At Civano Nursery in Tucson — which boasts perhaps the largest miniature garden inventory of any independent garden center in Arizona — sales of miniatures were sluggish until about four or five years ago, when general manager Mel Shipley and her team decided to go “all in” on miniatures, she says.
“We realized, if you bring in a new product line and you don’t embrace, it — if you’re just ho-hum about it — you’re going to fail,” Shipley says. Once Civano established a dedicated space for miniatures in their indoor gift shop — including developing custom, in-house displays and branded packaging — sales started taking off.
So, if your sales of miniatures are dropping, it may be time for a new retail approach. Embracing these five top miniature trends can help invigorate your sales and offer inspiration for how best to display and market your miniatures in the coming year.
1. Not just for fairies
While some customers still want whimsical, classical fairies, miniature garden accessories are becoming increasingly realistic and varied — think quaint pastoral cottages, cute woodland animals and rustic camp vignettes. Themed miniatures based on well-known stories, as well as figurines that can appeal across genders and interests — including Vikings, pirates, sea creatures and dragons — are also very popular right now, Shipley says.
For those who still want fairies, top-sellers include figures that incorporate particular hobbies, say, ballet fairies or fairies kicking a soccer ball. “People want things that resonate with their own childhoods, or with the interests of the kids in their lives,” Shipley says.
2. Super with succulents
If your miniature sales are slowing, the fix can be as simple as using inventory you already have, says Arlena Schott, owner of Gathering Gardens in Whitehall, Wis., who leads miniature gardening workshops at IGCs across the country.
“Take the hottest of the hot in gardening — succulents — and integrate them into your miniature garden displays,” says Schott, who is also president of the Miniature and Fairy Garden Society, a Facebook community of miniature garden enthusiasts. “Once people see options of how to implement succulents with the miniatures, suddenly everyone gets excited about miniature gardening again,” she says.
3. Less is more
The marriage between miniature figures and succulents — especially small cacti — is “huge right now,” says Kim Milewski, operations manager at the English Gardens store in Royal Oak, Mich., one of five locations.
In fact, the popularity of succulents has led to a recent surge in miniature displays that are predominantly plant-driven, with just one or two added miniature features to add a small pop of color or visual appeal.
“We’re seeing a trend toward more natural, plant-based displays, with maybe just one little tchotchke rather than a whole scene or gamut of things,” Milewski says. For instance, glass terrarium displays of succulents with a single miniature — say, a gazing globe or a bird bath — can appeal to a wide range of customers who just want to dip their toe into the miniature craze, or who simply want to add a bit of fun to their otherwise traditional display. “Some people just want to hide a little mushroom in there, or maybe a little frog,” Milewski says.
4. Think outside the (small) box
There’s no rule that miniature gardens have to live in miniature containers, Schott says. She encourages garden centers to model incorporating miniatures into existing, large-scale landscapes. “Have a little miniature garden peeking out underneath a big hosta leaf, or underneath your coral bells or amongst the perennials,” she says.
Milewski agrees that larger-scale “miniature” gardens are ripe for potential growth: “We’re seeing more and more people looking for materials to create in-ground, rather than in-pot, fairy gardens, which they can incorporate directly into their landscapes,” she says. She points to miniature Japanese maples, stout shrubs and other smaller, compact nursery stock as ideal companions for these types of in-ground displays.
5. Create depth & texture — and stock variety
For those looking to build a more traditional, container-based miniature display, Schott says the key trend right now is dimension. “People don’t want just a flat little dish garden anymore,” she says. “It’s all about adding little retaining walls, little pathways, giving height and depth to the display.” Even better: the new trend offers garden centers a way to market and sell additional inventory they already have — rocks, sticks, bark, and the like — as a way of adding visual appeal.
In addition to succulents, plants specifically geared toward miniature displays are still popular. “Plant material wise, our little mini flowering plants, such as the mini African violets, calandiva, and cyclamen, have been very steady for us, as are ferns and other little tropicals,” Milewski says. “We even have micro-minis that are scaled down even further for the smallest containers or terrariums.”
Finally, garden centers with successful miniature divisions say it’s important to stock an array of miniature figurines and plant materials to appeal to a wide variety of tastes since miniature gardening is a hobby that brings together everyone, from grandparents to moms and dads and their children.
A key driver in Civano Nursery’s miniature sales success, Shipley says, has been empowering employees in the buying and marketing of their miniature stock. Every year during the off-season, Shipley passes around miniature wholesale catalogs and encourages her entire staff to have a say in the miniatures Civano will carry — even if that means ordering things that wouldn’t have initially appealed to her own tastes.
“When you include your sales team in making decisions, they become excited to sell the product on the floor, because they helped make those selections,” she says. “Plus, having multiple viewpoints allows us to make sure we are selecting products across a wide range of price points and interests, which is key.”