Every year at Hyannis Country Garden, a shopper comes in and orders a custom decorated balsam wreath that will be unique and look good on her teal-colored door. This is the wreath that was done for this customer last year. It retailed for around $75.00.

Like it or not, we live in a time when every supermarket and box store is selling wreaths, cut Christmas trees and poinsettias. In many areas, even the nonprofits are in the holiday decorating business as scout groups or school band boosters have pop-up wreath and tree sales. How can an IGC stand out in such crowds during the holiday season? Here are a few ideas for offering customers a distinctive, custom Christmas.

Go local or add benefits.

In a world where most holiday decorations come from China and our greens are often shipped from the West Coast, one way to distinguish your garden center is to put an emphasis on local materials. Partner with local landscapers or tree services and arrange for the delivery of locally cut evergreens when they take down shrubs and trees. In many areas, landscape companies are asked to clean up pinecones or lichen-coated branches and these too can be used for locally sourced decorating supplies.

A local twist can be put on the decorations you sell, even when they are coming from out of the area. Adding locally themed ingredients to a standard balsam wreath or mixed western greens wreath offers your customers one-of-a-kind decorations that can be individually tweaked according to their needs.

Offer wreaths that are uniquely decorated to appeal to special interests and themes. People increasingly enjoy using decorations that bring added benefits as well; create wreaths or swags that incorporate woven bird pockets or birdhouses that can be left up for a winter refuge. Make the bows on such pieces easily removable so that after the holidays, bright ribbons can be removed but the bird shelters are left in place.

Instead of the usual boxwood tree, use the same cut greens in floral foam to make trees created of mixed greens typical in your area. These are often richer in appearance and, because they are made of freshly cut greens, they can last longer than a tree made from boxwood that has been cut for weeks.

Find what people need.

Although box stores and supermarkets sell wreaths and trees, they don’t usually deliver them to their customers, let alone put them in place. Not only can garden centers provide such services, they can charge for them as well. Common decorating jobs that many people need are tree set up, garlands hung on light posts and fences, and porch containers filled with greens. Decide what services your store will offer and write up a menu that lists the costs. When the customer agrees, take photos of any installation jobs and post on your social media networks and website.

Gale’s Garden Center in Westlake, Ohio, gives their customers a warm welcome during the holidays with free coffee.

Consider B2B.

Approach retail businesses about creating custom wreaths, swags or other décor that are festive but also say something about that business. A swag might be attached to a wooden canoe paddle for the local sporting goods store, for example, or a wreath decorated with nuts and bolts for the hardware store. Make a few small, laminated tags at your office supply store using a color copier and a laminating machine so you can print a tag with your IGC’s name and logo, along with the words “custom theme wreaths.” Then offer some examples of theme décor in your store.


Create a family experience.

Yes, our clients can buy a wreath or tree at many locations, but an IGC has the opportunity to turn this into an annual holiday tradition. Offer shoppers a cup of hot apple cider and popcorn on the weekends. Have a fire pit stoked where kids can roast marshmallows and make s’mores after picking out their tree. Use hay bales left from the fall to create cozy selfie stations among the cut Christmas trees. Decorate a tree for the birds, showcasing how people can recycle a tree after the holidays so that it provides food and shelter for wildlife, while highlighting the bird products you sell at the same time.

It might be difficult to compete with chain stores by price, but it’s possible to give our customers unique experiences and customized decorations that they can’t find elsewhere.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com