we go from mild Winter weather to really hot weather so fast and when it gets hot sales start to go down really quickly. My particular nursery over the years changed from being open 12 months out of the year to being open only twice a year when crops were ready. I grew and sold 6,000 Poinsettias every year the first two weeks in December, closed down to the public and then opened up March 1st. for Spring sales. The last 3 years I sold out down to the last plant in Spring in less than 25 days then shut down again, so I literally opened in March and closed in March. Another factor is the crazy economy and world happenings that affect folks buying patterns. Things have changed so much in the last 15 years that what was "normal" a few years back is no longer normal today. As with other businesses everyone needs to adapt as well as possible and move onward. In my opinion, if a nursery is selling and marketing today the same as it was 5 years ago it will not thrive very long. When I graduated from school and started my business back in 1976 my only competition was 2 other local nurseries a few miles away. There was no Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot or Internet sales in Texas. Things have changed drastically both in forms of competition and the less stable world we appear to live in and folks purchase for different reasons now a days. Sales also appear to be different because the "baby boomer" generation that has been the largest consumer of out door products for many years is now aging and working less outside. The younger generations appear to have a more electronic/gaming/Internet life style and are less inclined to have a passion for the out of doors and plants in general. I will be interested to see what thoughts others have on this subject. Good question on your part!
In my 5 years of owning a grower/retailer location in Pittsburgh, I agree with Michael. I open at Easter time and close around mid June (closer to 90 days). I used to be open through July and August but the amount of care that time of year is more costly than what you can get for it. The other downside of being open in the summer is that every person wants a discount for end of the season plants. Therefor there is definitely no profit in the Summer.
The one drawback of closing is that people thought I went out of business, even though I posted signs saying "see you for Fall harvest". I suppose people cant read.
I have so many questions! I'm surprised to hear you both close in the summer. I can't think of an IGC in our region that closes in summer or winter. Do you both sell perennials, trees, and shrubs in addition to annuals?
I'm fascinated by how different IGCs handle summer. Some places close. A few places bring in fresh product and do a good job maintaining the spring inventory that's still on the shelves, but others seem content to let their leftovers get more and more yellow until they die entirely or sell for a pittance. I've never understood how thousands of dollars in inventory don't justify a Dosatron.
All of this ties into my current ponderings over fall sales. I'm a big proponent of fall - especially fall perennials, but we don't embrace them as an industry and I don't know why. Plenty of perennials peak in the fall so there are lots of blooming options and the benefits of fall planting are well documented. Pansies and mums are selling like hotcakes, and woodies are moving well, but perennials don't seem to ride the same popularity train in fall. Have we taught consumers that they should only look for perennials in spring by only offering them in spring? Can the IGCs of the country all sustain themselves on spring alone?
Paul, I have grown and sold a lot of gallon perennials over the years but customers complain that the bloom time is so short compared to the newer breed of annuals that they see annuals as a better "bang for the buck". For example, down here if we have mild Winters common single Impatiens and begonias may last up to 3 years in flower beds. Also pansys bloom here from September and may look great up until May of next year. How many perennials will bloom for 9 months? On the other hand Garden mums down here are a loss leader and sell for rock bottom prices. Why buy a mum in Fall that blooms at most for 5-6 weeks when pansys bloom for 9 months? Folks have become more saavy with their money and want color as long as possible without spending more money and re-planting over and over.
You are correct in that many IGC's have to stay open all year long to keep good employees, but in my case the overhead part of the year was extreme with little to no cash flow comming in. Here in S.E.Texas you literally cannot give plants away when it gets hot and we had extreme droughts in 2009 and 20011 with water rationing in largers towns and cities. Many lakes and rivers dried up and the "water police" were out giving citations in most areas.
PS- Almost all of the IGC's in the Houston, Texas area, which is now 7.5 million people, suppliment there income during slow sales by having "mowing" contracts all year long. Down here we mow grass 9 months of the year and there are literally hundreds of thousands of commercial buildings, apartment complexes, private street esplanaides and private yards that have mowing/weeding/feeding contracts that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year. I have a neighbor who owns a small IGC and has a contract to mow/weed/feed/trim/plant annuals twice a year for just one local subdivision that is huge. His contract for last year was for 1.7 million dollars.
I do sell perennials but not shrubs or trees. I do not bring in perennials for the fall because I tend to have a decent variety left after spring and sell what is left in the fall. I do not want a lot of stock left over to overwinter so this is my way of clearing stock so that I can start fresh for next year. My greenhouse space is limited especially after the blizzard of 2009 when 4 of my older house collapsed under the weight of 23" of snow. I still have 5 houses but I need all the space I can get for Spring growing.
