Garden and outdoor living cashes in on the ‘fifth room’

Less than ten years ago, the winter months, particularly in the southern states of Australia, would see many outdoor furniture and living departments in-store completely abandoned. As the cold weather rolled in, it seemed home owners would prefer to wait for the warmer months before they would begin updating their barbeques and outdoor furniture. However, a new trend has emerged, according to Christine Bannister and Jennifer Stackhouse.

It seems homeowners have developed what is now called ‘the fifth room’ which is a combined outdoor living, enclosed with outdoor blinds and complete with outdoor kitchen, heating and maybe the popular pizza oven – which has become an updated version of the great Aussie barbeque in recent years. It is for these reasons that many retailers now see outdoor living as one of the most exciting departments in-store at the moment and one which has experienced a lot of innovation and change.

This is why it is increasingly important retailers do not bypass their outdoor living areas in the cooler months, as it seems this new trend will ensure this department remains productive all year round.

Just some of the innovative products to emerge from this trend began with the introduction of wall-to-wall sliding doors, when the exterior of the house married with the interior as one large entertainment area. Outdoor blinds followed, along with outdoor heating and self-contained outdoor kitchens, complete with washing facilities and fridge.

Not only have outdoor living purchases skewed towards every type of pizza oven, wood heater and gas heater, but also products made with recyclable material, including eco- friendly decking, such as Ekodeck, which is a new style of decking, made with bamboo, reclaimed timber and recycled plastic. Boasting the same look and feel of a timber decking board, Ekodeck now has the added benefit of not requiring oiling or painting and also boasts a 10 year warranty. Easy to install, the eco-friendly decking may be installed anywhere normal wood decking would be used, and is attractive to DIY’ers, particularly those who have spent years painting, oiling and repairing their decks and want to reap the benefits from a low maintenance product.

Taming messy winter gardens

Although it seems the outdoor living area is set to reach impressive sales during winter, the cooler months can prove to be a tough time for the plant and garden departments, with plants not growing and customers more likely to stay indoors than venture outside.

Many winter garden jobs revolve around cleaning up, lifting and dividing established plants and caring for existing plants so they perform better in spring and summer. So how can you translate winter garden jobs into sales opportunities?

Below are winter’s top ten gardening tasks and some of the retail opportunities they provide. By recognising the products or services that gardens need, not only can retailers sell more products, they should also be able to lure customers into your garden centre during the cooler months ahead.

Make sure you customers know that you are geared up for winter, so trumpet your ideas with banners, advertisements and editorial in local media, letterbox drops, newsletters, your website and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

  1. Bold colour

Stage a winter flower show with camellias or plants that do well in your local area. Create a high impact feature using large potted display plants in flower surrounded by smaller pots for customers to buy. Offer lots of flowering plants for indoor winter colour and team this with suitable pots as ‘winter warmers’. Stock colourful accessories, such as ornaments and sculptures, which will brighten the garden all year round.

  1. Winter blitz

Lifting and dividing established clumps of perennials is easier with a good garden fork and a sharp spade. If you can’t interest customers in buying new tools for the job, offer tool sharpening. Also make sure your customers have clean plastic pots, good quality potting mix, plant labels and waterproof markers to help with re-potting.

  1. Checking and maintaining fruiting plants

Edible plants are trendy right now which means that many gardeners are growing plants they’ve never grown before. Offer a fruit tree and shrub maintenance workshop that covers suckers, fruit tree pruning, maintenance and spraying. Have fungicides, spray units, pruning saws and secateurs in stock and on show to help customers with these vital winter jobs.

  1. Shaping and pruning evergreens

Become a one stop pruning shop offering a range of pruning tools (secateurs, shears, pole pruners) along with a drop sheet and yard broom to gather up prunings. Many power pruners are too heavy for inexperienced gardeners to manage – stock lightweight products or offer handling and maintenance workshops.

  1. Tool and lawn mower service

Run a master class in tool care and stock linseed oil, sand and other products recommended for tool cleaning and storage. Arrange a display of antique tools or antique tool photographs. If you don’t normally deal with lawn mowers, forge a relationship with your local mower shop so you can recommend a local business to your customers. If you have trailers for hire, remind customers who may need to transport the lawn mower to be serviced.

  1. Frost and cold protection

Anti-transpirant products used during transplanting and for heat protection also provide frost protection as can fleeces and plastic products. In frost-prone areas, put frost-protection products in the spotlight and explain how to use them. Put out warnings via social media when there’s going to be a frost. Cold winds can also cause plant damage. Shade cloth, hessian and straw bales can be used to block out the cold.

  1. Planting time for deciduous plants

As well as encouraging customers to pre-order bare-rooted plants for winter planting, have care and planting instructions on hand as well as tips on future pruning and training. Offer a planting service for novice gardeners. Think add on sales including digging tools, compost, fertilisers, pots, potting mix, spray units, mulches and rose care products.

  1. Winter reading

This is a tough one to cater to if you don’t normally stock books. Look at the feasibility of establishing a reading room or a pop-up shop. Contact the publishers of new or favourite garden books to see if you can arrange an author event and book signing in your café.

  1. Planning ahead

Offer incentives on multiple buys to encourage gardeners to plant hedges or start new borders. Make soil improvement or new garden beds a priority with deals on bulk bags of compost or potting mix. If you offer a garden design or advice service, it’s time to remind your customers. Get the message out via social media as well as in your regular newsletter, ads and signage.

  1. Winter edibles

As well as stocking seeds, crowns and seedlings that are ready for planting, also flag winter pest problems such as cabbage white butterfly and snails and offer a range of methods for dealing with them. Remember, most gardeners are looking for an organic remedy but are not aware that many of the garden chemicals on the market are based on organic remedies.