Traverse City Record-Eagle

the BIZ

April 30, 2014

Nurseries adapt to weather, marketers, customer taste

TRAVERSE CITY – The cold winter hasn’t stopped business from blooming at local nurseries.

Julie Sovereign, co-owner of Garden Goods in Traverse City, hopes the dreary weather will drive more customers to visit lush, fragrant nursery greenhouses for a dose of spring.

“Everyone is incredibly anxious and frustrated, so I think there could be a big, pent-up demand,” she said.

Sovereign said most of the store’s sales happen in the six to eight weeks between May and June. Garden Goods can rack up more sales during one day in May than in January, February and March combined.

The store’s bottom line has so far gone untouched by the cold winter, but it’s still at the mercy of frost.

“If we’re freezing on Memorial Day and in those couple of weeks, that would hurt us a lot worse,” Sovereign said.

Weather patterns aren’t the only things that affect how local nurseries operate. Big, franchised stores, online markets and seed catalogs compete with low prices, so nurseries have to rely on expertise and customer experience to draw crowds.

Pine Hill Nursery in Elk Rapids has a café and walking trails to entice customers to visit the store.

“We love it when people come in and say ‘Wow, that plant is so cool,’” owner Sandy Naples said. “You can’t get that when you order from a catalog or online. You have to see it. You have to really experience the plant.”

Nursery owners also have to stock what customers seek, which changes as plant companies try new marketing strategies.

Sovereign and Naples said nursery customers often ask for a specific brand of plant, like Proven Winner’s Bloomerang Lilac, rather than just a species of plant.

“Ten years ago you wouldn’t see a plant advertised in Better Homes and Gardens by its name or brand,” Sovereign said. “In the past the industry would rely on us to promote that. Now they’re promoting it directly to the consumer.”

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