All Things Gardening forum: My plants are being kept in containers for too long!

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Jan 21, 2018 12:15 AM CST
Greetings Gardeners!
I have a problem that is both plant related and business related. I am a manager at a nursery located in Zone 7b. I maintain and sell the large containerized plants (5/7/10gal). The 'Backlot' as it is named is a beautiful open area with a handful of established shade trees. I love my work and take great pride in it.

The problem is this: We overwinter an alarming amount of containers each year and have a constant accumulation of stock going back all the way from 2016-2010! The ownership won't entertain the idea of discounting older plants. What I see is an alarming trend. The newest stock sells the best, usually selling 85% of the total. The 1 y/o stock sells at about a 50-60% rate. The 2-3 y/o stock begins to look diminished and sells at about a 20% rate. Once we get to the 4-6 y/o stock the sales are abysmal. These older plants become rootbound and unhappy. We do size up rootbound plants, but then slap an unrealistic price jump on it and you have to account for the average 8 months it takes to establish before selling. I am currently awaiting my 2018 deliveries and am still sitting on way too much stock.

From my experience, most sale-ready plants should only remain containerized for about a year. After enough time has elapsed the problems with the look and care of a potted plant grow rapidly. I want to be selling good looking, functional, and stuctually sound plants! I think the refusal by the ownership to discount and move old stock results in three big problems. 1: A lack of physical space for new stock. 2: Additional labor and resources to maintain old stock. 3: The eventual and probable loss of plants and profit.

What I'm looking for is insight from other nursery operators, owners, and customers. What practices does your local nursery use? Do you have any information about this scenario? I'm building a case to show and persuade the owner into discounting the older plants for a marginal profit and move on. Thanks!
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
Houseplants Organic Gardener Composter Region: Gulf Coast Miniature Gardening Native Plants and Wildflowers
Tropicals Butterflies Garden Sages Cactus and Succulents Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Jan 21, 2018 6:32 AM CST
I don't see why the business model for a nursery would be any different than for any other retail business that must make a profit to survive. Each square foot needs to generate a certain amount of money. If the owner does not know this figure, that could be part of the problem - *IF* the business is having financial difficulties overall. There should be accounting procedures to depreciate these older items so they don't inaccurately reflect the value of the inventory.

If the owner does not see any of this as a problem, they probably know a lot more than you do about its' financials.

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Name: Sam
Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Jan 21, 2018 7:45 AM CST
I work for a company that is hired by a big box store chain to go in and assist their employees in their nurseries. Towards the end of the season, during the last few weeks that is still a good idea to fall plant trees and perennials, they began to put everything on sale. This does have the unfortunate side effect of training customers to wait. Although, people do come back in early spring once they see it survived and now want to fill out their gardens.

Every square foot of retail space has to pay for itself. I like to think of each item on the floor is renting the space it takes up. If it stays too long, then no matter if you sell it or not you have lost money. I do a good deal of work, moving stuff around and highlighting plants that need to move out. This thinking does not really work for a bookstore, but they have a few sections that rotate out constantly and then pays for everything else. People come in to browse and like the idea of a large selection, and then most end up buying the same books as everyone else. (I also have managed bookstores) But, you don't have to worry about a pot bound book. But even then, you have to get rid of stuff that has not moved after a while.

No matter how far you jumped the price on those large pots, I don't think they will pay for themselves once you factor in their rent. Then add the wages of employees taking care of them, the water cost, and I assume to keep them going you have had to fertilize them. Then factor in the loss of space to something that would sell quickly. Those older pots may already have a hundred dollars or more of sunk costs per plant that will never be recouped, plus draining future earnings. A good small business owner will know all these statistics and will not get caught in such a trap. But we are all human, and it easy to miss the big picture.

If I were consulting, I would suggest that a builder be found that needs to fill in a lot of yards with landscaping, and a deal be made. The owner must have such contacts if he has been doing this for some time. It sounds horrible to gardeners, but it may be better to throw them away then to continue to pay for these plants.

I don't know your situation, but it can be difficult to gently lead someone toward a better way of managing a nursery. Money has a way of becoming an emotional issue and can cloud judgement. I would find a way to estimate how much it costs to maintain each of these plants, and then find a way to gently point out your research. Maybe. It all depends on the personality of your boss. There are some people you can't just tell anything.

Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
Jan 21, 2018 11:53 AM CST
Makes me think of Doc Downings, quoteable quote. ( Change a man's thought, against his will, he's of the same thought still. )
I wouldn't peruse the effort.
All you can do, is upset your boss. Possibly get fired.

Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
Jan 21, 2018 3:30 PM CST
Several nurseries around here bank there hold over out of the pots, or in, in some type of mulch.
As we are in cold country they always do more winter protection than you should have to most years,
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
Jan 21, 2018 5:47 PM CST
I would imagine with that business there is a depreciation factor you can claim on taxes. Perhaps this element eliminates much of the loss. Maybe the older plants have already been written off and the owner does not "need" to sell them now, for his bottom line.
Name: Sam
Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
Jan 21, 2018 6:27 PM CST
For better or worse, You can't depreciate inventory that you are going to sell to customers. I suppose you can make some savings by deducting the amount of inventory from your gross sales at tax season. Any business I have run, someone else dealt with that.

The problem with running a nursery is that one bad looking plant, can make the rest of the good stuff look suspect. I could see someone wanting to overwinter, say, some spring flowering shrubs for one extra season perhaps, but not so many that it would interfere with new shipments. Costs for maintaining much beyond that would quickly eat into any profits, or so I think. Anyone who keeps great looking containers at home knows that they require a decent amount of looking after to stay healthy and vibrant.

From my experience, many of those who run nurseries feel actual pain when they have to clearance plants. I would certainly suggest keeping it light-hearted when approaching anyone with such suggestions. Or just approach with "here are some issues that I see, do you have suggestions?", and let them come up with the great idea.
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
Jan 21, 2018 10:01 PM CST
That makes a lot of sense.
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Jan 23, 2018 10:58 AM CST
You don't need more "proof" from other nurseries. All you can do is explain to the owner, as you have done here, exactly what your concerns are. He will either share your concerns or he has other concerns or another agenda. But that is the owners prerogative and decision.

Do your best with what you have and don't worry about profit levels if the owner does not see that as your responsibility. If the way that the owner conducts business is too disturbing to you, then consider finding another employer.

Many years ago, I had difficulty with business owners who did not share my priorities. So, I started my own business.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
Contact me directly at [email protected]
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

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