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Skaggs: Garden center owners hope for strong holiday sales

POSTED: January 20, 2008 5:04 a.m.

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 enact a total outdoor watering ban.

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.

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 annual 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 business, but it is also the time of year 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."

Locally, area garden centers and landscape businesses are struggling as well. Kellie Bowen, owner of Full Bloom Nursery in Clermont has seen her business decline tremendously since midsummer.

"Business has just completely died," Bowen said. "This hit that our industry is taking has been just devastating."

In an effort to recoup some of their losses, Full Bloom Nursery is offering a variety of items for holiday gift-giving. "We have some unique bird baths and bird bath planters that people have been buying for Christmas gifts," Bowen said.

Bowen also said that the nursery is stocked with living Christmas trees that can be decorated and used indoors for the holidays and then planted outside. These include Green Giant arborvitae, cryptomeria, Murray cypress, Norway spruce and white pine.

"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."

Thanks to Faith Peppers, UGA CAES News Editor. Billy Skaggs is Hall County extension agent. His column appears biweekly and at gainesvilletimes.com.



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