Good Earth Garden Center Manager Robin Boutilier

Good Earth Garden Center Manager Robin Boutilier arranges a display of pumpkins, a big fall seller along with pottery and other holiday decorations.

Like the plants it sells, Good Earth Garden Center appears to be dormant in the winter. 

But behind the scenes, Good Earth’s general manager Robin Boutilier is nurturing the business and preparing it to blossom again in the spring.

Many seasonal businesses like Good Earth experienced strong summer sales as people stayed at home and sought to enhance their nests.

Now they’re finding new ways to boost business during the slower seasons and planning ahead for next year.

“There’s a lot to do in the winter,” Boutilier said. 

Much of Good Earth’s merchandise is ordered six to nine months in advance. Boutilier said she was already working on a shrubbery order for next year from her wholesale purveyor.

“Most of our pottery comes from across the pond,” she said. “We get pottery from Vietnam, China, Italy and Germany.” The orders she’s placing now will start coming in next month and continue through March.

While she didn’t know specific numbers, Boutilier said Good Earth did well this summer.

“We’ve been up steadily” over last year, she said. 

Fountains and pottery were particularly popular this summer, .

“A lot of people liked what they saw,” Boutilier said. “They may not have been spending some of their discretionary income at restaurants or traveling.”

That benefited plant sales as well.

One customer whose family usually takes multiple trips each year decided instead to redo the landscape in front of their house and purchased a large installation of perennials.

Even though Boutilier ordered seeds and plants aggressively last year, “there were shortages and things that we couldn’t necessarily get until the seed companies caught up,” she said. “So there were a few hiccups in the supply chain, and that continues on occasion with some items.”

During the fall season, Good Earth sells items like garlic for planting now and harvesting next summer, as well as plants like chrysanthemums that provide bursts of color to fall landscapes.

Holiday decorations are another big fall sales category.

“We carry Old World Christmas ornaments, Christmas trees, wreaths, roping, greens and decorative items like potted amaryllis,” Boutilier said.

The garden center also stocks gift items.

“Garden art is still really popular because people want to pick up gifts,” she said.

Boutilier enjoys the slower pace of her work during the cooler months.

“I spend a couple of hours here, and I like to go for a stroll,” she said.

The business will close Dec. 23 for three weeks, but Boutilier will go in to pick up mail and receive orders.

“We really hit the ground in January,” she said. “People will want to lay in germination mix, and we will give advice and tell them how to grow. January through March tends to be a lot of talking, unpacking, staging garden art, answering the phone and answering questions. If I can sell seedling trays, I will do that.”

Her focus shifts about every eight weeks, Boutilier said, until the next high season hits around April 15.

YEAR-ROUND LANDSCAPING

Timberline Landscaping’s biggest struggle this summer was finding enough people to handle the increase in demand for residential work. The shortage has continued this fall, and the company is still looking to hire.

“We have had a plethora of work, with more people at home recognizing improvements they wanted to make,” said Stephanie Early, Timberline’s chief of strategy. 

Timberline’s main focus, though, is commercial customers.

“We’re about 65 to 70 percent commercial,” she said. “From there it breaks down between construction and landscape maintenance.”

The company also does tree care, a service that was added about two years ago. Snow removal is a big part of its business in the winter.

 “We’re one of the larger snow removal  providers in town,” Early said. “That’s something that’s been important for us; any seasonal business should be diversifying. Between Christmas lighting and snow removal services, we do try to keep our team going year round. We’re doing 10 percent off of Christmas lighting for new clients.”

Timberline, which has about 270 employees, continues hardscape installations such as patios, fire pits, retaining walls and pathways during the colder months.

“We can install irrigation systems over the winter, as long as the ground’s not frozen,” Early said. “We just don’t fire them up until later in the spring, We do a lot of commercial irrigation work as we wait for things to warm back up.”

Landscapes can consume a lot of water, and Timberline helps businesses to save by assisting them with smart irrigation systems, water management plans and xeric, low-water use landscapes.

Early said Timberline has installed major commercial projects such as landscape construction at The Broadmoor, including the west entrance and the new Estate House, and did the trail rebuild on the Manitou Incline. The company also maintains commercial landscapes, including the grounds at the Olympic Training Center.

“We’ve seen the tendency to cut back some seasonal [maintenance] services, but businesses need to keep the long-term health of their landscapes in mind during these tough times,” Early said. “If you cut certain things, you’ll end up paying more in the future in the cost of replacing trees and having to come back in to try and resuscitate things.”

Early said she encourages businesses and homeowners to start thinking about landscape design during the winter.

Timberline’s team of landscape designers works with clients during the off season to plan for spring installations.

“Their schedules to fill up very quickly,” Early said. “This year in particular, we found that our schedule was full sooner than was typical.”

FOUR-SEASON GRILLING

Customer education is a year-round marketing tool at Colorado Springs Grill Store.

“We try to talk to customers and get them to be four-season grillers and smokers,” Manager DeEon Warner said.

“We don’t expect them to host a whole bunch of parties, but their grill is out there, just waiting. People can get that same delicious grilled steak in December that you had in July,” Warner said.

The store’s main focus is outdoor cooking in the summer, when residents are enjoying the outdoors and their backyards.

“But it can still be done at other times of the year,” he said. “You have to tend a wood fire, but pellet grills don’t have to be tended to and can handle themselves in the snow.”

This summer’s high season “was a little bit sideways,” he said. “We saw a huge increase in demand, but the supply chains had a hard time keeping up with it. A couple of our main lines were unavailable during July due to some of the manufacturers being shut down entirely.”

Transportation issues contributed to supply problems as well.

Some larger grills and smokers are produced overseas, Warner said. Shipping slowdowns and border problems reduced the transport of these items. Furthermore, truckers were mobilized for transportation of medical supplies early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That really put a disruption in the supply chain,” he said. “The shipping industry didn’t have the spare capacity to handle that kind of demand. That same event repeated itself throughout the summer, up until August.”

The store also sells high-quality specialty meats, and Warner said supplies during the summer were disrupted by packing plant shutdowns. But the supply chain issues are smoothing out now, he said.

The store is preparing for the holiday season and educating customers on four-season grilling.

“Grills and smokers can work with a lot of recipes,” Warner said. “You can do pies; you can smoke your own cheeses.”

Thanksgiving provides a perfect opportunity for home cooks to find new uses for their grills and smokers, he said.

Turkeys can be cooked on a grill or smoked, and even side dishes like green bean casseroles can be prepared or warmed up on a grill.

The store sends ideas and recipes to customers through its monthly newsletter and plans to offer a class this month in spatchcocking a turkey. The process, which involves butterflying the bird so it lays flat, helps ensure even cooking.

“We always like to say, ‘Save the house and smoke the turkey,’” Warner said. “We’re happy to help people enjoy the alternatives to indoor cooking. There are a lot of great ways for people to increase their culinary knowledge.”

 

Reporter

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Business Journal in 2017.