Published on 12/04/07

Holidays make or break for garden center owners

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Garden center owners have watched extreme weather pummel their businesses this year. They hope the holiday season will end the troubled year on a greener note.

Georgia had a harsh freeze on Easter weekend. It was followed by a summertime drought that has forced many cities and counties to enforce watering restrictions. North Georgia has a total ban on outdoor watering.

“This double whammy to the green industry in both of its peak seasons for retail sales has been devastating,” said Todd Hurt, a specialist with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture in Griffin, Ga.

Big 'green' losses

Georgia’s green industry has had its total revenue cut almost in half this year, according to an October survey by the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council. It has a $6 billion annually impact on Georgia’s economy and employs 80,000 people.

“I’m running as thin as I can to get as much profit as I can,” said Terry Kraft, who owns LawnSouth located in Fulton County.

Kraft knows some landscape and nursery businesses have recently gone out of business or are facing serious financial trouble. Unlike some, his company also offers Christmas decorating services. He hopes this will save the year for him.

“Thank goodness for the Christmas décor business,” he said. “If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I would have done to be honest.”

Winter is usually slow for businesses, he said. But it is when he needs money to get ready for spring planting.

“We were facing equipment purchases we needed to make during this season,” he said. “Without the Christmas décor business, we would have been faced with keeping the old clunky stuff. If the drought continues we wouldn’t survive next year without the extra business.”

The Christmas décor business is off a little this year, too. Kraft blames the slump in the housing market, which has hurt expendable income for some.

“Even the Christmas business for clients who are affected by the housing market is off,” Kraft said. “Many of those clients like the bankers, loan officers, mortgage brokers and realtors, didn’t return for the Christmas business this year.”

Back to nature

But recent media reports about high lead levels in some imported artificial greenery may turn holiday decorators to more natural décor this year, Hurt said. He urges shoppers to buy holiday plants and greenery from local suppliers.

“Any traffic in nursery centers right now is a holiday gift,” Hurt said. “The drought has already proven to be the Grinch that stole business. Hopefully, the holidays will get customers back in the stores.”

(Faith Peppers is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.