Archives for posts with tag: home & garden

Following a year and a half of red-hot sales of succulents and cacti, many garden centers are starting to notice an increase in consumer inquiries about bonsai trees and bonsai pots. These traditional shallow planters can also be used for many other sorts of plantings, including fairy gardens, succulents, and some forced bulbs. The following ideabook from houzz.com offers a concise overview of some bonsai basics:

The houzz.com slideshow below has some tremendous ideas for Springtime container plantings. Preparing and selling pre-planted containers such as these can be an especially great way for independent garden centers to separate themselves from the big boxes, as this is a level of service that just can’t be scaled. While most of the pots shown in the slides aren’t ours, we do have very similar items to most of them on hand for quick shipment.

Lee_Eisemann Pantone Color of the Year 2017 GREENERYIt seems as though the folks at Pantone release a new “color of the year” every few months. This time around, the winner is a leafy, earthy tone they’ve named “Greenery”.

On the one hand, this is great news for those of us in the Lawn and Garden industry, as this exact color is found in the foliage of hundreds of different plants.

On the other hand, pottery and accessory items in this particular selection don’t really fly off of garden center shelves precisely because the color matches such a wide variety of natural greenery.

This is a great opportunity to capitalize on this color trend by merchandising with colors that pair well with the Pantone selection. A couple of sample palettes are shown below for inspiration – it is worth noting the presence of mushroom and grey colors in several of the palettes below – these colors are gaining steam right now.

Color of the Year 2017 - Color Pairings and Palettes

pantone color of the year

deep rooted

rustic-pots-header-templateFor almost 1,500 years, the Yixing region of China has been renowned as the source of some of the finest stoneware ceramic products in the world. Perched on the outer reaches of the Yangtze River plains, the area features vast deposits of iron-rich dark clay.

The “Rustic” pottery tradition was among the first to emerge from the shadow of the teapot business, as these coarsely crafted pots were originally intended for local consumption only. The traditional shapes developed as various needs arose, ranging from tall jugs for water storage, to lower shapes for oil, to wider forms used for drying rice. Over time, these containers began to be re-purposed as planters, which eventually led to an entirely new industry in the area. As time passed, production techniques became more specialized, the aesthetic more refined, and a classic tradition of simple, gorgeous, handmade (and often enormous) pottery emerged.WedgingA flower pot always starts with the clay. In this particular workshop, different clays from several local mines are blended together by experienced clay makers to produce a proprietary mix which offers the perfect combination of flexibility, durability and structural integrity necessary for these giant pieces. The mixed clay is then “wedged” or kneaded by apprentices, removing any last air bubbles, before being passed on to the pot craftsmen.Rustic Step 1The wedged clay is combined into long snake-like rolls, which are then slightly flattened by hand.Rustic Step 2These flat rolls are then attached to a previously prepared pot bottom, which includes an inch or two of the pot’s vertical walls. The clay is gradually coiled around the pot, continuously layering upon itself as the walls of the pot rise.Rustic Pottery Construction Step 3As the coil loops around the body of the pot, the craftsmen knead the the sections together by hand, progressing up the pot inch-by-inch.Rustic Pottery Construction Step 4After the pot has reached a certain height, the workers will begin the process of smoothing and shaping the walls of the pots – the smoothing is done with a series of small scrapers, while the shape is gently adjusted with wooden paddles and mallets.

The pots are then allowed to dry a bit to enhance their stability, after which the workers add another long coil to the top of the pot. This process repeats itself over the course of several days until the pot reaches its final height and form.

Eventually, the rim of the pot will be finished by a senior craftsman, and the pot will be allow to slowly, and thoroughly, dry for several days. This slow process is critical for large items, and ensures that structural cracks do not form in in the body of the pot.

Once the pots are “bone dry”, they are glazed in one of a handful of traditional, earthy glaze colors. Typically, these glazes are applied by hand in several layers,  with an uneven application around the pot.Rustic Pottery GlazingOnce the gaze is dried, the pots are loaded into enormous brick ovens, called “kilns”, which bake the pots at temperatures approaching 2,200 degrees. Often generations-old, these multi-chambered kilns are heated with wood fires, which are carefully tended to precisely control the temperatures and flow of air within the firing chambers. This is critically important, as the final colors of each glaze depend on them being fired within specific temperature ranges.Stoking the KilnFollowing a multi-day firing, the kilns are allowed to slowly cool for several more days before the door are opened. At this point, the colors of the glazes are revealed, as are the variations (drips, burn marks, hot spots, etc) that truly make each pot a unique work of art. These variations are thought to be part of the charm and beauty of these magnificent flower pots, and are not considered flaws. Kiln Being OpenedThese giant rustic planters are among the most durable that we sell, and are safe for year-round use in all climates, assuming that basic precautions are taken.

Check out this great article from houzz.com – it’s got some great pointers on incorporating container gardens and pottery into ground-based gardens. Be sure to read the comments too, as there are a bunch of nuggets there too.

