March 2024
Expanding your garden center’s product mix: A personal narrative By Kate Terrell

Consider this new vendor pop quiz before introducing a product into your garden center — where every square foot counts.

As I write this, I am home for two days in between the Dallas Gift Market and Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE). Both are great places to visit existing vendors, place orders, find new products and plan/dream for the coming spring and beyond.

No matter how big your store is, every square foot counts. As an independent retailer, there is an obligation to keep the mix interesting for customers. So how do you decide to take the plunge into a new product or line, or even a new category?

A good start is to add things that make sense with your core product mix. If you are mostly annuals, add pottery, plant stakes and fertilizers. Do well with houseplants? Add indoor pottery, cool plant hangers, care products, plant stands and maybe some fun home décor items that would mix in with a homeowner’s plant collection. Nursery and landscapers could consider patio furniture, outdoor lighting or patio accents like outdoor rugs, pillows and pottery.

When I want to add anything to our product mix, I begin with a new vendor pop quiz:

What are the basic mechanics? Ship time, terms, reliability, quality, reputation, etc. — I ask all this up front so I know if it’s worth my time to look further. Make sure they can answer definitively and work with you. Do a little research online or with other retailers for reviews and comments about the product.

Does it fit our store? Every store has a vibe/culture/feel to it. Does the new category fit into your current feel, or will it stick out as being an odd addition?

Is it priced right? Customers associate your store with a certain price value or expectation. If a new product line is much more expensive or very, very inexpensive (cheap), it may “rub off” on your standard product mix. Can you get the margin out of it that you want without turning off customers?

Is it unique? Why? As we continue to compete with box stores and Amazon, unique products are a secret weapon to keep people returning. It’s nice to have a few things customers can only get from you. We are finding a lot of success with some private label products for this reason.

Does it solve a problem or elicit a reaction? A simple yes or no question.

How much space does it need — and for how long? We all wish for bigger stores, more shelves and more display space; a new product line takes up space. What will you decrease or eliminate to make way for the shiny new line? Or does the new product fill in a gap during an off time of year?

What’s in it for me? We often forget that we have the power to negotiate. What is the vendor willing to give for your space? A free displayer or free freight? Extended terms so you can sell it before you have to pay for it? Free samples so your salespeople can try it out? Don’t forget to ask for advertising co-op dollars and videos/graphics for social media. I always try to get them to commit to ZIP code exclusivity, so I can keep the product unique to me. Remember your floor space comes at a premium, and vendors should be willing to fight for it — or at least partner with you for success.

When all the questions are asked and answered, the last thing to rely on is your gut instinct. Successful retailers and buyers have years of experience in going to market, working their sales floor and talking with their customers. There are some products that come along that you instantly know will be a slam dunk.

Treasure hunting and finding that new game-changer is one of the best parts of garden retail. Develop your own pop quiz, trust your gut, and make it fun. Happy hunting!

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition.

Kate Terrell

Kate Terrell is general manager at Wallace’s Garden Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, a 2023 recipient of the Lawn & Garden Retailer Innovator Awards. Learn more at