This month’s trio of experts includes Stuart Cofer, owner of Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace in Athens, Ga., Chris Campbell, garden center manager of Campbell’s Nurseries & Garden Centers in Lincoln, Neb., and Mark Halla, owner of The Mustard Seed in Chaska, Minn.
Each issue, we ask successful garden center operators to tackle a question or issue pertinent to the industry. This month’s trio of experts includes Stuart Cofer, owner of Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace in Athens, Ga., Chris Campbell, garden center manager of Campbell’s Nurseries & Garden Centers in Lincoln, Neb., and Mark Halla, owner of The Mustard Seed in Chaska, Minn. Here they address products that have produced good margins/profits at their stores.
Stuart Cofer: There are three products lines, in particular, that have done really well for us: Organic fertilizers by Espoma (especially Holly Tone), our private label potting soil by Fafard (offered in 1 and 2.5 cubic-foot sizes), and Root Stimulator by Fertilome in all sizes.
To market these products to ensure that sales will continue at a brisk pace, we put a lot of emphasis on employee training. We have a large organic following, being in a college town and all, with all the trends toward home-grown, local, fresh, natural, etc. We recommend the Espoma Holly Tone here since we have lots of azaleas, hollies, dogwoods and camellias. We market it as natural and safe since it’s a slow-release. We also feature large displays at the front of the store on it.
We promote our private label potting soil as our own custom blend, and emphasize that it’s better to “spend money on dirt.” We also offer a discount on the soil if you belong to our Garden Club (and it’s free to join).
As for root stimulator, we recommended it, along with Mr. Natural’s Complete Landscape mix to every customer planting trees or shrubs and perennials. We like to train employees that it’s our job to make the customers successful by giving them everything they need at the beginning of a project so they will enjoy the fruits of their labor in the garden.
Looking ahead to this year, we think there might also be some high margin/profit potential in several other products. Four-inch herbs were a huge profit item for us last year and continue to be this year. We carry, I don’t know, 40 or so varieties. People are into growing their own food, plus you can grow them in a small space.
Pecan trees are in big demand because of the high price of nuts the last two years largely due to the new demand overseas—a lot are being exported. We sell every one we can get at $45 each for a 5- or 6-gallon container.
Native azaleas are big this year. Folks are into natives, and azaleas are big in the South, so they fit perfectly in that pattern. A local grower has developed some new varieties with some outstanding colors —that helps! Plus, we can get them in 7-gallon and 15-gallon sizes now—1-gallon and 3-gallon used to be all that was available—and these bigger ones generate lots of interest when they are in full bloom.
Chris Campbell: Three products or product lines that have shown good margins and profits at Campbell’s Nurseries and Garden Centers are grass seed, bagged mulch and annuals.
We purchase high-quality grass seed in 25-pound and 50-pound bags and then re-bag the seed into our own branded bags. Our staff makes sure that the customers know they are buying great grass seed with low weed counts and high germination rates. They also push the tie-ins with the seed—seed-starter fertilizer, top soil/penn mulch/peat moss, etc. If the customer is successful with their first grass seed attempt, they will be back for more. The other nice perk is that we can weigh out any amount the customer might need. We pre-bag 1-pound, 2-pound and 5-pound bags that are ready to sell. But if a customer only needs a ½-pound, we can do that, too, and the customers love that they don’t have to purchase seed they won’t use.
With bagged mulch, our staff reminds customers that we have a 3-cubic-foot bag, not 1- or 2- cubic-foot, like most big box stores. We have Grade A quality mulch, we deliver it (and place it wherever you want it in your yard —a few bags here, a few bags there), and will we spread the mulch for them as well. It all comes with a cost, but it is well worth it for most people.
We grow about 90 percent of the annuals that we sell. Our staff pushes the fact that we grow them RIGHT HERE! We can control quality, and we pride ourselves on our unique/different selections and percentage of new annuals we grow each year.
Mark Halla: I talked with Kelly Lorenz, our office administrator, about margins and items that do well, and we came up with three that have been particularly successful.
Our own Root Stimulator has a great margin, and training the staff to show its benefits helps keep it moving. The Transplant Root Stimulator is a product I created many years ago. It is a 3-4-3 Mycorrhizae Innoculum that costs us about $.64/pound, and it sells for $6.99/pound. We sell 3,000 to 5,000 pounds per year.
Also, the bereavement category moves well for us, and word-of-mouth keeps it moving. The bereavement category includes stepping stones and plaques with sayings on them, as well as metal plant stands for use next to a gravestone.
Finally, caramels do really well here. It’s a little item with a good margin, and it turns well as impulse item. Caramels and Honey Sticks sell great at the checkout as treats for kids and adults.
This year, we’re thinking a few other products might [produce good margins and turns]. Succulents are fairly new for us, not so much elsewhere. We like their potential. Otherwise, colorful glass birdbaths are awesome, and we expect them to be a great hit this spring.