The Independent Garden Center Association show Aug 16-18 provided a wealth of information for anyone involved with independent garden centers. The trade show provided many unique and new product ideas to differentiate the independents from chains. The trade show was so well attended by both exhibitors and buyers that booths overflowed into the lobby area beyond the main trade show floor. One of the trends identified this year was the addition of specialty foods into garden center sales. For a long time we’ve watched garden centers transform from simple shops selling plants and gardening supplies, to devoting large pieces of retail acreage to ‘gardens and gifts’. This trend continues strong but some retailers are beginning to look at the natural connection between food and gardening. This also fits well with the parallel trend of vegetable gardening. The incorporation of specialty foods can move in several directions. Judy Sharpton, garden center consultant, and educational speaker at the IGCA show, presented a case study of a garden center near Boston that built a coffee shop on their busy corner location. While building the coffee shop was difficult and more expensive than anticipated, even in its first year it’s profitable, and promises to keep customers returning long after the garden season has ended. The coffee shop will be used as a ‘bridge’ in the winter to get customers into the greenhouses that have been transformed into fall and winter display and seminar areas.
We see a similar concept played out locally at Borzynski Farm and Floral Market in Sturtevant Wisconsin. The Borzynskis, long time local farmers, have created a wonderful store based on fresh produce, a deli and specialty food items such a hand crafted jams, sauces and other packaged goods. They specialize in carrying locally grown Wisconsin product. Specialty foods and fresh produce make a great cash flow fit with traditional garden center plants in northern locations. The garden center season begins in earnest in Wisconsin about May and ends in July just when local produce is ripe and ready. Produce and larger size plant material and decorative garden planters carry the store though summer and into fall with pumpkins, mums, corn stalks and caramel apples bringing customers in. Events such as hayrides, haunted houses and corn mazes attract customers who return with their kids (and our next generation of loyal customers) every year. Christmas brings trees and wreaths for decorating, apple cider and locally made specialty food gifts. Food is such a natural gift for holidays – no sizes to fit or colors to choose – everyone loves food! Gift baskets are a big item for Borzynski, especially for corporate gift giving. Borzynski has rounded out the selling season by incorporating fresh flower design to capture the major spring floral holidays of Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day, before the spring garden rush begins. Along with the deli, this also gives them the talent needed to sell events at their facility such as bridal and baby showers, reunions.
Below is a picture of a mother/daughter team representing apple butter from a specialty food supplier from Maryland seen at the IGCA show. Since 1938 McCutcheons’, Apple Products, Inc. has produced old fashioned home style food products. They offer a wide variety of apple butters, preserves, juice-sweetened spreads, , mustards, relishes and more. The products are attractively labelled with the country theme appeal that fits the brand identify of many garden centers. The product lines emphasizes no preservatives and naturally sweetened which is also important to customers. The label could use a bit of updating and more color but it is a great example of a unique and locally grown specialty food product, customers are looking for. Some suppliers provide point of sale display racks, signs and props to support their brand and make it easy for retailers to properly market the product. A wooden crate display with a red and white checked sign and a couple of mini straw bales would really bring out this product on display and help it sell, sell, sell! I’m getting hungry…time for some toast with apple butter