I have figured out what works for me. I grow most of my Spring stock from plugs or seed. I buy Easter and Christmas, supplying about 30 Church's for each holiday. I also grow about a thousand mums for fall but I think that may be changing next year. Mums are a loss leader for me as well. I grow them to give me something to do in the Summer. I have yet to figure out how to take a day off other than January where I tend to plow snow for a few people I know. I also have a brother that owns a business with some grounds associated and he pays me to plant and maintain in the summer. For the past 2 years, I have been taking my left over spring stock to Farmers markets and that is going pretty well.
Paul, I guess what this all boils down to is that each IGC has to look at their specific parameters and tailor their business to where they might be located and the general buying public's purchasing power. It appears that everything is not the same all over the US. We have diffrerent weather conditions, economic environments, number of employees, strenghts and weaknesses. There appears to be pockets in the US where sales have maintained through the economic downturn and other places that have been devastated. One just has to look at their situation and figure out what are the most appropriate financial decisions. A small Mom and Pop operation with no employees can be a lot more flexable that a large concern with a huge overhead and many employees. Adapting to current conditions is key and if one can interest the public into buying all year long then by all means one should stay open 12 months of the year. For others it is just not feasable. :)
I find this discussion to be very interesting, as a small family operation, open for 5 years, this year we decided to close at the end of July and not re-open until March when we begin growing again. It was not a good feeling at all at first, but the sensible choice since we realized that we make a huge part of our income in the spring, and spend the late summer, fall and winter trying to keep the train chugging. Our customers seem to be really confused, and think we really have closed for good in spite of all of the signs we have put up. We did put closed for the season, our phone number, and By Chance or Appt. on our large sign, and had the phone number ported to a cell phone I carry with me. Customers contact us 2-3 times weekly, and since we both have flexible employment a few blocks away, we are able to help many. I still do some business maintenance, and will be making evergreen wreaths for funraising 4-H group, so a bit of income trickles in to help defray some of the monthly expenses. I very much agree with each business finding the right fit, and I know we will be refueled and excited to be there in the spring, rather than tired and burned out trying to maintain.
We do sell trees, shrubs, and perennials as well as the annuals, our challenge will be to learn how to balance our inventory of plants so we won't have as many to winter over.
I am a grower retailer and think you have to find your niche. We are open year round in NC. Most years one can plant year round. We have a steady clientale of landscapers who get a discount. They buy enough to keep out plants restocked. We buy in gallon shrubs and repot to 3 gallon in the summer to keep employees busy and that pays us to stay open. We make money on thses and also keep fresh hanging baskets all summer. I sold a few at close out special this week. I got expenses out of them and they helped us look good all summer. Customers always know we have something looking good to help them spruce up for a special occasion. I feel if we closed seasonally, our customers would go elsewhere to find that plant and might start patronizing someone else. We do pansies and mums for fall. Mums give you that instant color, more than pansies. Pansies take time to grow to look good. We do poinsettia trials for Christmas. Our poinsettia trials get us free TV coverage. We are growing 8300 poinsettias with 80 varieties. They are a challenge, but worth it. We sometimes close for a week after Christmas. In January, we start geraniums and mums for Easter. We also buy in bareroot trees to pot. We have 3 Open Houses a year- spring, fall and poinsettia. We sent out invitations to our customers and feed them. It amazes me how many will come to an Open House. Customers say it makes them feel special to get an invitation. Sales pick up in February on pretty days and continue good thru June. July and August still pay the bills. Fall sales start in Sept. and Oct. November brings some late pansy sales along with trees and shrubs. Poinsettias start selling in Nov. and continue until Christmas. Gift cretificates sell well the week before Christmas. Someone once told me if you sell out , that means you didn't grow enough and left money on the table. We try to grow enough extra poinsettias to give to hospice patients, kidney dialysis patients, and nursing homes.
We find the retail end of the business frustrating from the short season- whether due to weather or short customer attention span. As several have noted, it is easy to confuse and annoy customers so if you aren't open when THEY expect you to be they do not like it at all. We are able to stay open for walk in sales spring through fall. Consistency is the key. Change (as in location or shortened hours) is to be avoided.
We as an industry need to educate the consumer that gardening is a year round event. I have been thinking about this alot as of late. There are many plants that look good or even peak in the dead of winter. Sedum 'Blue Spruce' comes to mind, ever see this plant in the winter? Also I have had panseys blooming in the snow, and many heucheras show a different side that time of year. I have big plans to start a winter container gardening program for 2013 and I have interested customers trialing some now. I personally have had evergreen sedum containers at my house for the past six years and all my neighbors love them and some have started their own. It can be contagious but the customers need to know its possiable.