Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Inherent Laws of Retail Plant Sales

Law No. 6: The Customer (continued)

Part I

The coupon is the lone reason behind a customer's wanting of a particular item(s). If they can't use the coupon, they won't buy the product.

Part II

A customer will complain about the price of a small plant and will often not buy a small plant, but will be more than willing to pay twice as much for a plant twice the size.

Part III

Sometimes customers need vocabulary assistance when reading coupons. A "tray" is not a "flat" and a "purchase" is not synonymous with "item."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Inherent Laws of Retail Plant Sales

Law No. 5: The Customer

Part I

A customer who wants to plant impatiens in the sun or geraniums in shade will complain to you that they don't ever grow well for them there...or if you tell them they won't, they'll tell you they've done it before.

Part II

After about June 30th, the "crazy ones" will appear - customers who aren't regular gardeners, who will want to plant flower seeds and shrubs on the hottest afternoons.

Part III

79% of your shrub shoppers have never actually seen firsthand the plant they want. They merely "saw it in a book." The shrub they want is usually native to South America or Australia.

Next week: The Customer continued

Monday, November 30, 2009

Inherent Laws of Retail Plant Sales

Law No. 4: Probables

Part I

The most topsoil and mulch will be sold on days just after a heavy rain.

Part II

The approximate time a customer will "Just set these four flats on the counter while I take a quick look around" will be slightly longer than the time of the mad rush, in which there is never enough counter space.

Part III

When presented with an empty parking lot, a customer may park in a way that does not require the use of the parking space lines painted on the ground.

Next week: The Customer


Monday, November 23, 2009

Inherent Laws of Retail Plant Sales

Law No. 3: Customer Inquiries

Part I

The customer would rather ask you how much something costs, than read the sign that's two inches from their hand.

Part II

The customer, on a 53% basis, will want something that doesn't exist (for example, the blue geranium).

Part III

"The ambiguous plant" seeker. This customer identifies a plant with this description: "It's in my neighbors yard. It's sorta large. It's green and has white flowers on it. It's so beautiful. You know what I'm talking about, right?"

Part IV

"Do you work here?" is often asked to employees wearing their garden center uniform.

Next week - The Probables

Monday, November 16, 2009

Inherent Laws of Retail Plant Sales

Law No. 2: Senior Citizen Discounts

Part I

Senior citizens always insist on their 10% discount, even on purchases totalling $1.50.

Part II

Senior citizens will ask for their discount after you have checked them out. This can be primarily annoying for garden centers without POS systems.

Next week - Customer Inquiries

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Inherent Laws Of Retail Plant Sales

On what might have been the most perfect day in Cleveland for all of 2009, I spent most of it outside enjoying it, raking up leaves at Gali's Garden Center.

Toward the end of the day on Saturday, I came across a Gali's relic - the "Inherent Laws Of Plant Retail." I think its date of origin is unknown (anywhere from 15 to 20 years ago), and if it wasn't for some of the text written in Sharpie, the actual paper these 20 laws/rules were written on would look very pre-Constitution.

I thought the laws would make for an excellent blog post and maybe even a smile or a "ain't that the truth." So, once a week I'll be posting an Inherent Law or two Of Plant Retail.

Law No. 1: "The Fly Theory" and its exception

Consumers will always arrive or leave in hoards to leave the sales force completely panicked or bored.

Exception: The 5 minutes to 6 p.m. stragglers. These customers sneak in just as your about to lock up. They spend 15 minutes browsing, end up complaining about something, and leave without purchasing anything.

Next week - Senior Citizens.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Product Review: The PotLifter

This Labor Day weekend rounded out a seven-day workweek for me, which finally gave me a reason to put the PotLifter to work.

I saw the PotLifter for sale at Cornell Farm back in July. It’s one of those products that makes me wonder why you don’t see more of them around…maybe not for sale, but for use by garden center employees.

When I got home from Portland, I sent the folks at PotLifter an email saying the same thing I said in the previous sentence. I wanted to test it out and they were totally up for it. A week later a Potlifter, via our mail-guy Tim, found its way to my desk.

During a pretty steady Saturday at Gali’s (Garden Center), Chris Murray and I took advantage of some lulls and decided to give the PotLifter a standard road test.

The PotLifter is a pretty straightforward gadget. It requires two people and a good grip. You fit it around a heavy pot. Pull back to cinch it up. Then you lift. Pretty easy and pretty foolproof.

We tried it out on a whiskey barrel outside of the shop. We fit the PotLifter around the barrel and moved it easily. We only moved the barrel for the sake of moving it, and Chris said, we really wouldn’t move a planted up whiskey barrel anyway. That being said, anytime that we’ve ever had to move a (unplanted, full of soil) whiskey barrel, we had to pull out the towmotor and slide the bulky container onto the forks. The PotLifter made it a whole heck of a lot quicker.