I had a conversation with a potential customer at a trade show last week who was lamenting his decision to finally bring in a direct-import container of pottery two years ago. He walked me through his struggles step by step:

  • He felt that he had grown his pottery sales to the point that he would have no trouble moving through the 1,200 or so pots that would fill the container, and placed an order for a wide range of pre-assorted pallets, which would offer him a broad spectrum of shapes, colors and sizes to fill his shelves – this was all good, he didn’t fall into the trap of ordering the cheapest goods possible, which often means getting dozens of sets of the same items.
  • He prepared his pricing for the new pottery program using his standard margin structures.
  • The pots arrived in good condition, he unpacked, priced and stocked the shelves.
  • The pots sold like crazy – by the midway point of  the season he had already moved virtually his entire container. The sell-through rates were almost double anything that he had ever experienced.
  • He came back to the pottery vendor for an in-season re-fill order, and discovered that the supplier didn’t offer such a thing.
  • He found an alternate source that had inventory on hand for him, and placed a huge re-order of open-stock goods, expecting his tremendous sell-through rates to continue.
  • He applied his standard margins to the pots
  • His pottery sales dropped to less than half of their normal level.
  • He ended the season with an enormous inventory of left-over pots and no budget to reinvigorate the department.
  • The following season his pottery sales stayed low – at the time of our conversation (October, about 17 months after the re-order), he was still working though pots left over from the re-stocking the previous May.

Drying Room copy

Why did his pottery sales stop in the middle of the season?

The problem wasn’t with the replacement product – the quality and variety were great. His merchandising was sound, and the product was kept clean and salable. The weather continued to be good, and his overall sales maintained – only the pottery department dropped through the floor. He couldn’t identify any other variables that had changed such as competitor specials or sales.

Water Jugs copy

What went wrong?

As you would expect, when he ordered in a direct-import full container of pots, he realized significant savings from his previous pottery purchases. When he applied his standard pottery markup to the DI goods, he filled his shelves with pots that had retail prices about 60% below the levels that his customers had come to expect. He failed to recognize that the DI pricing offered the opportunity for increasing his margins – keeping his retails in the same general range as they had been would have afforded him incredibly enhanced profits.

While his customers got great prices on the imported pots, they also quickly got accustomed to the lower prices – and rebelled when the more expensive domestic goods replaced the DI pots on the shelves.

“Passing the savings along to the customer” can be an effective marketing concept, but as in this case, it can also paint you into a corner. It can change customer expectations and behavior, and leave you without any good options for rebuilding margins when circumstances change. While it can be especially effective with commodity goods or bulk items, good flower pots are sold on other merits. Quality pots are essentially a fashion item, and as such will support solid margins if your pricing strategies allow it.

Apple Computers famously used “Think Different” as their advertising slogan for several years. Adapting this concept as part of your pottery marketing strategy can help you expand your sales in the flower pot category.

Think Different

Every year, millions upon millions of flower pots are sold at retail, with better than 50% of them moving through the doors of a handful of “Big Box” chains. Your goal, as an independent retailer, should be to limit these big box sales as much a possible and to establish your store as a “pottery destination”. Independents who thrive in this category give their customers reasons to buy from them, and the easiest way to do that is to “think different” from the big boys.

You need to separate yourself from the idea of reacting to the big boxes and to develop your business by reacting instead to your customers’ desires and demands. Remember that pottery is a style-driven category, different from almost everything else in a typical garden center.

Your customers are looking for unique items, for beautiful items, and for items that offer a touch of personality to their yards and porches. When you find customers in your pottery department, take the time to ask them what they are looking for. You will find that many are trying to match a trendy paint color, while other are interested in brightening a dreary patio, some are looking for a perfect complement to the plant in their shopping cart, and still others will be looking for a pot like the one that they saw on TV last night. Your pottery customers are looking for something different – they already are thinking different.

It is important to note that even though the big boxes account for the majority of flower pot sales in the US,  the majority of these sales are the result of “convenience purchases” – the customer is buying a pot from the big box because it’s there and because they’re there, not because it’s something that they can’t live without.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Lowe’s and Wal*Mart have a special insight into the mind of the buying public that directs their product buying decisions – there are a wide range of factors that go into product acquisition in these big companies that just aren’t in play at the independent garden center level:

  • Mass-production – Wal*Mart needs to buy pots that can be produced in large enough quantities to fill 4,000+ stores, while you have the ability to select more complex, sophisticated pottery that better suits your customer profile.
  • Lead Times – Because they use so many pots, the big boxes all place their pottery orders with their vendors close to a year before the pots actually hit the shelves. It is impossible to remain current with market trends under these circumstances.
  • Inventory- Take a look at the glazed pottery department of any of the national big boxes and you’ll see the same few colors in the same basic sizes on a few different shapes. These stores are limited in the variety that they can offer in any given category by the need to maintain a uniform inventory. You should be packing as many different pots into your stores as possible, creating a “treasure hunt” mentality among your customers.
  • Price Points – The big boxes will typically look for pots that fit their target price points rather than establishing price points to fit their flower pots, causing them to make compromises in manufacturing that result in quality issues. Lots of factors weigh in a retailer consumer’s mind as she makes a style-based purchase, but small price differences aren’t among them. Don’t compromise on your quality and style requirements just to save a buck or two, and your customers will reward you.
  • Supply Chain – Several of the big boxes have dramatically cut their ceramic pottery departments because too many of their low-quality pots were breaking as they were moved from warehouse to warehouse before finally hitting the retail floor. You don’t need to have this concern – work with pottery distributors that offer high-quality products and easy processing of claims when breakage does occur.

Visit the big boxes in your area – look at the pottery department – and do the opposite. If Wal*Mart zigs, you need to zag. If Home Depot is pushing basic terra cotta, you need to focus on higher-end goods. If Lowe’s is pushing plastic and fiberglass pots because of their supply chain demands, focus on decorated clay pots. The best way to beat them is not to battle them head-on, but to outflank them, out think them – “think different” from them.