As the industry charged full steam ahead for spring, we spoke to three garden centers to see what customers were clamoring for this Mother’s Day. Of course, the weather was a significant factor in most retailers’ sales, but despite cold temperatures in some locations, the 2022 holiday signaled the start of another successful season.
Dave Van Raay, owner and president of The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, says this year’s Mother’s Day matched last year’s sales. The IGC has had two record weekends this year already.
“It was weather-related to a degree — of course the last week of April and partly the first week of May we were down a little bit, only because of the weather. But then all of a sudden Mother’s Day hit and it was quite nice. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was quite nice,” he says.
Nikki Sailer, marketing manager at Sailer’s Greenhouse, says sales were up compared to 2021, but the Shakopee, Minnesota, retailer experienced less-than-ideal weather complications earlier this spring.
“It was kind of a weird year for us, just in our climate, because we had kind of a terrible April. It was so cold and rainy, and Mother’s Day weekend was kind of the first weekend that people were actually even able to do anything,” she says.
Customers exhibited “a sort repressed and ready-to-get-out-and-start-planting energy,” Sailer says with a laugh, noting that they mainly stuck to buying baskets.
“Because of the unpredictable weather, they weren’t sure if the weather would stick around long enough so they could start planting,” she says. However, Sailer was confident that the coming weeks would bring the warm weather needed to lift their spirits.
Drew French, manager at Town & Country Gardens, says spring hadn’t quite hit Eastern Idaho yet, noting the weather was windy and cold. It even snowed the day after Mother’s Day, and sales were down compared to sunnier springs past.
“Our last good week to where things looked like we were going to have a great spring was the very first week in April,” he says. “That was a great week. And then we have had snow, rain and wind for the last four weeks.”
However, this weather isn’t uncommon for the locals of Eastern Idaho. The IGC, located within two hours of Grand Teton National Park, sits at a very high elevation.
“It’s where the desert meets the mountains, and we get a lot of wind. It’s not uncommon to see snow every month of the year in in Idaho, depending on where you’re at the state,” French says.
Because it’s also a grower-retailer, Sailer’s Greenhouse is well known for its baskets, which were very popular among shoppers. However, there were some “pot scares” due to the ongoing supply chain shortages, Sailer says, and due to unpredictable shipments, inventory wasn’t as uniform as it usually is.
“Everything did kind of fall into place so it worked out pretty well as far as supply chain goes, but you never know what you’re going to get, and you never know when you’re going to get it. It’s kind of like Christmas where things are just coming in every day, instead of all at once,” Sailer says.
She notes the supply chain stresses have turned into a blessing in disguise because the IGC has a rotating selection of pots for customers to choose from, even if they receive shipments little by little.
“I mean, we’ve made it work because there’s always something new every single day,” she says.
Other popular purchases included flowering shrubs, houseplants, hydrangeas and “anything in full bloom,” she says. “Anything that had color on it, people were super into. I think just from the crummy spring that we had and the long winter, anything that was just colorful, people were going for.”
Erin Van Raay, general operations manager at The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre, says Mother’s Day purchases point to trends in outdoor living spaces and statement gardens. Patio furniture, water features, large, colorful ceramic pots, birdbaths and large tropicals were also popular.
“Our Boston fern is always a hit, too, for Mother’s Day, but I think the most important part of that advertisement and the draw for our customers, was the experience they can have with mom by bringing her out. Bring mom to help her pick out her flowers, or spend time with her in the garden. It’s what she wants more than anything,” she says.
Large evergreen statement trees like weeping white spruce and weeping Norway Spruce were also popular. For deciduous trees, popular purchases included weeping redbuds, Japanese redbuds and weeping purple beech. Shoppers were also on the lookout for the tri-color beech — the new “it” shade tree, she says.
“These are all items that take people’s gardens from basic to unique. They are conversation builders and add comfort to outdoor living spaces,” she says.
At Town & Country Gardens, hanging baskets also reigned supreme this Mother’s Day. French says that’s what they’re known for, considering they’ve been offering $5 off hanging baskets since the ‘90s. The IGC’s gross revenue for the holiday was over $8,000, while its revenue in baskets alone during the week up to Mother’s Day was $24,000.
Citing the bad weather again, “those numbers are really way less than what they should be,” French says. Hybrid roses are the IGC’s second-most popular Mother’s Day purchase, and they offered a $5 off promotional deal for those as well.
“We grow roughly a thousand [roses], and they’re a big draw. I want to say we are the only one in the area now who grows their own. So, it’s sort of a big draw for people to come into our rose house, see that many and then be able to take one home,” he says.
The Glasshouse Nursery & Garden Centre is known for its “blue tag specials,” says Erin Van Raay, noting these deals help encourage in-town customers to keep coming back during the summer months. She notes that the garden centers has been a heavy advertiser for years, owing much of its growth through the strategy.
“For two months in the spring we were on five radio stations, in two newspapers and printed 30,000 32-page magazines, oversized postcards and used social media,” she says.
According to both Erin and Dave Van Raay, their most effective form of advertising is through their email campaign. In fact, for the week of Mother’s Day alone, Erin Van Raay says their open rate was 52%. Dave Van Raay says their open rate is typically about 40% because they fill their newsletters with helpful information and articles instead of focusing solely on sales and promotions. For example, letting customers know about frost warnings or other local weather patterns via newsletter helps them protect their plants.
“They appreciate that warning. If you just put that as a subject line and big letters, ‘Frost Warning’ I mean, that gets their attention, especially if they just planted a new plant. They love that. They appreciate that and they respect it, and they come to us because they wouldn’t have got that from a box store,” he says.
However, Van Raay notes The Glasshouse reduced its advertising by 70% in 2019 and focused only on social media and the website — and they were still drawing larger and larger crowds.
“In 2020, we decided we weren’t going to go back to habits, we started to make a change. We really re-focused on why customers came to visit us and what brought them here,” she says. “Our Chatham crowd responds well to sales, door crashers, big events, kids’ events, etc. Our out-of-town customers respond better to the experience you get when you shop at our garden center.”
Over at Sailer’s Greenhouse, Sailer notes that such promotional offers aren’t as much of a reality for the grower-retailer’s unique situation — they don’t have the space to do so, which frees up when customers feel as if the warm weather will hold. Also, because they grow our own, she points out, they aren’t in a situation where they need to turn over shipments quickly.
“If we had constant shipments coming in and needed the space, promotions would be a more useful tool for us. We just didn’t really feel the need to throw any promotions on there because we try to sell out of our baskets anyway, before that hits. And then as far as any sales and promotions go, we save that for a little bit later [in the season] when sales are not an automatic or guaranteed,” she says.