It even works with oddly shaped pieces. This bench leg actually weighs an awkward 150lbs. I turn 27 on Thursday and I'm finally realizing the importance of having a fully functioning back and I think the PotLifter shares the same sentiment. I'm not sure it would find its way into the everyday work routine at your garden center, but it definitely has its place when it comes time to move the big (heavy) stuff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Consumers Dig Private Label

It wasn't that long ago that private label translated into generic and a lesser product. But that perception has been changing.

A June survey from GfK Custom Research North America showed 57 percent of shoppers frequently purchased store-brand products. Only 2 percent said they never purchase store-brand products.

That's heartening to hear, especially in light of many garden retailer's efforts to use their own brand on products such as plants, soils, amendments, pest controls and even gifts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where Is The Line For E-mail Promotions?

I get several daily e-mails from various sources. My favorites are news-based e-mails, like Retail Wire. These are super helpful to me and the information we need to get to our readers.

The e-mails that make me groan on a daily basis are the promotional ones. I can see the desperation of the major retailers just growing exponentially as places like Kohl's, Amazon, New York & Company, Athleta (now a division of Gap) and others hit my personal inbox on a near daily basis. It's a minor annoyance, but one that may force me to opt out of those, despite the sometimes appealing savings I may get out of an e-mail blast.
So my question is how often is too often? Daily is borderline stalking when it comes to "sale" e-mails, in my opinion. No one shops that much, so there's no reason to tell me about the sales on your website or in your store on a daily basis. Is weekly acceptable? Or twice a month?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Post In Pictures

It's not often you find a Today's Garden Center blog post filled with Smart Cars, "grass knuckles," abandoned newspaper boxes and late rapper 2pac. So when you do, you better take advantage.

A couple weeks ago, I stopped into Gali's Garden Center to pick up some potting soil on my lunch break. Katie (cashier) showed me a picture she took on her cell phone (pictured above). I had to have it. So she emailed it to me and voila. I know Mini Coopers are getting into crossovers/SUVs, maybe Smart Car should take a hint and think about pickup trucks. After all, city dwellers need utility vehicles, too.

"Grass Knuckles." Almost as impractical as loading up a Smart Car with a tree. Product designer Hafsteinn Juliusson has created living jewelry. But don't expect to see this while ordering a Bacon Turkey Bravo at Panera. This is more for the uber earth-conscious celebrity on the red carpet, like Natalie Portman or Leonardo DiCaprio. There are pussy willow earrings, too.

Lastly, this photo of an abandoned newspaper box potted up reminds me of the late rapper Tupac Shakur. Wait for it...wait for it... Along with rapping, Tupac was a prolific poet. His collection of poetry is called "The Rose That Grew From Concrete." There's the connection. This pic is definitely a bright spot on an otherwise blah and dreary city sidewalk.

Toronto-based street artist Posterchild is responsible for this work of urban art/guerrilla gardening.

In a recent Pop-Up City blog post, Posterchild was quoted, "I’ve always been amazed by the state of most flyerboxes. Some haven’t been filled in years. Yet, there they are: everywhere in the city taking up valuable sidewalk space. For whatever reason, a great many of them offer nothing but an empty box. But that offers a great opportunity for some people! The boxes makes a perfect platform for planters – and with them you can guerrilla garden almost anywhere in the inhospitable concrete city!"

By the way, the Pop-Up City blog is one of the coolest I've ever seen. When you have a second, check it out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jo-Ann's Rewarding Best Customers

I just read this short item about Jo-Ann Fabrics. I'm not sure what I think about this promotion. Does anyone have any thoughts, comments, ideas for ways to translate this to garden retail? It seems like this could have some application in the independent garden center, but in a more creative way.

Jo-Ann Launches Promotion to Celebrate Anniversary
HUDSON, Ohio--Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts Stores is marking its 66th anniversary in business with a special offer.
The sewing- and crafts-products retailer will designate 66 of its best customers across the nation and give them $100 Jo-Ann gift cards from their local stores. Travis Smith, chief operating officer, said the campaign is a way of saying thanks to some of its most loyal customers, and a recognition of their creativity in making their own crafts and fabric items.
Founded in 1943, Jo-Ann now has more than 750 locations across the United States.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More From PANTS

I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to walk the floor at PANTS, but I did get to visit a few booths before our Revolutionary 100 panel discussion. I stopped at the Organic Mechanics booth, which is a line of organic potting soils. This company has private labeled soils for American Plant, an all-organic, multiple-store garden retailer in Bethesda, Md. It also just launched a new all-organic planting mix to add to the line. That will be available in Spring 2010.

