Spring sales booming at area lawn and garden centers

Thursday, April 15, 2010
Pamela Blackburn buys marigolds at Travelers Gazebo Gardens in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday to plant in her garden. "They are nature's insecticide," she said. Blackburn got the large, extra-strength variety to put around her tomato plants to keep out cutworms and control insects in her garden. (Fred Lynch)

Area lawn and garden centers are seeing exceptional spring sales as people start to spruce up their homes for the season.

Warm and dry weather in Southeast Missouri along with increased consumer confidence can be credited for the sales spike, according to local lawn and garden center operators. Lowe's Home Improvement Center is seeing a dramatic increase in sales this spring compared to last year at this time, according to store manager Butch Rabbass.

"We've seen a triple-digit-percent increase," Rabbass said. Big-ticket items like lawn mowers and grills are moving out quickly. "Anything higher ticket is doing well," Rabbass said.

Every spring, Lowe's hires additional seasonal workers but this year will add more positions than last year. The store currently has more than 180 employees, Rabbass said.

Smaller lawn and garden retailers also are reaping the benefits of this spring's spending.

Hanging baskets of New Guinea impatiens are among the plants that are selling well at Sunny Hill Gardens and Florist in Cape Girardeau.

"The economy is getting better," said Marvin Wormington Jr., owner of The Garden's Edge in Jackson. "More people are putting money back into their homes now."

Wormington said that since he opened Garden's Edge in 2000, he's seen steady sales increases every year. That was until 2009, when he saw his first decline. He said 2010 is off to a better start.

"We're just now gearing up, but we have been overly swamped in comparison to last year," he said. "Most people are making their decisions to go ahead and spend money."

Wormington's observation is in line with a report Wednesday by the Commerce Department that retail sales rose for the third straight month in March. Sales rose a higher than expected 1.6 percent nationwide last month, according to the Commerce Department. It appears consumer spending, which powers about 70 percent of the economy, is on the rebound. Recently consumers cut back sharply and boosted their savings, but now some appear to be spending more freely.

Mike Obermiller, owner of Travelers Gazebo Gardens and Pet Center in Cape Girardeau, said the plant and pet industries usually do better than most in tough economic times. "We see an increase because people are staying home. They're not traveling or out doing other things," he said. He's had record aquarium sales in recent months, too.

During the past two weeks, he said they've been busy all day, every day.

"There's plenty of traffic flow," he said.

People believe the worst is over when it comes to the economy, Rabbass said.

"If they still have a job, they think they'll be able to retain it," he said. Rabbass anticipates the increase in spending will continue throughout the lawn and garden season, making this one of the best in recent years.

At Sunny Hill Gardens & Florist, customers are buying more vegetable plants this year, said owner Paul Schnare.

"A lot of people want to do things like gardening with their kids and grandkids," Schnare said. They're also hoping to save money on their grocery bill this summer.

Recent reports of food-borne illnesses found in produce grown in other countries are motivating people to grow their own vegetables rather than buying them in the supermarket. "They just taste better, too," Schnare said.

Sales are up storewide in what Schnare calls an "exceptional" start to spring.

A recent shipment of tropical flowering bougainvillea plants sold out in one day, Schnare said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent addresses:

206 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau MO

3619 N. High St., Jackson MO

104 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau MO

3440 Lowes Drive, Cape Girardeau MO

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