Back in college, I couldn’t afford to indulge my orchid obsession with any regularity, but I could count on my then-boyfriend, now-husband, to bestow upon me one or two blooming orchid plants for Valentine’s Day each year. He would visit an independent garden center known to have an excellent selection of orchids, even though it was more than an hour’s drive away. St. Valentine’s was an exciting day for me. Would I have been happy with cut flowers? Sure. I like flowers, as well. But as a plant enthusiast, the orchids were impressive and earned him quite a few points with me. Orchids meant he tried.

Valentine’s Day can inspire the warm fuzzies or feelings of dread, depending on the state of your love life at the given moment or how late you have waited to buy a gift. As a garden center owner, manager or employee, holidays can have the same nerve-inducing effect on your emotional state, depending on how V-Day sales have been for you over the last few years. Many garden centers are struggling to find new approaches to the holiday and better ways to make robust profits.

Valentine’s Day used to be relatively easy, especially for garden centers with successful floral departments. These days, cut flower arrangements don’t garner the kind of foot traffic or revenue the way they did in years past — at least not your standard, cut flower arrangements, given that customers can pick up a decent arrangement or average, blooming plant at their local grocery stores. The trick is offering something different enough to inspire customers to seek Valentine gifts from your garden center, rather than the corner Kroger store.

After I shut down the floral department of the independent garden center I ran in Dallas, I had to look for alternatives to ensure that our center still capitalized on Valentine’s Day gift-seekers. My first step was to rely on the core identity of our business and the direction we were moving with our entire product selection. How could I make what we do best even better for special occasions? Our garden center was the place to go if you wanted to find unique plant material and a lot of it. Cool plants, cool containers, cool stuff. The trick was to take our core identity and repackage it for any given holiday.

If your store doesn’t offer or specialize in cut flowers, create unique Valentine’s Day arrangements with unexpected items, like succulents.

At the time, resurgence in excitement over terrariums was on the upswing, and we’d already pushed for new terrarium-related sales. So instead of trying to temporarily push cut flowers, a product category I’d removed from our operation, we created specialized Valentine’s Day terrariums using all sorts of fun, holiday-specific containers. Instead of bringing in the typical extra floral help for the holiday, I contracted a designer to put together amazing mixed arrangements with both high-end containers and one-of-a-kind vessels. These arrangements included live plants and sculptural elements, and the price tags were well above average.We also set up special delivery options just for the holiday. For folks looking to stand out from the crowd and score creativity points with their plant-loving partners, our unique and beautiful offerings struck a loud chord — and that’s exactly how we marketed them. Gifts that make you look like you tried.

If your IGC doesn’t have a stellar floral department or an active marketing budget for cut flowers, then you can’t expect to drive traffic with cut flowers just because it’s Valentine’s Day. You can’t push a square peg through a heart-shaped hole. The same goes for any sort of product line you don’t already do or don’t do well. Focus on your strengths.

Make sure your Valentine’s Day arrangements include gift tags and beautiful containers.

Perhaps you’re known for carrying unique, high-end garden sculpture or local, handmade pottery. Maybe you have a reputation for having the best selection of Bonsai around. If your garden center is big into edibles, then mixed floral and live arrangements that include edibles, which are hot right now, are a good bet. And if you’re known for carrying a wide or specialized selection of orchids, then that’s where you need to focus your energy in order to boost your Valentine’s Day sales. Take what you do best and give it a holiday-themed boost.

Remember that gift-giving holidays often bring in customers who are not, themselves, fans of gardening or plants in general. These non-green folks are often the season’s real target audience. You may need to go outside the boundaries of your normal advertising outlets to gain the extra event exposure you’ll need. Think about where these non-traditional customers do the rest of their shopping, spend their leisure time, which radio stations they listen to, the sports teams they follow, and the like.

Put yourself in the buyers’ shoes and make it relevant and easy for them. Your job is to offer products that will make them look like they put great thought into their gifts, because ultimately, it’s the thought that counts … but a gorgeous orchid never hurt.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com