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Colour My World and Profit from Sales

It’s interesting to think back to 1970 when I started managing my family’s retail nursery in Melbourne. At that stage, just about any plants in colour, with flowers, were the best sellers. I’m not sure that much has changed from what I hear. Sure, we have gone through a period of foliage and grasses, as we did in the 70s too, but I believe that ‘Colour is Back’. I asked a few questions around the traps. Leigh Siebler reports.

Massed displays sell.

I know of at least one Garden Centre that entered the Nursery & Garden Industry Awards and was being judged in summer, not usually a great trading time. They complained about the judging time as they needed to carry extra stock to “make the centre look good for judging.” They didn’t complain though when most of the stock was sold due to the fact that customers bought it on impulse as they visited the centre.

Tony Collins from Ball Australia commented: “Over the past 18 months we have certainly seen a stronger demand for flowering plants, across our entire customer base. Bedding plant growers, our traditional customer base, have been hit very hard within their core business ‘Green Seedlings’ over the last twenty four months. This is due to contributing factors of market trends and environmental conditions impacting on their focus and product mix.

Is colour back, or is it the lower supply within the marketplace driving the demand? Either way, yes colour is back!! Not in the way of the 70’s though with magnificent garden beds of Petunias and Marigolds’ with a border of Alyssum. Our customers are growing more advanced packs and pots of colour and we have also seen flowering perennials like Calibrachoa, Argyranthemum, Diascias and Bacopas taking a bigger part of the planting mix and retail bench space. Councils are making a significant return to colour; it’s now more placement plantings, using containers to soften and brighten up dull city streets along with traditional garden bed plantings. The aim is to bring colour into the vision of the consumer and inspiring them to buy plants with colour!”

I asked for comments: What % of your business would be tied up in flowering plants?

Matt De Ville from Oasis Young Plants said: “85% flowering, 12% herbs, 3% succulents. We are forecasting double digit growth in flowering lines for the coming season, so we do believe that consumer demand for quality flowering lines will be up on last season.”

Michael Cole from Plant Growers Australia told us: “Without adding up all the plants we grow I would say about 80%. Many of our plants are now well known and are proven garden performers that customers and the public are buying even out of the normal flowering season. I’m sure our good labeling and marketing also helps that too.”

Annette Marsh from Ramm Botanicals said: “Currently our product range represents 90% flower and 10% foliage. This sounds like a fashion story, ‘Colour is the new green’! Foliage and grasses have their place especially when creating a structural vision but to truly evoke emotion and passion colour and flowers are essential.

I know there is a fine line between not enough and too much stock but I guess that is the art of retailing!

We do not sell directly to retail but I do know from time to time we have supplied stock to Plant Mark with the proviso it must have flower. At a recent seminar I was speaking with the owners of a Coffs Harbour Garden Centre who categorically stated ‘flowers sell’!

Have you noticed significant trends? For example, is there more demand for low growing shrubs and ground cover because of smaller gardens?

Tony Collins again: “There have been some great opportunities that we feel haven’t been embraced like ‘Mixed Containers’, ‘Hanging Baskets’, ‘Vertical Space’, ‘Container Gardens’ and ‘Smaller Spaces’. A great opportunity is the under-story plantings and shade areas. Don’t neglect the ‘ground floor’ with opportunities to plant under all of the new tree introductions by Fleming’s and TGA.

Vegetables, herbs and ‘Grow your Own’ are strong trends! As an industry we have a fantastic opportunity to introduce, our next generation of gardeners to plants and then to gardening by the way of vegetables & herbs for culinary use.” Annette Marsh commented: “Our product focus is on Australian Natives. Colourful, low maintenance and drought tolerant are three characteristics that that are always top of the home garden list of qualities plants must have.”

Matt De Ville said: “One example is that the third best selling Million Bells® variety is a groundcover type. Also, Tapien® and Kazari® (verbena) sales have been so strong that three new varieties will be introduced this coming season.”

Michael Cole’s thoughts – “Our business has been focused on these types of plants anyway but I would say that it is only logical with the size of today’s gardens and the huge uptake of container gardening that this is a current trend.”

Have sales of foliage and grasses peaked or even dropped off? Tony Collins – “We still sell a lot of grasses and foliage, propagated by seed, tissue culture or cuttings. The feedback we receive from our customers and retailers is grasses are still strong but they are now part of the Home Garden Landscape and not the major focus of the Home Garden Landscape.”

Michael Cole – “We do not grow many foliage plants, but if our new Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ is anything to go by I would have to say no, in our case. I am sure it is more a case of an over-supply of some foliage plants and grasses.”

Matt De Ville – “Certainly the number of foliage suppliers has reduced over the last five years but those that are left appear to be doing quite well. I can’t comment on grasses.”

Annette Marsh – “I think our current product balance speaks for itself – 90% flower. We produce to the market trends.”

Is there an opportunity to sell flowering plants potted into a decorative pot to add value?

Annette Marsh – “There has always been the discussion of producing and selling a fully finished product but I appreciate the concern of the cost factor. The consumer mind-set is still for a gift line and a bunch of flowers wins over a flowering plant in a gift pot.”

Tony Collins – “Most definitely. Upsizing is a fantastic opportunity, to the ‘Decorator’ or the ‘Non Gardener ‘as they will pay for the easy way out. ‘Bragging rights if you like’.

Look at some of the examples from other business. Coca Cola and McDonalds all upsize within their own brands. Berwick Nursery, a Victorian wholesaler, upsized several lines into large hanging wire baskets for key-event times of the year and enjoyed a great demand for the product.”

Matt De Ville – “In some cases decorative pots will help support a higher retail price. Same old story though, the plant itself still has to be very appealing even with the pot looking great. Another example from last season is Sun Parasol® plants in square 270mm pots retailing for $34.95, and 270mm hanging baskets for $29.95.”

And the last word goes to.

Tony Collins – “While we are still have our traditional gardeners who will plant seasonal colour and have a planting that gives them the rewards over the seasons, there has been feedback from all sectors that many of our traditional gardeners and the new gardeners are using colour for’ Decorating’ rather than gardening. They are using advanced colour as the ‘cushions on the couch’ to change the mood of an outdoor setting, to reinvigorate a mixed plantings or just to brighten up an area.”

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