PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SILL

People often wear their hearts on their sleeves, and garden center customers are no exception. The millennial and Gen-Z crowds are big proponents of self-identity, and many people who fall between these demographics are likely to sport their personalities through apparel, jewelry and other accessories. If you want to capture more add-on sales at the register, it might be time to think about offering some plant-branded merch around the store. Eliza Blank, founder of The Sill, and Leah Flanagan, owner of The Forest Flower, share their strategies for making these side items a steady success.

Customer concepts

As customers once aligned with brand identities, they’re now identifying with concepts. But if you’re savvy enough, retailers can appeal to both.

“Customers are trying to demonstrate their love of plants because ‘plant parenthood,’ if you will, is actually becoming a part of people’s identity. You’re seeing it on dating profiles and social media profiles that people want to self-identify as a plant parent,” Blank says. “They’re putting it on their shirts, their hats, their streetwear.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SILL

The Sill offers T-shirts, tote bags, posters, jewelry and enamel pins, and customers are lapping them up. While they may not be looking for these items at first, she says they’re an easy add-on item because they increase the average value order. This can be a key tactic for garden centers toying with the age-old question: How do we get customers to buy more?

“It’s not about just trying to sell more plants. It’s giving someone, who you already know is interested in plants, another thing to buy,” she says.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SILL

These items also make nice gifts, and it can be a good way to cross-merchandise with other departments.

“I think it’s an unexpected, delightful moment for customers when they can buy something that expresses their love of plants,” she says. “Especially when they’re gifting something to a plant lover, because the plant lover presumably has a lot of plants, but maybe they don’t have a t-shirt that says they love plants.”Over at The Forest Flower in Indianapolis, Indiana, Flanagan says it’s all about curation and presentation. As an avid shopper herself, she stocks items that she’d like to see as a consumer, and often.

“One of the things I don’t like when I go into shops is when you go in a couple of times in a month and it’s the same stuff, so you don’t go back for six months. I knew I wanted to sell things that maybe everyone has, but then sell a lot of things that you don’t see everywhere else,” she says.

Meandering through the aisles of The Forest Flower, customers can find unique wares worthy of any plant shopper. Flanagan offers artisan candles, woven baskets, terrariums, pins, stickers, tote bags and jewelry, among other things. She’s also a big supporter of fair trade and offers handcrafted items created by independent artisans and small vendors.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SILL

Curated variety

Larger garden centers might not be able to sell these types of items because they can’t buy them in bulk from their suppliers, and Flanagan notes the buying process can be fairly time-consuming because they must choose from a smaller pool of specialty vendors. She also has to buy in smaller quantities. Faire, an online wholesaler that sells from independents (she describes it as a “wholesale Etsy”) can be a good supplier for these types of items.

“I love it when I sell out of stuff and can buy new things. Sometimes I reorder the same things and sometimes I don’t because I always want it to be different. I love it when people say, ‘I was just here and now you have different stuff!’ I have people who will come in every single week,” she says.

Blank says that they’re mindful of the materials they use for their apparel. Offering a vantage of price points is important at The Sill, but the material also has to be of good quality.

“We didn’t want to sell cheap T-shirts. We wanted to sell shirts that people actually wanted to wear, and were comfortable in. For example, the sweatshirts that we sell are Champion, and the Champion brand had a bit of trend resurgence,” she says.

The Sill looked to the market landscape to dictate what customers would be willing to pay for these types of items. Crediting an October 2020 New York Times article titled “Less Posing, More Pruning: Stylish Gardening Clothes Arrive,” Blank says that gardening apparel is becoming more stylized and highbrow. Certainly, a step up from the pajamas people got used to wearing during quarantine.

The Forest Flower, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, carries a lot of handcrafted and fair trade items from independent vendors to appeal to boutique crowds.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE FOREST FLOWER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE FOREST FLOWER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE FOREST FLOWER

“I think that also, it just lends itself to this new work from home situation. Nobody’s getting really dressed up right now. It suits working in the garden, but it can be a little bit more stylized, a little hipper to wear out and about. It’s more functional,” she says.

The pandemic also impacted supply at The Forest Flower, but working with smaller U.S.-based businesses has been beneficial because amid shortages, she says can always find something for the shop.

“The margins aren’t as high, but I also love that a lot of these brands have stories. A lot of them are women-owned, or they’re small businesses. And COVID has been so weird. Lowe’s, Walmart, Target — they just killed it. But I think people like to come to my place where everything’s a little more authentic, a little more local,” she says.

Flanagan says she gets a lot of traffic from millennials, who like to spend hours browsing the shop and pick up three-for-$5 crystals or the vintage-style Cavallini posters, which go for about $4-5.

“I’m glad they love our shop. And then you have the people who come and spend $800 and never look at a price tag. Those are the people you really love!” she laughs.

Flanagan buys in small quantities and rotates stock constantly so customers always have new options to browse through.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE FORREST FLOWER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE FOREST FLOWER

Flanagan’s space is colorful, and the side of their building even features a pink coneflower mural by artist Jules Muck, an Instagram-worthy pitstop for many shoppers. They also have two miniature donkeys onsite — Little Red and Burrito (for the curious, they even have a Live Donkcam, where customers can scroll to the bottom of The Forest Flower's homepage and watch what they’re up to during the day).

If an IGC wants to test out these items, she says they should test buy these products in small batches. Both Blank and Flanagan keep a close pulse on the market by listening to the community and keeping tabs on social media trends. They also have practical advice for garden centers who might want to start trying out these types of add-ons.

“People spend $10 on a plant, but then they’ll buy three $4 stickers because they just sit at the front of the shop. Just finds a little space, maybe closer to the register, with just some really cute impulse items,” she says.

Blank suggests that garden centers ask their customers if they think anything is missing from their assortment. She also says it’s important to take note of customers coming in through the door, and see if your business stocks what they repeatedly request. This is data owners can use to start carrying items, be it gloves or tees or earrings.

“It’s just incredible as a cultural phenomenon how plants continue to become a uniquely identifying trait in people’s lives,” Blank says.