[responsive_menu menu_to_use="mobile-menu"]
stock Woman with kokedama in garden center

January 2021
Rev Up an Exhausted Customer Base with New Varieties By Christina Salwitz

Find out how to give new varieties a venue to shine bright!

Collectively, we’ve been through a lot in the last year. Whether you’re a business owner questioning your own future, an employee with kids you’re trying to teach at home while working full time, or a loyal customer who just needs to visit a garden center for a peaceful refuge in the houseplant department, it’s been a challenge we’ve been forced to accept.

While the new year always offers up the latest and greatest new plant selections, many times we in the industry would see them in person at events such as Cultivate, California Spring Trials or maybe just online via articles written to feature and highlight particularly great options. But our favorite customers aren’t privy to the inside scoop we get every year, so how do you get that same enthusiastic momentum for new plants?

Back when I used to speak at Cultivate or similar regional events, one of my favorite things to do is visit the New Plant Showcase, because everyone’s take on which plants are “great” or “top performers” would vary from place to place and climate to climate. It really got my design juices flowing thinking about how I could use some new cultivars in unique and creative ways in my own sales.

So, what’s your plan of attack to introduce brand new plant ideas to your customers and employees? This is the point in the article when you’re thinking, “Seriously? I’m just keeping my head above water here. How can I possibly add one more thing to my plate?”

I hear you — believe me, I get it. But hang in here with me just a bit and let’s see if we can make this a fun opportunity to get your creative juices flowing because the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

When you see these “Top Picks” lists, the first thing that comes to mind for me is “Does anyone really need yet another improved petunia, gerbera, begonia, etc.?” Well, actually if you read into the improvements on many new introductions, there’s some seriously cool breeding that indeed does make a big difference in performance, heat tolerance and disease resistance. But, is that the sexy information that sells them when they’re sitting on the table? I’d wager no.

5 Ways to Promote New Varieties

1. Create buzz.

In your morning team meetings, are you outlining the sales benefits of selling the newer petunia versus the old one? When employees are armed with strong sales “talking points,” they are proven to sell more plants, faster and easier. Often the feedback from employees is something like this: “It was SO easy to sell, they practically sell themselves!” I hear that over and over.


If you’re a grower/retailer, are you still growing the “old version” as well as the “newer version?” Helping your employees understand why or why not is a great education point for sales. If new things just suddenly appear on the table, there’s no excitement nor any context, they’re simply “there.”

2. Make it a challenge.

Once enthusiasm is built up to sell a great new plant, why not make it a contest? A sales goal to sell out a table full of X plant by 2 p.m. is pretty doable when a gift card is on the line. How about a challenge between employees to plant up a three-plant combo pot and the customers judge their favorite?

Not only are there new annuals, but there are new perennials, trees and shrubs, too! So before you think that the only benefit is to the “fluffy” annuals department and those colorful tables, think again. Employees in those departments tend to be even more dubious about new introductions — so when they get excited, you truly have a sales juggernaut if you work it right.

3. Get creative.

The thing about perennials, shrubs and trees is that they can all be sold with any of those fancy annuals, so it’s not as if any of this is segregated to one category. A truly creative display can incorporate key items in outdoor displays just the way you would in a landscape. Reinforce this though with education; bring in your sales reps to help “chum the water” and get them rallied to sell.

Raise the bar for your merchandising and display departments to extend the lengths to which they go to feature new plants. Often the sales reps are very motivated to help you with posters, cardstock and even display ideas. They are a fantastic resource — call on them to help you sell more. Use height, color and texture to raise the bar on effective and energetic displays. Think BIG drama. Hang big kites from the ceiling and float kokedama petunias around them. Or use indoor palms to create a tropical oasis in a desert scene.

4. Emphasize value.

Customers are sophisticated enough these days that just plunking a sign on a table that exclaims “NEW” next to a petunia is not going to cut it. Asking, “Why should I spend $3 to $5 on that petunia versus the old one at the box store that only costs $2?” makes complete sense when no one explains that this new plant needs no deadheading and blooms 5x heavier.

And you know that it’s mentally exhausting to make signage no one reads anyway, so there’s that! I’d have one ear to the sales floor to hear how many times the new plant data was repeated with gusto and be quick to reward it.

5. Be social-media worthy.

Set yourself apart as the place that provides exciting new options that can’t be found anywhere else. And how can these exciting new options be used in exciting new ways? Show them! In fact, make it so exciting that they want to take selfies with them! PinstaGram requires your unique creativity to feed your feed. Think wild and wacky here! Hang new varieties of succulents from the trees! Show a fabulous new begonia with trendy new houseplants. Display a mass of unique and colorful foliage in a contemporary way with a spiral walk in the center.

Imagine you’re putting on a show, because you are selling tickets to one every day when you open your doors. New plants are the undiscovered starlets and handsome leading men that no one has ever seen on the red carpet before. Give them a venue to shine bright!

Christina Salwitz

Christina Salwitz, the Personal Garden Coach, is a container designer, public speaker, horticultural guidance counselor, service provider for The Garden Center Group and photojournalist based in Renton, Washington. She can be reached at [email protected]


Get fast and free information about the products and services featured within the magazine »
Get one year of Lawn & Garden Retailer in both print and digital editions for free.

Subscribe Today »

Interested in reading the print edition of Lawn & Garden Retailer? Preview our digital edition »

Be sure to check
out our sister site.