Garden Care Made Easy

Unfortunately, hardware retailers could often do with some improvement when it comes to looking after their green life category. Graham Smith offers a few helpful tips.
Over the past 30 odd years that I have been involved in the garden industry, I have attended countless garden expos, presentations and shows involving the wholesale trade, as well as the gardening consumer. Over that period, one of the most common confessions of attendees is that they know nothing about gardening – that they are brown thumbs who kill practically every plant they touch, and who need danger signs and warning flags draped over their bodies whenever they come within a one-kilometre range of anything remotely green.

Is gardening really that hard, or is it just scary because you are dealing with a living thing?

The real estate fraternity continually tells us that freshening up your garden and making slight improvements prior to selling translates into significant financial rewards, and that well maintained properties with good gardens can leapfrog the competition in a positive sales outcome. That’s reason enough for having a good garden. Consider also the growth in popularity of home-grown fruit and vegetables due to a healthy suspicion of the origins and processes surrounding what’s on offer at supermarkets. But if the average Mum and Dad can plant a few tomatoes or carrots or beans, can hardware retailers really say that gardening is all that difficult? The simple answer is no.

It is certainly far easier than attempting one of the many DIY projects involving mitres, rebates, plastering and even painting. What’s more, it can be more rewarding and personally satisfying, as the new creation grows into life. Then there’s the added bonus that it may also be edible. So, this brings me to the garden offer within hardware, where there are many retailers who have a good grasp of the segment – a bit like good gardeners – and quite possibly as many who see the category as being confusing and difficult, just like our brown thumb gardeners.

A well planned and executed gardening offer in hardware can make a significant contribution to the bottom line, particularly if the consumer is presented with sharp promotional offers at the height of spring and autumn. The trick in gardening is to determine firstly how much space you have available for your overall plant care offer. The next step is to ensure that space is maximised by having an appropriate core range covering the most used and recommended products.

There is an amazing array of products and brands on the market, leading greenhorn retailers to become terribly inefficient and overstocked because they are carrying duplications that increase stockholding and contribute nothing to stock turn. However, you still need to range products in each category.

FOCUS POINTS

There are possibly as few as 10 to 12 price-sensitive products within the green life category. Provided you have hit the right price point with these – and featured them in your promotional program – your garden section can be as rewarding as the garden itself. The home gardeners’ needs can arguably be broken down into as few as four main areas. They are:

1) Plant type

I want to eat it and I like these varieties. I want colour and privacy. My garden needs to have a certain feel and look that is aligned with my personal taste.

Plants are a world of their own. By stocking green life, you move from having a convenience offer to becoming a destination, depending on the width and breadth of that offer. In most cases you need a specialist to manage this as you are dealing with perishables, which are also impacted on by location, average block size and house type, as well as socio-economic factors. Obviously, you are also governed by the size and layout of your land and buildings.

2) Soil, composts, mulches and potting mixes

Whether planting in an open garden or pot, I need to have the soil right so the rest of my efforts aren’t wasted.

Soils, potting mixes, mulches and composts are all commodity lines. They need very little assistance from your sales team if they are priced correctly and displayed prominently during the peak seasons of spring and autumn. Your range will again be determined by how much space is available, as these are bulky items that are often displayed on pallets. The key to this area is to provide a basic offer that includes an entry-level mulch, a low- to mid-range compost, a budget potting mix and a premium potting mix. All four of these products lend themselves to being price pointed and featured at the height of the appropriate season. Even though mulches should be used year-round, they really become faster movers in summer when gardeners become more aware of heat and evaporation.

Potting mixes can be the highest turnover line if priced correctly. They can also give the consumer an insight into your overall pricing policy. You therefore need to have done some research on what is available in your area to ensure that you are on the money.
3) Feeding

Now that I’ve planted or renovated my garden in line with my personal taste, I want it to be at its best. And I want it to grow and grow, giving me the satisfaction of having created my own piece of nature.

Fertilisers have a significant presence in all stores due to the size of the range on offer. Again, your range will be determined by your available space and store location. Clearly, if your store is in a high density area surrounded by townhouses, units and small backyards, the potential for 10kg bags is minimal.

Fertilisers, given that they are the very essence of plant growth and health, tend to be dominated by trusted brand names. Generics will work with products such as blood and bone and complete garden food, as well as straights such as gypsum or sulphate of ammonia. However, more specific and specialised formulations will have a brand following. There are many brands that have a strong presence and recall nationally. But the range of simple blended bagged fertilisers can often be stronger in different states, so your selection should align with promoted, good quality, well presented brands in your area.

As with any well advertised and promoted brand, the gardening consumer will have a rough idea of pricing. Therefore, be sure that your basics such as blood and bone are well priced and your premium brands are not light years away from your competition.

Osmocote, Seasol, PowerFeed, Charlie Carp, Dynamic Lifter and Sudden Impact for Roses are all brands that are well promoted and followed, and hence need to be competitively priced and promoted heavily in the main selling periods. Use ends, side stacks and counter displays to ensure your gardening customer knows you are in the business. For a point of difference, make sure you are promoting a size differentiation as well.

4) Problems and solutions

Now that my garden is planted, renovated or growing well, there are still a few health issues. What is that bug eating the leaves? Why has my lemon got black marks all over the leaves? How come my roses now look like they have been attacked by a black paintball gun?

Possibly the most confusing area relates to the problem and solution sector that covers plant pest and disease issues, as well as weed control. However, with many assorted chemicals now banned, this area is actually less cluttered than it was many years ago.

As mentioned earlier, the gardening consumer is more aware and conscious of what may be sprayed on edible crops. As a result, when it comes to pest and disease control, they are also sensitive to the impact a chemical may have on them or their plants – be it perceived or real.

It is therefore wise to choose a broad spectrum insecticide, along with an organic alternative – in both concentrate and trigger spray – to cater for the convenience factor. There are many specialty pest control products on the market and your range needs to be reasonably tight, again working with name brands. With the exception of snail pellets, this is not a price sensitive area, as the gardener wants a product that will fix the problem.

Herbicides feature heavily in this segment and the dominant product is one for total weed, grass and noxious plant control – namely glyphosate, which is represented in the main by Round Up and Zero. These are price-sensitive brands. And due to the fact that the user simply wants to destroy the problem plant, it is a sound practice to offer both a name brand and a budget alternative – a little like the potting mix scenario.

The garden care segment relies on staff knowing what to recommend, so here’s a tip. In today’s world of internet information, much of the problem and solution area information is a mouse click away. Many major garden companies have excellent websites and advice centres that enable staff to train themselves or contact specialists with specific issues.

Graham Smith is the General Manager at Seasol International.

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