January 2012
The 10-Year Trend By Pete Mihalek

On the heels of its 10th anniversary, Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center, Seattle, has proven that miniature gardening is much more than a flash in the pan.

Creating a business without a market is not a good idea advises Janit Calvo, the founder of Two Thumbs Miniature Garden Center. Then why did Calvo ignore her own advice and jump into the non-existent miniature gardening world with both feet back in 2001?

“Why not?” she asks. “I had faith in the idea … I pretty much broke every rule in the book building this business because of it.”

In the following Q&A, Lawn & Garden Retailer catches up with Calvo on the heels of her company’s 10th anniversary to small talk fad versus trend, fairy versus miniature and a handful of helpful tips she’s picked up along the way.

What do you say to people who say it’s just a trend?

Janit Calvo: After experiencing over 10 years in this business that has almost doubled in sales each year, with regular customers coming back each season for a little something new for their miniature gardens, I would call miniature gardening a trend that has turned into a hobby, and an addictive one.

And this does call for a definition of terms because of the various meanings of the word “trend,” because it can mean a “fad” as well. A fad is a short-term phenomenon that might be profitable, but will end quickly. Fairy gardening is a fad that we have seen come and go before. Miniature gardening is a growing, upward trend that has shown staying power as another viable extension of the gardening hobby.

Do you do anything to keep from being classified as a fad?

Calvo: In my business, I keep the fairy fad to a minimum. I call some of my gardens “fairy gardens” to tie into the fad of course, but you will rarely see a fairy in my gardens. A miniature garden can easily be called a fairy garden if you put a fairy in it — and, ultimately, there are no other vital parameters that make a fairy garden a fairy garden save for that fairy or a fairy presence, like a fairy door or house for example.

A miniature garden can be anything you want: a holiday scene, a vignette from your childhood garden, a tropical paradise, or wherever your imagination takes you.

For retailers with a fairy garden section at their store, what do you suggest they do to draw more attention to it?

Calvo: Make demonstration gardens for display. You’ll see the customers’ gears turning as they stand and stare at them. Some IGCs make big layouts, which can be an easy way to display everything, but if you contain your enthusiasm — pardon the pun — and create miniature gardens in containers to display the items instead, you can sell the completed miniature garden container, too.

What are your thoughts on miniature-garden seminars?

Calvo: Over the years, I’ve done a bunch of seminars and classes for garden clubs and nurseries in the greater Seattle area. I’ve taught thousands how to garden in miniature.

I’ve always had success doing classes at garden centers because it’s a neutral place for people to come. It’s a perfect way to get people in during the off season to enjoy a little gardening save for August when you can’t bribe people to garden!

Offering workshops to garden groups and clubs is ideal because you get a group of people who know each other and they tend to have more fun. Holding private mini-garden parties for charity is a great way to get some action going on in your nursery too.

I like to structure the class so there is a balance of learning and fun — and to make sure they know how to care for it afterwards.

What would you say to a retailer on the fence about this particular garden hobby?

Calvo: I would say, try baby steps. I know one vendor I work with, Georgetown Home & Garden, doesn’t have minimums and you can order by the “each” just so the IGC can try it out. Put together a small display with a few of the kits and accessories, grab some of your small-leafed groundcovers/sedums and miniature/dwarf/baby trees and create a nice display. People vote with their wallets so you’ll know by their reaction if you want to expand it or just maintain it.

For The Road – Three (BIG) Tips

1. Don’t fall in love with the product. It’s way too easy to get hooked on these tiny, little cute things. Having too many choices confuses the customer, increases your SKUs dramatically, frustrates the cashiers and will drive you nutty with too many tiny things under $5. Group them in packages if you can, sell them as part of a miniature garden, or include an exclusive package for specific workshops to help sell them.

2. Remember the springtime and how busy you will be with products with much better margins! Miniature Gardening can add up to a very nice total but not near as nice as supplying a big landscaping job. Keep it simple so you can still sell the idea during your busy times and you don’t have to hold the customers’ hands while they decide what they want. Think demo gardens.

3. See what sells, then do more of that. You already know that people love their seasons. Don’t go for the summer stuff in winter. Try to have a nice selection of each “department” — furniture, equipment (pails, tools), structures (arbors, bridges), etc. Go for miniature versions of what sells in full-size in your garden center. Stick to your subject too; if your area is known for farming, focus on that. Got a tourist attraction nearby? Try to tie into that somehow. If that works, do more of that, then start to branch out slowly.


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