By Will Knowles, CCNP, General Manager, Creek Side Gardens
The end of the summer is a time of transition for garden centers. Getting customers to visit your garden center is hard. It’s hot, and people don’t want to come out of the confines of their air-conditioned homes. Then, in August, the days start getting shorter, kids go back to school, and fall is in the air.
Though the height of planting season is over, customers still need fresh flowers after May and June. Some people are hosting special events like family reunions and weddings. Here at Creek Side, we schedule crops for that transition period. We grow a crop of six-inch annuals and large pots of annuals, with a different color palette from the spring. We promote our big summer color to let people know about our fresh annuals, which they can use to spruce up their landscapes and homes.
We offer nice fresh summer crops, not just leftovers from spring but warm-temperature tolerant annuals. We may have some geraniums and petunias around, or zinnias, abutilon or angelonia. We sell big pots of zinnias, dahlia and lantana, as well as heat-tolerant, colorful pentas (though they’re not as popular).
We continue to sell perennials all year round, so we are making sure they still look great in July and August. We encourage people to keep up with fertilization. People are shopping for a little bit of pottery — a lot less than spring but attractive pots inspire replanting.
The number one rule: you’ve got to be prepared with products to fill customer needs. Then, get out there and wave your flag to show people what you have. Create eye-catching displays and have your staff talking with customers about ideas for how to use those products to decorate their homes.
The people who come in at that time of the year are regular customers; people who understand what flowers and decorating is all about. They want plants and color all around them, to make their places look special.
In springtime, we get everybody and anyone interested in growing plants — newbies to the seasoned gardeners. Once midsummer comes, people who are not as dedicated to gardens are done with shopping for them, which is unfortunate because our staff has more time to spend helping them learn plant care. Since it is a little harder to take care of newly transplanted plants when it’s hot out, experienced growers do better, or the novices with a little extra guidance from our staff.
Creek Side Gardens doesn’t use that season to put everything on sale. We are not discount oriented as a company philosophy. We limit our discounting to some of the remaining summer stock and a few select hard goods, just to reduce inventory going into the winter months. But, we are a year-round garden center so we are not looking to fully deplete inventory at the end of the year. If stuff is left over, we take care of it all winter, and it’s ready to sell the following year.
The Draw of Seasonal Events
Midsummer events are tough to get people to, so a bit of creativity is necessary for success. Creek Side’s philosophy on holding events is to provide a free attraction that will bring people in, but we are not focused on sales at that moment. We want community members to come through our doors and experience our garden center, so they consider coming back to shop.
In June last year, we hosted a fly-fishing presentation by a wildlife biologist and experienced fly fisher for Father’s Day. It was fun, well attended and very well received, so we’ll be doing that again this year. It was the type of event that attracted a lot of guys, and wasn’t really tied to sales. Like most of our events, it was scheduled for after store hours. We grilled up some hamburgers, and served beer.
Last July, we held a lavender festival over a weekend, similar to what the Denver Botanic Gardens has done. We sold lavender plants and lavender-themed gifts. We taught classes on growing lavender, how to use it, and how to make soaps. We served and sold lavender seasoned snacks, cookies and tea.
For a year or two, we had a birds of prey exhibition, where a nonprofit rescue group brought in raptors like owls and hawks. It attracted a lot of people, but did not help us much from a sales standpoint. They came, they saw and they left.
August is the Creek Side Summer Harvest Celebration — our most popular event of the year. We serve over 100 people fresh summer vegetables and fruit-themed dishes for free. It’s not a dinner or meal, but a series of hor d’oeuvres and finger foods. We used to prepare the food by ourselves, but the size of the event grew and a caterer became more practical. We also serve some lemonade, wine and beer, and have music and decorations in the courtyard. It’s a lovely evening, a way for us to say thanks to our regular customers, plus we get some new people in, who can experience what we are all about.