Making hay while the sun shines

A comment from Marie at 66 Square Feet finally stirred me from my daze. Yes, I live and breathe! This has happened before, and been noted by readers like George Ball, "...As expected, he blogs depending on time available.” Lately there has been little time, and no energy to write. As is the nature of my profession we live the saying, "make hay while the sun shines". This spring has been especially busy, and as such I have been working seven days a week. Thanks to good weather, this has been a great year, but the go, go, go, does wear on you after a while. It won't be much longer, so we put our heads down and keep going. There is so much going on in the world of reatil horticulture that you don't know where to start. It's going to be really interesting to see who grows and who doesn't after the spring season. If you grow shrubs and trees here in California you are wondering what to do with all that inventory. My suppliers have inventory lists that are longer than they have ever had. My guess is that we see some more wholesale nurseries going under as the glut of plant material grows. I receive calls from nurseries in Oregon, who we have never done business with, calling looking for orders. What with the wretched winter they had, with greenhouses being destroyed by snow, and now the slow shrub and tree market, Oregon wholesale nurseries must be struggling.

This year is a homeowner inspired market. Vegetable sales have been through the roof, and our gamble of carrying a huge selection this year has paid off. My guess is that this summer we will be having record sales of organic fertilizers and pest controls as people look to maintain their hard work in the garden. Small 4" perennials, $3.99 to $4.99 have been selling well. Even some specialty plants, coral bark maples, Bloodgood maples, bamboo, etc are selling as people look to feather their nest. They are not buying complete landscapes, but rather special plants that make them feel good.

As tired as I feel, the rush of watching our little business finally getting it's stride keeps me going. Before Christmas the mood was doom and gloom. Now in the middle of one of the worst recessions in years we find ourselves bucking the retail trend, and actually doing better than the year before. I know summer is coming. The slowdown that accompanies it will arrive, but this year people will be coming in all summer with plastic bags filled with all sorts of pests and diseases that need diagnosing. People will be coming in to buy fertilizers and compost to support that plant growth. We have huge opportunities this summer to teach people how to be more successful in their gardening.

I have come to the same conclusion that I have come to in the past. Being a small garden center is where it's at. Sure we all have had delusions of grandeur at one time or the other. Building a second or third store. Growing to be a million dollar a year business, etc. By staying small we made changes this year, that a larger concern would have a hard time doing. Vegetable and fruit tree gardening looked big this year, so we invested in those areas and not in the landscape plants or materials. Our decision to invest in organic fertilizers and pest controls a few years ago has started to really pay off. As a matter of fact that is the one area that beat vegetable sales this year.

As tired as I feel some days, the knowledge that we are entering into a new era for gardening and garden retailing helps keep me going. Our Linked Group, "Garden Centers, Nurseries, and New Media" is nearing it's 400th member. We are at 395 as of right now. You can join! The groups strength is the wide range of people that are members. Anyone who has an interest in garden centers or nurseries can join. This is not a trade group, but a group of like minded individuals connecting and changing the world.

Yes Marie, I live! My job is not so much a job, but a lifestyle. Like most people involved in agriculture there are times of intense work, followed by slower periods. Right now the intensity is just starting to wane, and soon we will be ensconced in the lazy days of summer. It's tremendously hard work not suited for most people. Yet it's quite satisfying, and these days having work that is satisfying, while being able to pay the bills is rare. Just a year ago who would have though the independent garden center would lead the way in gardening for 2009? What a great time to be a nursery professional.