I also saw a new option for growers and retailers looking for biodegradable pots. Fertilpot is a spruce fiber pot that allows roots to poke through the pot. Consumers plant the whole thing in the ground. There’s also a shrink-wrapped label that can be branded or it can have generic variety information on it. The shrink-wrapped label gets torn off and can be recycled.

At the Spring Meadow Nursery booth I learned more about Bloomerang, a new lilac variety developed by breeder Tim Wood. It’s a dwarf lilac that reblooms three times - once in spring, once around July and then again in the fall before the frost. Amazing, right? And it retains its well-known scent. Initially it was to be released in Spring 2010, but apparently it’s growing so well that some could be available this fall from some Gold Key growers.

And finally, I heard more about Nema Globe, a new product being introduced from Canada into the U.S. It’s a retail version of nematodes to prevent pests, and can be mixed into a Nema Globe nematode sprayer to be watered into a lawn or garden. Nematodes don’t harm pets or children, and are friendly to beneficial insects like bees or earthworms.

Great Ideas From PANTS

We conducted our first Revolutionary 100 Panel discussion at the show and it went great. The panelists were Steve Gallion from Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Denni Jones from County Line Landscape Nursery, Stephen Barlow III of Barlow’s and Frank Fernicola of Fairfield Garden Center.

One big highlight included Frank’s before and after pictures of the inside garden center store that received a coat of white paint this winter. It was amazing, appearing as though he adds tons of new lighting. But all they did was paint the ceiling and support beams white and lower the sight-lines of the fixtures a couple of feet. What a difference!

The panelists also talked about their plans for 2010, which for three out of the four included reducing inventory in the area of big-ticket items like statuary and furniture. They also talked about shoring up labor to make sure they’re watching labor costs, as well as using events and educational seminars to promote gardening. Denni Jones focuses heavily on relationship-building with customers via her e-newsletter and direct contact with customers. Barlow’s has begun to focus more on children’s activities and events in the hopes of bringing in families and moms to shop.

And finally, Stauffers of Kissel Hill has used a program called a detached-address label through its local Clipper coupon book to mail out direct-mail pieces at a fraction of the cost of a regular direct mail piece. To learn more about this program, click here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Great Story About Independents In BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek recently celebrated the best independent retailers in the country with a slideshow story. It's a nice piece that highlights why people love independent retailers, but I was a little sad that it didn't include any garden centers.

I'm not sure if that's because there are none on their radar or if they just didn't think any were worthy, but I think there are quite a few garden centers that equal retailers on their list in success and notoriety.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Eventful Uneventful Sunday

It was an interesting Sunday at Gali's Garden Center this past weekend. I've worked there since 2001, and I always forget when the bottom drops out for sales. This Sunday, the bottom did in fact drop out for a few 15-minute spans in the afternoon. There were times when the empty parking lot called for a roaming tumbleweed.

It has always amazed me at how fast a garden center parking lot can fill up...and in the same breath, how fast it can empty out as the season begins to wane. Luckily for us, an empty parking lot coincided with a not-so-busy Chagrin Blvd. at around 5:40 p.m. We, the staff, were wrapping up things inside the property lines - sweeping, watering, closing vents, etc.

On the other side of the curb, well that's another story. We received a phone call from a couple drivers/customers of Gali's. "One of your carts is in Chagrin." This doesn't happen too often, but it has happened, where one of our annual carts positioned in our parking lot snuck out and rolled its way into a usually busy street. No one was hurt, no cars damaged, no plants lost. Phew! Just looking at the photo above, you can see we're big risk-takers.

Other than our end of the day excitement, a couple new things to hit Gali's are worth a mention. How about these Serenity White Bliss African Daisies. I remember seeing these in one of our Variety Central sections, but this is the first time I've seen them up close. Kinda cool.
Also, the new cardboard dumpster. Chris Murray, one of my pals (and a manager) at Gali's, has been pushing for this dumpster for a while now. He's done plenty of research on the benefits of it and I'm happy to see they've made the leap.

Speaking of Chris, he showed me this email he received from one of the big nurseries he orders from. I love the Lemon Daddy. My parents stopped into Gali's a couple weekends ago and I peer pressured them into buying one for their yard. They said, "We don't have the space." To which I replied, "It doesn't matter, the yellow leaves are really cool." Spoken like a true generation Y-er. I digress.
Look at this ad! And look at the Lemon Daddy...the one in the suit, not the hydrangea. This is just one of those ads that doesn't answer any questions and doesn't get you excited to buy, it simply succeeds in making you laugh...and also wonder, what were they thinking.

