EU: Those Christmas feelings start when November ends and the days get shorter. But garden centres start preparing for Christmas as early as January. How do you deal with the Christmas frenzy? Garden retailers and garden centre consultants from Switzerland, Germany and the UK have the details.
Christian Rauser, marketing manager at family-owned garden centre Ernst Meier in Zurich says, “It all starts with visiting Christmas trade fairs like Christmasworld and talking to suppliers, both of decorative and green materials. In the first six months of the year we buy our Christmas goods. In May, a special project team starts preparing for our Christmas presentation. By August and September everything has been delivered and temporarily stored in one of our halls.”
By the end of September the presentation framework at the Swisse garden centre is ready. Then it is time for decorators, florists and gardeners to fill the shelves with product.
Rauser says, “In the subsequent weeks our normal merchandise is removed so that our central hall is free to create our Christmas presentation. This year our opening date is October 23. Of course the weather plays a role. It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit when temperatures rise above 20°Celsius. But sales really take off when they get below 10°. Until that point we offer our clients our regular selection of products. When temperatures drop, it’s time for Poinsettia and Helleborus.”
This Meier’s presentation is a classical one. The theme is ‘Our Christmas,’ sharing the warmth of olden days; more natural colours and less bling-bling than in previous years. But it’s not only about ‘the good old days. Rauser adds, “We will also showcase new international trends and surprising accessories. It’s connecting tradition with innovation and about the love for detail when decorating for Christmas.
“Although our Christmas presentation is huge, it only fills a quarter of our garden centre. If you want to visit us for our regular products, you’ll have every opportunity to do so. But you will find the spirit of Christmas pervades our entire garden centre.
“Being a family-owned company, we are passionate about being in touch with our customers. Members of the Meier family are here on a day-to-day basis so we get lots of direct feedback from customers. So it’s easy to get reactions to our Christmas presentation. It makes us happy when customers are happy with the quality and aesthetics of our assortment. When that’s the case, we can count on healthy sales, satisfied customers and a commercially successful Christmas season.”
There are differences in the ways various countries celebrate Christmas. There is the midwinter theme and the story about the Christmas child. But differences in celebrating Christmas have commercial consequences says garden centre expert Oliver Mathys.
“In Europe, the religious heritage of Christmas is more alive. The Americans started storytelling, turning Christmas into a fairy-tale. Central European Christmas is about celebrating with family with a relatively modest Christmas tree. Anglo-Saxon Christmas is about Santa Claus. In Germany and Switzerland, the emphasis is on the product. In Britain and the US it’s on the story.”
In English garden centres (and other countries are following), the entire selection revolves around Christmas. Not only in the Christmas presentation and assortment, but also in the Christmas treats you find in the garden centres’ restaurants. It is also typically British that older people get discounts on their Christmas purchases. This is clearly an expression of the social function that garden centres have in the UK.
Mathys notes, “Flowers and plants are popular during the Christmas season. When the British or Americans decorate their homes, they use Poinsettias, Hippeastrums and orchids and also artificial decorations. Celebrating Christmas is increasingly an opportunity to impress others.”
“For UK garden centres, Christmas is very important,” says Tammy Allen of Millbrook Garden Centre in Kent. “Most will have a Santa’s grotto which opens during the autumn holidays and they organise breakfast or tea with Santa. There are also live reindeer and all sorts of other entertainment. Some centres have eight Father Christmases to cope with the demand. It is generally accepted that garden centres offer the best Christmas experience of all retailers. Some centres have a bigger turnover in December than in May.”