Winter seems to drag on long past the expected start of spring — especially in places like Cleveland, where snow often falls until April and sometimes even May. By now, most consumers are bored with winter (whether they’re anxiously planning a garden or just waiting to barbecue), but no one is more excited for spring than independent garden center retailers. For them, melting ice marks the end of the slow season and commences cash registers ringing.

I’ve interviewed dozens of IGC owners about overcoming the challenges of seasonality to sustain steady business all year. But when one local garden supply retailer drew me into its store on a particularly snowy day, and then hooked me on a new hobby, I experienced firsthand the year-round allure of birding.

Brooke Bates started paying more attention to her bird feeder after Landmark’s photo contest was announced, and she snapped several images of birds visiting her yard, including a cardinal and a goldfinch (pictured).
In addition to a free birdhouse, customers who attended the workshop also received a free bag of birdseed, coupons to bring them back later for more birdseed, and brochures about Landmark’s other birding activities to give them more reasons to return.

Last April, an ad in the local coupon clipper tipped me off to a free Build-a-Birdhouse workshop at Landmark Lawn & Garden Supply’s three locations around Cleveland. I pre-registered with a couple of craft-loving friends, and we braved five inches of fresh snow to attend the workshop one Saturday morning.

Landmark Lawn & Garden Supply started hosting free Build-a-Birdhouse and Build-a-Birdfeeder workshops for all ages last year.

Inside, the store was buzzing with energy. Landmark provided wooden birdhouse kits simple enough for 5-year-olds to assemble with a screwdriver and supervision, but just as much fun for adults to build.

“The event was targeted at kids, which is a different demographic than birding usually attracts,” says Bob Ross, Landmark’s resident birding expert. The typical birding customers at Landmark are women in their mid-60s, he says, but the workshop was an intentional effort to spark avian interest in younger customers.

“How do you get a 30-year-old interested in birding?” Ross asks. “Get their 10-year-old interested in birding. They’re going to want to come back once they see a bird at the house they built. They get hooked.”

Of course, Landmark wouldn’t send us away with just a birdhouse, although that was what drew us in. By strategically cross-promoting its other birding supplies and programs, Landmark provided more reasons for attendees to come back again throughout the year.

Before leaving, everyone received a free gift, which included a five-pound bag of the company’s best-selling birdseed blend, along with a coupon for another 10-pound bag valid the following month. (Feeders were available for purchase, too.) Also in the gift bags were brochures about other birding programs, including Ross’s monthly birding newsletter and the rules for his birdwatching contest.

The photo contest consists of three games, each composed of five different birds, which are pictured in the brochure, along with tips for attracting them. If you snap photos of all the birds in any game, you earn a prize — ranging from a seed tube feeder to a 20-pound bag of birdseed to a case of suet cakes.

With my bird feeder filled with Landmark’s birdseed, and a camera near my window at all times, I suddenly paid much more attention to the avian action outside. The birdseed blend brought more colorful species than the black oil sunflower seed I usually supplied — attracting blue jays, cardinals, white breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees and finches of all shades.

If you snap photos of all the birds in any game in the Landmark birding contest, you can earn prizes, including a seed tube feeder, a 20-pound bag of birdseed and a case of suet cakes.

I got Bob’s Birding Newsletter via email every month to see what species he’d spotted recently, learn tips about attracting certain birds, and hear details about upcoming events like birdwatching hikes at the local nature center or birding seminars at Landmark. The newsletters are predominantly educational and packed with birding tips and trivia, but they always mention current sales and special promotions on birding supplies, which Ross says draws customers in regularly.

Though Landmark is perhaps best known in the area for bulk mulch, stone, soil and fertilizer, birding is its top department in the off-season — thanks to expanding merchandise and educational components like the newsletter (which debuted in 2014) and the contest (which launched in 2016).

Landmark has hosted many family-focused events in its 83-year history, but the birding events were new in 2016. The Build-a-Birdhouse workshop was so successful — drawing about 300 people across all three locations — that Landmark held a similar Build-a-Birdfeeder workshop in September, and plans to repeat both again this year.

Brooke is a freelance writer living in Cleveland and a frequent contributor to Garden Center.