The red-hot “grow your own food” trend isn’t just good for vegetable seeds and plants merchants. Business has been so robust at Nature Hills Nursery this past spring that the trees and plants merchant sold out of dozens of products.
Sales of edible products were up 53% during the first quarter, says Nature Hills Nursery president Jeff Dinslage. Sales of fruit trees were “blazing hot” in February, March and April, he notes. “We had very little fruit tree inventory left to sell in May.”
What’s more, he says, “we were fortunate to be a bit ahead of the curve, and we had ramped up our product offering to meet the expected demand.”
Nature Hills had identified a trend of increased interest in fruit trees early as late 2007/. When that trend proved itself in 2008, Dinslage notes, “we responded by increasing our fruit tree offerings to over 100 tree varieties, spread between apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, aprium, crabapples, nectarines, pluots, pomegranate and prunes.”
What’s been doing particularly well? All fruit trees, but specifically small fruits, such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes, Dinslage says. The company’s containerized organic vegetable and herbs lines have also been popular.
Business has slowed a bit since the stellar spring–May sales were up 9.75% vs. 2008, and June is running about even with last year. But Dinslage believes this is weather-related, thanks a hot spell in the Midwest and the wet weather in the Northeast. “One of our main markets is the Northeast, and the continual rain has slowed our June sales.”
Since Nature Hills does not mail out a paper catalog, it’s all about the Website. “We are fortunate to have good top search listings with the various search engines for our products,” Dinslage says.
The company makes sure that the site is content rich to assist consumers with their questions. “Our goal is to take the guesswork out of the equation of which plant would be the most suitable for our customers’ location.”
Nature Hills aims to create the best Website shopping experience coupled with providing pertinent facts on each product. “We skip a lot of the sales glitter and give consumers facts, such as mature spread and height, pollinizers if needed, bloom and harvest periods and possible companion plants,” Dinslage says.
A prospective customer can also view up to three products and detailed information side by side to determine which product fits his application the best. Nature Hills also enables customers to write product reviews, and in 2008 “we launched a gardening community where people can ask questions and post gardening related comments and photographs,” Dinslage says.
It doesn’t hurt that Nature Hills offers hundreds of edible products at competitive price points, he adds. “We believe that our product presentation, price points and relevant product information–along with the enthusiasm of consumers to try their hand at gardening–has contributed to our increased sales.”