Will You Play It By the Numbers? By Tim Hodson

The recently concluded holiday season was a challenging for many retailers — and big growers. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), total holiday sales in the United States rose a meager three percent to $469.9 billion. And of the different growers I have talked to, most have confirmed this.

It seems like everyone had very different levels of expectation for the 2007 holiday season. As the economy continued to slow down throughout 2007, I’m not too sure if anyone really knew what to expect. But now that the numbers are coming in, it comes as no surprise that overall poinsettia sales were soft.

Even though there were some nationwide advertising campaigns for poinsettias this year, it seems like some of the big box retailers really had a hard time selling big numbers. According to Jim Barrett’s article, “Another Year with Poinsettias” on page 14, shrink numbers at the big box retailers were between 30 and 70 percent.

And it wasn’t just the big boxes that struggled. Right after the New Year, our sister publication, Lawn & Garden Retailer, surveyed more than 100 independent garden centers to learn how their 2007 poinsettia sales were compared to 2006. The responses pretty much reflect what the NRF reported and what growers told me: It wasn’t the best season for anybody. Of independent garden center owners, 46 percent said their poinsettia sales were down, 26 percent reported an increase in sales and the remaining 28 percent said there was no change.

Obviously, there were some success stories in certain stores and geographic regions, but overall, 2007 will not be remembered as the year of the poinsettia.

What Will You Do with the Data?

The numbers don’t lie, so maybe this is where you can use pay by scan (and other retailer-provided data) to your advantage. Pay by scan, love it or hate it, can provide you with some key information to help you with the critical decisions you need to make when you are planning your poinsettia crops.

Look at all of the data. Which varieties worked? Which ones didn’t? How were they merchandised in the stores? When did they sell? Which stores outperformed others? If you have the answer to questions like these straight from the retail floor, you will be able to make some very informed decisions.

This applies to all of the crops that you are selling at the big retailers. As U.S. consumers continue to trudge through an economic malaise, NRF is predicting only a 3.5 percent increase in sales for all of 2008. This means your pay by scan and related data could be your most valuable tools this year.

I would love to hear about your 2007 poinsettia sales and any of your pay by scan experiences — whether they’re success or horror stories. Shoot me an e-mail at [email protected], and let me know what you think.

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