Don’t fear the fall

Departments - Retail Revival | Store improvement tips from the Garden Lady

Events and activities can turn a slow autumn season into a sales driver.

September 13, 2022

Photo © Tetiana Soares | Adobe Stock
Take advantage of fall décor trends to bring customers back to the garden center for classes, workshops and more before the winter holiday season hits.

One year when I was at a trade show, I heard one of the IGC speakers refer to September and October as being a garden center’s purgatory: the time of waiting that happens between the growing season and Christmas. While it’s true that our sales slow in autumn, that doesn’t mean that we can’t bring in customers, keep our businesses in the public eye and keep the cash registers ringing in the fall. Here are a few ideas for events and activities that can help drive sales.

Pumpkin totems

One of the easiest fall decorations is a stack of pumpkins. Take three or more pumpkins of different colors and sizes, and arrange them from largest to smallest on top of a flowerpot or urn, and you’ve got an Instagram-worthy fall decoration. And if the container is large enough, you can install a ring of colorful cabbage, kale or heuchera around the edge to add plant textures and interest.

In addition to stacking larger pumpkins, a tomato cage and chicken wire can create a holder for smaller gourds and squash. Top this with a bow or a bouquet of corn stalks, and you’ve got an impressive autumn display. Garden centers can build several of these near the pumpkin and gourd displays to show customers how they can create something similar on their front porches and patios.

Adult “back to school” events

As the weather cools, people become interested in learning something new, so fall is the perfect time to offer educational classes. Before your greenhouse fills up with poinsettias and the store is packed with Christmas ornaments, use the space to offer classes on pruning, perennial garden maintenance, fall bulb planting or other seminars on topics that your customers are most interested in.

We may need to give our customers a few more reasons to fall into the garden center at this time of year, but we certainly don’t have to be stuck in purgatory.

Fall foraged wreaths

Straw wreath forms and florist fern pins can be used to create autumnal wreaths that celebrate the season. Invite your customers to forage for seed pods, pinecones, colorful leaves and drying flowers, and bring them in to create fall door decorations. Have some additional supplies on hand for fillers, as many people don’t realize the amount of material that it takes to create a 12-inch wreath. If you have access to hydrangea flowers, pick them the morning of the event so that they are still soft and can be easily pinned to the form without shattering.

Pet parades

Whether it’s a Costumed Pets on Parade for Halloween, a September Pet Stroll or a big Unbirthday Party, people love to show off their dogs. Have a local clergy or lay-minister come for a blessing of the pets. Offer pet treats and prizes, and play “Who Let The Dogs Out” on the loudspeaker. Show your customers that you’re doggone proud of their pets, especially if your IGC stocks dog and cat foods.

Scarecrow building workshop

Invite your customers to bring in some old clothing for creating a fall scarecrow lamppost decoration. Charge a small fee that will cover a wood-stake frame, straw stuffing and acrylic paints for the faces. Have an assortment of old plastic flower pots that can be used as heads and paints and brushes for creating faces on those pots. If your wooden stake frames are sturdy enough, the heads can even be filled with potting soil and plants.

Make a few scarecrows as examples (maybe even host an employee contest) and place these throughout the garden center, making them part of arrangements that showcase the mums, cabbages, pumpkins and hay bales that you’re selling. These will inspire those who attend the workshop to purchase accessories for their own creations. You might offer prizes for the fanciest, happiest and most colorful scarecrows … or the one that’s most likely to ward off crows.

Photo © driftwood | Adobe Stock

Fall flower show

Chances are, you have some table space that’s empty right now, and the Christmas merchandise is still a couple of months away. Our customers’ gardens still contain flowers, however, so ask them to help create an autumnal flower show. Each customer who brings in a single flower stem in a recycled clear glass bottle gets a 15% or 20% discount off any purchase they make that day, and another dated coupon to be used in early November. Any child who brings in a flower gets to choose a candy bar or other treat out of the flowerpot at the register.

The flower show event can be expanded over a few days by asking artists and craftspeople to display and sell their flower-themed work. Have an art table for kids to draw flowers or paint flowers on rocks. Schedule a grandparent and grandchild flower tea, where hibiscus drinks and flower-shaped cookies are served, and all attendees are invited to wear their fanciest flowery attire.

You can market the event with some fun puns like, “It may be fall, but we’re still having a bloomin’ good time at the Garden Center!”

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com