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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Vol. 77 No. 12

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Are Tropical Plants Your Next Cash Cow?
| Donna Gardner
>> Published Date: 12/30/2013
Timing & Variety
It’s always a good idea to place an order two or three weeks before spring. If you live in a city with a college or university, another great time to place an order is when the students return after summer break. They’re moving into new residences with new opportunities for plants. Don’t overlook holidays, festivals and graduations as good sales periods. Tropical plants can be sold all four seasons.

Pothos, ferns, palms and ficus are always popular. Some sought after air cleaners are Swedish ivy, mother-in-laws tongue, spider plant, dracaena, peace lily, weeping fig and rubber tree. The most popular plants right now, hands down, are cacti and succulents.

Pictured: This eye-catching display at the entrance of Delhi Gardens near Cincinnati, Ohio, is a great example of one way to merchandise tropical plants.

Size Matters
When ordering your green plants, get a mix of sizes. Don’t be afraid to get a few 10-in. and 12-in. palms. The minimum order is one plant in these larger sizes. If your garden center carries fairy gardens and/or terrariums, get some 3-in. material. It’s possible to order assorted cases of
3-in., 4-in. and 6-in. material. They don’t mix sizes, but will send a very nice assortment of the same size plants.

Cost & Shipper Minimums
If you’re new to buying in tropicals, here are some basics: a typical minimum of a shipping company is 100 cu. ft. Some shippers have a larger minimum and some have less. The shipping trucks go to all the growers and pick up your order. This step requires nothing of you; the broker takes care of the coordination of all the pickups. Most brokers will ship anywhere. Be sure to have enough help on hand to unload and unpack the order when it arrives. Do a count and make sure all your “pieces” have arrived. One tip: request the broker fax or email the shipping list a day or two ahead of the shipment so prices can be set and tags prepared before the shipment arrives. Typically, the shipping cost is about 30% of the cost of the plants.

Displays & Add-Ons
Make displays that compliment merchandise you’re already selling. Designing a display with air cleaning plants and a sign that informs customers of their use always generates sales. Every now and again, change up the displays and keep them fresh.

There are endless possibilities of add-on sales when carrying tropical plants. Upscale pots, baskets, saucers, pot feet, organic and non-organic fertilizers, and potting soil are all items customers can upgrade. You can also offer repotting, for a fee.

Another possibility is event rental; it’s downright lucrative! A palm that you bought for $20 retails at $50, but if you rent it for 40% of the retail price for 24 hours, you’ve now made an extra $20. If you rent it for two nights, the charge is 50% of the retail price. They need all their plants to look good for said event, so they upgrade their original black pots to a nice enamel pot for a 40% fee. People never rent only one plant for an event. Most clients require delivery and pickup, and of course there is a fee.

Overwintering & Care
Offering winter storage is one more way to make money with tropical plants. People are attached to their larger plants, but have nowhere to keep them in the winter months. In colder climates, clients start bringing them to the greenhouse in September or October. Keep accurate records of plants and owners. Put a “SOLD” tag on each plant, with date of arrival, name, address, phone number and any extras requested, such as repotting or trimming. Make one person in charge of winter storage. If someone requests winter storage space on the organizer’s day off, take their information for a return phone call. Space and plants must be coordinated, lest you run out of room. Pickup and delivery can be offered, for a fee.

Winter storage consists of watering, fertilizing and pest control. We charge $7.50 per plant per month. My method for insect control is to dose hibiscus, bougainvillea and ficus with imidacloprid when they come in the door. The fee for a dose of imidacloprid is $5.00 per plant. This dose is a requirement. If they need to be trimmed or repotted, there’s an extra fee; always discuss this with the owner.

For 1,150 sq. ft. we make around $5,500 for six months of winter storage, not including all the extras. That’s equal to selling 1,222 4.5-in. plants at $4.50. Because winter storage plants don’t return home until April or May, space must be saved for them. Be sure to tell your customers who buy tropical plants that winter storage is offered. Don’t forget to update your social media page with your new service.
Here’s another idea: vacation care. Charge customers the same price as winter storage. If they’re going to be gone two weeks, charge them $3.75 per plant per two weeks. This is a great time to suggest a repot or a trim.  

Can you see all the possibilities? Will tropical plants be your next cash cow? GP

Donna Gardner was the greenhouse manager at Sunrise Garden Center in Lawrence, Kansas, which closed in the fall after the owner retired. She can be reached at dgardner006@gmail.com.

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