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This post is targeted specifically at garden centers in the northern half of the country – if your store is in the Sunbelt, feel free to ignore the next 600 words. We’ll cover ideas for you in a separate post.

Many garden centers do everything in their power to clear their entire pottery inventory before winter strikes, often moving many of their remaining pots out the door for little more than wholesale cost. While this can be a sound inventory management strategy, and can make the year-end financials look good, it can also be a huge mistake.

Many retailers recognize that early fall can be a great time for pottery sales and offer sales and promotions to capture business from gardeners who are in the process of bringing plants indoors, planting bulbs or replacing old and/or worn pots. Fewer garden centers continue to push the category into the winter months, often costing themselves the opportunity to generate additional profits through the lean months. There are a few keys to doing this successfully, a few of them painfully obvious:

  • Be open: Seriously – if you are closed during the winter months, none of the following ideas will work for you. And if you are open in the winter, be sure that you actually ARE open during your published business hours.
  • On an aside, publishing your winter hours is a great excuse to update your web site or to return to that blog/Facebook page/Twitter account you started last spring and forgot about.
  • Bring your pots inside: Your customers aren’t going to walk around the outdoor areas of your center looking for your pottery department, and they certainly won’t pick up freezing cold pots. Find space for them indoors, and your customers will find them and buy them.
  • Carry a wide variety of pottery: In the winter months, it is particularly important to focus your collection on indoor pots, as those are the pots that the vast majority of your customers will be looking for. Look for pots that range in size from 6” in diameter to 12” in diameter, and that are either have saucers with them / attached to them or are cache pots. Don’t exclude outdoor pottery from the mix, but be sure that any pots which you include in your merchandising assortment are freeze-proof and durable enough for outdoor wintertime use.Classic Urn
  • Offer cross-promotions with seasonal plants: If you’ve managed to establish a business for either mums in the early fall or for poinsettias before Christmas, congratulations – if your customers are choosing your location over the big box prices for these plants you’re definitely doing something right. Whether that’s offering superior quality, top-notch service, or something outside of the norm, these customers are looking to you to steer their buying decisions. Merchandise your remaining pots near the seasonal plants and drop a few into pots – Maybe offer a discount on a pot if purchased in conjunction with a mum or poinsettia? Your customers will make the connections and your pottery sales will bump.
  • Gift Baskets: Empty your shelves of last year’s small items / arrange a selection of them artfully in a flower pot / put a ribbon around it / sell as “Gardener Gift Baskets” / Repeat. This works.
  • Landscapers: Bring in larger freeze-proof pots and partner with local landscapers to get them out in the market. Large-scale glazed pottery offers a great way to add color to a winter garden or patioscape, and they look great when planted with small evergreens or grasses.

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.

We were very pleased to see the following article in this month’s edition of “Green Profit”, highlighting some great tips on best practices in retail merchandising of flower pots. We were especially happy to see a few of our customers highlighted in the Article, as well as some thoughts from our Director of Marketing and Product.

Container gardening is huge, but merchandising containers is often an afterthought. Do you have a leaning tower of pots in your display area? What about ceramics that haven’t been dusted for a year? How about a mishmash of broken terra cotta, concrete urns and oddly shaped containers thrown together at the back of your garden center? If that describes the state of the (dis)union of your pottery category, you have nowhere to go but up. Here are two unique perspectives on merchandising containers so they’re moneymakers instead of space takers.

Keep It Simple

Our first perspective is from Alec Junge of pottery distributor Ceramo Co., who declares simple is best. “I think that two of the most frequent failure points for a pottery display are succumbing to the temptation to over-merchandise and neglecting to maintain the displays,” he says.

Stack pottery near the plants. The single most effective way to boost pottery sales is to incorporate the pots into other display areas of the store, and the easiest location from which to grab these additional sales is near the flowers. In the photo above, a simple display has been built from stacked pallets and positioned as an end cap of an aisle of flowers.

Clean & Accessible
Keep it simple with red clay/terra cotta pots. Farrand Farms in Kansas City, Missouri, merchandises these garden staples so they’re neatly sorted, easily accessible and clean. They’ve used a very simple homemade fixturing system, grouped the pots by type and size, and most importantly, have done the ongoing work necessary to keep the display tidy and organized.

Cross-merchandise to sell more. One of the most effective (and cost-effective) ways to market flower pots is to include them in other display areas of a garden center. Here at Knupper Nursery and Landscape in Palatine, Illinois, a range of Ceramo’s German “Basalt” pots are part of the holiday fixturing. Using the pots this way is a two-for-one proposition: customers get more exposure to the pots while they’re in another area of the store, and the “fixtures” (pots) can be sold at full price after the holiday display is taken down.

Investing In Pottery
Our second perspective is that of merchandiser and owner of Color Results Terri Coldreck, who emphasizes making an investment (not just money, but time) in pottery. Read on for her top 3 tips for successful pottery sales.

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