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A Special Background Report on Trends in Industry and Finance

May 4, 1995

BABY BOOMERS PUTTER around in the garden, with the aid of consultants.

Advice that used to be culled over the back fence now can come from pros, PCs, cable-TV, how-to books and seminars. The boomers are ``information omnivores,″ says Bruce Butterfield of the National Gardening Association, Burlington, Vt. So, the group runs a gardening forum via CompuServe. The payoff is higher industry sales that in 1994 rose over 15 percent to $25.9 billion. A green rule of thumb: For each $1 spent on plants, gardeners typically spend $3 on supplies.

Autumn Hill Nursery in Woodstock, Ga., begins offering free seminars on planting perennials and such. It also consults for some $65 per hour and creates computerized landscape designs. In Manhattan, a Chelsea Garden Center consultant critiques gardens and offers design tips for free. And at Sprainbrook Nursery, Scarsdale, N.Y., owner Heidi Krautter good-naturedly notes that sometimes clients phone to ``pick our brains″ and then shop elsewhere.

Hot seminars at Hastings Nature and Garden Center, Atlanta, are ``Plants of the Bible″ and ``Plants of the Civil War.″

LISTING A HOUSE with a big real-estate agency may not mean a faster sale.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal School of Business say that a bigger broker isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the amount of time a house is on the market. Why? Multiple listings help even out the exposure a property can get. A belief that listing agents work harder on their ``own″ properties in order to get both listing and selling commissions can backfire at a big brokerage if the listing agent has too many properties to push, says Abdullah Yavas, a real-estate professor.

He sampled 388 houses sold during 1991 in State College, Pa. The mean home price was $105,000 and the average time on the market was more than five months. The professor analyzed the effect of several variables on the time it took to sell. The research found that the size of a listing firm was insignificant, while sale price and month of listing, for example, were significant. His advice for sellers: Ask listing agents how many other properties they represent.

THE BEEMER’S BACK. The status car of the ’80s revs up as a ’90s value vehicle.

Thanks to a marketing strategy that buffs up the luxury car’s karma, BMW sales so far this year are neck-and-neck with 1986′s record levels. In the first quarter, BMW sold 20,816 cars, up from 20,576 in the 1986 first quarter. April continued strong, although short of a record, says BMW of North America Inc., Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Among other tactics, BMW has added more models, including lower-priced cars. It now sells 19 models from $20,000 to over $100,000 vs. 1987′s 10 models from $20,000 to $44,000.

By stressing value-leasing and safety, BMW fits a target market that includes more women and families, a spokesman says. ``BMW has found the right image formula for the ’90s,″ says Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates, an auto consultant in Rutherford, N.J. For instance, BMW doesn’t offer a ``wagon,″ it makes a ``touring vehicle,″ Ms. Jacobs adds. BMW sales also have been helped by the fact that Japanese competitors have raised auto prices, she says.

The BMW Car Club of America, Cambridge, Mass., notes it gained 983 new members in April, up from about 600 per month during 1994.

BIG SPENDERS on information technology turn out to be financial-service firms, says Computerworld magazine’s Global 100, a new supplement. The Global 100 poll finds that financial-service firms annually spend an average $27,442 per worker. Insurance companies were second, spending $19,815.

BIG SIZES and clothes for tall men log much stronger sales growth than general men’s apparel, says NPD Group Inc., a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y. In 1994, sales of big-men’s clothes rose 12 percent to $3 billion. Overall, menswear sales rose 3.6 percent last year to $39 billion.

BIG TALK: Beloit College in Wisconsin offers a four-week course to liberal-arts students who want to learn enough about the basics of business to ``talk the talk.″

A JUG OF WINE henceforth may flaunt a flange top, beeswax seal and purple cork.

First, there was the controversy (which continues) over use of synthetic cork. Now, many vintners are experimenting with rimmed bottles, clear wax seals and bottlecap-like toppers that can be stamped with the winemaker’s logo. ``They’re wising up and learning to sell wine like people sell cans of soup,″ says Rich Cartiere, editor of Wine Business Monthly in Sonoma, Calif.

Among premium winemakers, Kendall-Jackson Winery & Vineyards and Robert Mondavi led the move toward flange tops and striking seals, the paper says. A typical closure of the future might consist of a brightly colored plastic cork topped by a dollop of embossed wax and covered by a fancy paper or a fuchsia wax seal. But skeptics note that aficionados who spend $15 or more for a bottle of wine often want it to have that old, familiar look.

California’s Trentadue Winery asked for comments on a synthetic cork it tried: One customer likened it to a prosthesis.

BRIEFS: At O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the pilot of an arriving jet tells passengers they will be waiting for a gate on an area of tarmac known as ``the penalty box.″ ... The Missing Sock Laundry (in a reinforced Victorian building) describes itself as ``the finest example of a seismically-retrofitted, self-service textile maintenance facility in San Francisco.″

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