For many home improvement shoppers, stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic have offered the perfect opportunity to start or revive a home garden. With more people spending time outdoors and seeking to limit their trips to the grocery store, home gardening has been a particularly active niche for retailers during the pandemic.
The Home Improvement Research Institute recently updated its Size of Home Improvement Products Market report to account for sweeping channel shifts. According to the report, “nursery stock and soil treatments” and “lawn and garden equipment and sales” are the only two home improvement categories expected to see sales rise in 2020. The boost is small, but made possible almost entirely through increased DIY spending, the report notes.
Jim Griesemer, retail operations coordinator at Rohrer Seeds in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has seen home garden sales grow this spring. He believes these sales point to new connections with young customers, connections he hopes to cultivate for years to come.
“I think gardening skipped a generation,” Griesemer says. “We’re seeing a lot of younger customers come in and say their grandparents gardened, but they’re completely new to it. It gives us an opportunity to start fresh and help new customers.”
Discover how he and his team are ensuring shoppers get all the home garden products they need and grow new roots with old traditions.
Time to Grow
Griesemer says he and his team always anticipate strong sales in the spring, but 2020 has been an unprecedented year, thanks to a number of key factors.
In January, the company boosted its e-commerce offering by joining a new sales platform, simplifying the online sales process for customers and employees. The company also updated its website to be more user-friendly. Alongside tech upgrades, Pennsylvania saw a mild winter and early spring.
“Home improvement stores were designated as essential businesses at the beginning of shutdown orders, so we were able to stay open. Initially, customers hesitated to come in, but sales started picking up quickly,” he says. “It’s been an amazing season for us.”
Griesemer estimates Rohrer Seeds completed more than 1,000 in-store pickups thanks to its new e-commerce portal, website update and customers’ blooming interest in home gardens. That figure is on top of the steady flow of shoppers who visited the business in person.
With the influx of new customers, gauging shoppers’ skill and comfort levels is crucial to not only connect them with the right home garden products, but ensure their new home garden projects are a long-term success.
“We have about 40 racks of seeds lining our walls, starting with flowers and herbs and then vegetables,” he says.
“When customers first come in, they sometimes have a look of bewilderment, so I work with our staff to not only welcome new customers, but to talk to them straight away to understand where they are with home gardening.”
At Rohrer Seeds, one of the key lessons the team is trying to impart to new gardeners is to start small with seeds that are easy to grow and have graced gardens for generations.
The team is finding big interest from shoppers in growing sweet corn, but the crop can prove complicated for a novice gardener.
“We try to steer new gardeners to easier crops to grow,” he says. “One of the traits that sets Rohrer Seeds apart is our staff’s knowledge. So we’ll work with a shopper to understand how difficult it can be to grow certain crops. We won’t discourage anyone, but we try to educate them.”
Keep Sales Growing
Keep Sales Growing
“To continue the category’s momentum into the fall, one of the things we’re pushing is brassicaceae family crops, like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale,” Griesemer says. “If a gardener wants to continue cultivating those into the fall, now is the time to start planting them.”
Fall gardening doesn’t only include brassicaceae crops. Many gardeners can aim to grow snow peas, sugar peas and pole peas in early fall and continue their home garden purchases through an extra season, he says.
“We’re definitely going to stock more canning supplies after seeing the customer interest this season,” Griesemer says. “Five or 10 years ago, it wasn’t a priority for the store. But with the resurgence in home gardening, canning and food preservation products are definitely something we’ll add.”
Canning products include mason jars, pots, cheesecloth, mixing bowls and tongs. Additionally, customers will need pectins and items to increase acidity, like lemon juice or vinegar. For preserving fruits, be sure to stock sugar and honey as well to add sweetness.
“Planting cover crops before fall has a number of benefits for any garden,” Griesemer says. “They can replenish organic matter in the soil to make a garden stronger for the next season, and having cover crops prevents soil and nutrients from washing away.”
Some customers may need extra education on the importance of cover crops, so he recommends familiarizing you and your team with a few common options, including wheat and rye. Many cover crop seeds come in large bags, so consider breaking those down into smaller sizes for home gardeners.
Books and Resource
As Rohrer Seeds aims to increase its food preservation inventory in the months ahead, one resource already in stock is proving popular with customers: books on gardening and harvesting produce.
“We do have books and other resources on sale, and they can really help customers brainstorm new ideas for their gardens and decide what they want to start planting as their skills and confidence grow,” Griesemer says.
Roots Run Deep
Griesemer says one of the most rewarding aspects of helping customers establish a new garden is the ongoing engagement. The company is getting more calls and emails to help home gardeners troubleshoot problems with their crops. Offering guidance through these kinds of problems is one simple way to enrich the relationship between retailer and customer.
Another aspect of customer outreach that has grown alongside home garden sales is Rohrer Seeds’ email marketing. After starting e-commerce sales with Shopify, the team is now using that platform’s built-in email marketing program to advertise directly to shoppers.
“We’ve used that two-fold: we’ve used it as an educational piece to help gardeners understand when to plant certain crops, as well as a marketing piece to boost internet sales,” he says.
Griesemer’s team is flexing its creative muscles, crafting messages that cater to shoppers’ current needs and upcoming goals. A recent eblast centered around pumpkins and included information on when and how to successfully grow them alongside staff picks of three pumpkin varieties.
Another home and garden resource available to Rohrer Seeds customers is its blog, which is regularly updated with content from employees. These blog posts are short but packed with tips and tricks from the team.
“We have such an educated staff, it’s is an easy way to share information and post photos from our store,” he says. As home garden sales bloomed amid the pandemic, Griesemer and his team are beginning to consider how they can solidify shoppers’ interest in the category. he plans to add in-store classes to ingrain extra gardening insight into new customers as soon as it’s safe to do so. “Those classes will be one way to fill the generation gap,” Griesemer says.