Local businesses see boom as gardening hobby takes root amid stay-home order
If you’ve decided to pass the time in quarantine by building a new home garden, it appears you’ve made a popular choice.
Sellers in Clark County’s garden supply industry say they’ve seen consistently higher sales levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as residents seek out home activities to keep themselves busy.
One of the most dramatic increases can be seen in Vancouver-based hydroponics maker Hawthorne Gardening Co., which has seen a record-breaking 60 percent increase in its overall sales. That success primarily reflects a surge in the home cannabis industry, but higher sales at local stores also point to a renewed interest in vegetables and other homegrown products.
“It’s definitely a great time to create your own garden and grow your own food and experiment with learning the ins and outs,” said Todd Flatt, general manager at Yard ‘n Garden Land in Hazel Dell. “That’s something that can be valuable for far into the future.”
Home garden boost
Yard ‘n Garden Land has been working hard to keep up with higher-than-usual traffic for the past two months, Flatt said, with a particular focus on vegetable gardens.
The store’s suppliers slowed down a bit due to uncertainty early in the pandemic, he said, so the store has had to work to keep inventory up.
Bark dust and soil sales have taken off, along with lots of decorative and landscaping items like river rock and gravel. Flatt said he thinks the home projects are likely spurred by people looking for something to do during quarantine, particularly group projects for families with kids.
“We’ve had a lot of new gardeners,” he said. “A lot of people that are trying to plant a garden this year (and) do vegetables for the first time.”
Garden stores and nurseries are considered essential businesses under Washington’s stay-at-home order, but Yard ‘n Garden Land still decided to switch to online-only sales with curbside pickup for the first month, Flatt said, to give the store time to develop COVID-19 safety practices.
The store had been planning to implement online ordering anyway, but not for about another year, so Flatt said the first few weeks were extremely busy as the staff worked to iron out the untested system and keep up with rising customer traffic.
The decision to physically reopen in April came as a relief, both for staff and customers who tend to prefer to pick out their own products in person, according to Flatt. He said the online ordering option will stick around, and he said many customers are still taking advantage of it.
“Mother’s day is our biggest weekend every year, so the timing was good there,” he said.
The rising tide of green thumb projects goes beyond just veggies, and beyond Clark County. Hawthorne and its corporate parent, Ohio-based garden supply company ScottsMiracle-Gro, have both been experiencing sales booms during the pandemic.
“That’s in spite of the fact that a lot of our retailers like Home Depot are using social distancing,” said Chris Hagedorn, general manager at Hawthorne.
Hawthorne’s Vancouver manufacturing and distribution center was originally the headquarters of Sunlight Supply Inc., which was acquired by Scotts for $450 million in 2018. The Vancouver facility became the centerpiece of Hawthorne’s hydroponics supply chain.
Hawthorne’s sales rose 60 percent in the quarter, with almost $250 million in sales, far exceeding the company’s forecasts. The company saw $10 million in sales on some days in March, Hagedorn said, compared with about $4 million on a normal day.
Hawthorne and Scotts have been hesitant to raise their financial forecasts too far despite the stellar first quarter results, Hagedorn said, because the company is aware that it’s benefitting from a temporary situation — one that could end at any time, and is causing economic pain in other industries.
“There’s sort of like a survivor’s guilt feeling to it all,” he said.
Sales growing like weed
The high demand was fueled largely by the cannabis industry, Hagedorn said, which accounts for upwards of 90 percent of the company’s business.
The initial March surge was likely “pantry-loading,” Hagedorn said — retailers stocking up due to uncertainty about future availability. Sales have trailed off but remain elevated, he said, and the current demand appears to stem more from the small-scale market — in other words, people who are stuck at home and looking for something to do.
That shift can be inferred from a couple of factors, he said. March sales focused largely on soil and nutrients, but in April the balance shifted back more toward lights, dehumidifiers and other durables that first-time growers tend to need.
Nutrient sales have also become smaller-scale, Hagedorn said. Orders are up across the board, but the biggest jump has been in the small orders that might typically serve a home setup with just a few grow lights.
“Those guys are buying maybe a gallon or two at most, and we’ve seen of a lot of buying there,” he said.