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May 24, 2020

Nursery sales soar during the coronavirus pandemic

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“People are painting their homes,” Rankin’s True Value Hardware Manager Kent Rankin says. “They’re doing more maintenance — anything being related to people being stuck at home.”
If you can look at any positives in this terrible thing, I think it will make people more aware of their outdoor space and how to use it and how gratifying gardening is.
— Bobby Lewis, Meadows Farms Nurseries marketing vice president
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Staff Journalist
The Warrenton hardware store’s plant sales went through the roof in April.

Rankin’s True Value Hardware Manager Kent Rankin attributes last month’s approximately 41-percent increase in plant and seed packet sales revenue compared with April 2019 to the coronavirus pandemic.

With thousands at home because of disease-related restrictions and guidelines, “people have more time on their hands” and many have turned to gardening to spend it, Mr. Rankin said.

April ended “well above any spring month in the last probably three to four years or more” for plant sales, he said.

But May will prove an even better month, said Mr. Rankin, who has managed the store at Warrenton Village Center for more than 25 years.

As of Saturday morning, May’s plant sales almost had equaled the previous month’s total, he said.

“And we’ve got eight days left” to May, Mr. Rankin added.

The store has experienced increased sales for many other garden items, including soil, compost, mulch and flower pots, he said.

More and more “do-it-yourselfers” also have added to the store’s bottom line, Mr. Rankin said.

“People are painting their homes,” he said. “They’re doing more maintenance — anything being related to people being stuck at home. They just have more time on their hands.”

Meadows Farm Nurseries in New Baltimore and Lee Highway Nursery near Opal also report strong April and May sales.

“We’ve always been busy in the spring,” Meadows’ Marketing Vice President Bobby Lewis said. “But this one’s been crazy-busy.”

The Chantilly-based company has 18 stores — 13 in Virginia, four in Maryland and one in West Virginia.

On average, April companywide store sales increased 30 percent compared to the same month in 2019, Mr. Lewis said.

The New Baltimore store surpassed that by 3 or 4 percent, he said.

In May, the company’s storewide sales so far have shown an average 35-percent increase compared to the same month last year, with the New Baltimore store up 37 or 38 percent, according to Mr. Lewis.

“It’s almost like every day is a weekend,” he said of the spring sales activity. “We’ve had a real surge in retail sales where people are home and they want to keep the kids busy working in their yards.”

He called the New Baltimore store’s performance “phenomenal.”

Normally, sales for stores closer to the metro area top the more distant ones, Mr. Lewis said.

But during the pandemic and perhaps inexplicably, “the closer you get to the city, the less the increase” in average per-store sales, he said. “Those locations that are even further out than New Baltimore — like Winchester and West Virginia — they show even larger increases.”

As a matter of policy, Lee Highway Nursery doesn’t disclose financial information.

But “everything’s increased this year” — vegetable plant, flowers, trees, shrubs, potting soil, mulch, compost and tool sales, Outside Sales/Contractors Division Manager Mary Austin said.

“I think the coronavirus is building up the sales,” Mrs. Austin said. “People are getting bored at home and they want to do something. Even some customers say they’re teaching their children how to plant. They’re getting outside.”

She added: “We’ve been very busy.”

All three businesses believe a portion of new customers who discovered gardening as a result of the pandemic also may have found a hobby that they will continue to pursue after returning to something like their pre-coronavirus lives.

“If you can look at any positives in this terrible thing, I think it will make people more aware of their outdoor space and how to use it and how gratifying gardening is,” Mr. Lewis explained. “I think it’s been a really good tool for people to relieve some stress and be able to do something outside in their yard, in the fresh air, and feel good about it.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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