Here comes the sun

Don?t rely just on keen garden and plants customers to boost your mid-summer sales – Liz Dobbs suggests also targeting those enthusiastic about entertaining outside.

According to the Garden Centre Association?s April barometer of trade results, furniture and barbecue sales at garden centres across the country were up 27% compared to the same time last year.

The Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association (LOFA) also reports that furniture sales have been growing impressively over this year. However, having the seating is not the same as committing to push the boat out with a summer celebration ? and LOFA also recommends focusing promotions on customers who are enthusiastic about the idea of entertaining outside, but may lack confidence.

This is a potentially large group of consumers, made up of anyone within driving distance of your centre with a medium to large garden and aspirations to impress. Typically they will be busy people who go online for garden party ideas or to hire-in help, such as garden?maintenance or outside catering.

Reaching out

Make sure you aren?t left out of the loop when it comes to reaching out to these potential customers. Cross promotions with the catering or landscaping side of your business could work here. Also, ask yourself whether your centre has any local school garden connections.

Parents in their 30s to 40s will be getting end-of-school year newsletters around mid-July onwards, so look for opportunities for offers, sponsorship and competitions.

Let it be known locally that your centre has staff with expertise on enjoying and making the most of gardens. Provide content on themes such as ?quick fixes for tired gardens? or ?best family games for grass?. Keep it positive, simple and snappy. Your website offer should show key feature plants ready to go, alongside simple lists services and time restraints.

For example, how much notice is required to get turf ordered and laid? Do your drivers deliver garden furniture and assemble it? Type ?hiring plants for garden parties? into a search engine and few garden centre retailers crop up. One exception is Romantic Garden Nursery in Norfolk. Its website (www.romantic-gardennursery.co.uk) sets out the hiring offer very clearly, and is a good example of how to communicate such a service.

Plants to impress

Impulse plant buys at this time of year include lilies in pots, dahlia plants in flower, specimen marguerites and fuchsias. Supermarkets and DIY stores have these as well, so aim to go the extra mile to head off the competition. For example, paint a couple of Versailles tubs, plant each with a specimen plant and add some finishing touches. This could be a twist of ribbon up a standard stem, little bows on topiary or crepe paper flowers. Staff from the house plant?section who normally put together gift baskets could be set the challenge of dressing summer container displays.

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