Lastly, I know there's Cockadoodle-doo, and Moo-Nure and even Zoo-Doo, but I learned of one more this weekend. We had a female customer come up to the counter asking us if we had any "sheep poo." I'm not too familiar with it, but I guess it was call BahBahDoo. Hilarious. Her husband chimed in, "It was really bahhhhhd."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cautious Optimism

The recession didn’t entirely slam the retail garden industry the way it did the rest of retail. But there are some signs that retail in general is looking up - or at least looking better than it did before.

Retail Forward is reporting that despite deterioration of same-store sales in May (except for Wal-Mart, of course), it appears shoppers are showing signs of letting up from the current "belt-tightening behavior." Shoppers reported in Retail Forward’s May ShopperScape survey that they are less inclined than last year to limit their spending, seek deals or trade down to lower-priced brands and retailers in response to the economic downturn.

Did you see customers "trading down" this spring? We were hearing reports of foot traffic increasing but average ticket decreasing. Did this hold true for you? And if it did, do you think customers will stick with this type of spending for a while?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

GroGood Campaign

Check out these veggies!

I visited the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. headquarters in Marysville last week with Rick Welder, our sales account representative on Today's Garden Center. While we were there, we took a quick look at the raised bed gardens the company created as an internal contest and as part of the GroGood campaign to donate fresh produce to local food banks.

It's a great cause, and it looks like lots of Scotts employees have gotten into the spirit by planting rows of veggies to care for throughout the summer. The one bed that really caught our eye, though, was the one planted by the research and development team (the picture above). The rest looked pretty meager compared to the giant, leafy veggies being cared for by these guys.
I think I might have an idea who's going to be winning that company-wide contest!
Want to know more about the GroGood Campaign? Here's the link: http://www.scotts.com/grogood

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Garden Center Mania

Jen Polanz here. I visited Donzell’s Garden Center in Akron late last week, along with Graf Growers and my little local greenhouse, Wyatt’s in Mentor (that’s Ohio, and if you live here long enough, it’s pronounced Menner). I'm starting with Donzell's and I'll do separate entries for Graf and Wyatt's. Plus, you'll see more of Donzell's in the July issue of Today's Garden Center in the Idea Gallery section.

I was impressed with Donzell’s overall. I felt like the layout made sense, and - Ernest Wertheim would appreciate this - there was very clearly marked entrance that was separate from the exit. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a little pathway of statuary, which you don’t see often first thing in the retail shop. But I thought it worked. I meandered for quite a while, and the signage helped me through the whole place. I felt very comfortable, despite never shopping there before.
Couple of things I noticed that I liked:

This display just really struck me. It's the first one you see right when you walk into the greenhouse, and sets the tone for the rest of the place. Very fun and funky.

Check out these wide aisles. There's little to no butt brush going on here (yes, I stole that from Paco Underhill, in case you were wondering).

Yep. That's a trash can. There were several around the building. It's simple, but not something I often see in garden centers, especially smaller ones.

This is my cart when I walked out. I wasn't planning on buying anything, but they got me with the herbs, and then I added a tomato plant. They had the Garden-tone cross merchandised with it, so I picked up some of that. Then I thought, heck, I'm spending money, might as well go get that bird feeder I wanted to put in the back yard. Then I needed a hook for it. Do you see how this all starts to add up?

Another idea that's good for the customer and the retailer is a cooler full of water and pop at the registers. Sometimes it's sweltering in the garden center, and customers will drop a couple of extra bucks to quench their thirst after a shopping excursion.

Learn more about Donzell's at www.donzells.com, and read on for Graf Growers.

Graf Growers

Graf Growers was a much different vibe than Donzell's. It was in a slightly more rural area, from what I could tell, and consisted of a main retail shop, a couple of hoop houses and two large tents.

Oddly enough, Graf had a point-of-sale system, where Donzell's did not. Graf also did a nice job of merchandising smaller products at the register for impulse buys, like in the picture above.

I also liked how Graf used hanging basket tags to suggest other products, like Miracle Gro's Bloom Booster. It even offers 75 cents off any size.

And finally, I just love, love, love this pot from Scheurich. I'm not sure if this is new or if it's been around a while, but it's fun.

Check out Graf Grower's online at www.grafgrowers.com.


This one will be short, mainly because I didn't take any pictures at Wyatt's. It's a tiny little greenhouse that's within walking distance from my house, which automatically makes it "my" garden center.

It's not much to look at, but the quality is decent and it's convenient. It's amazing how much traffic they get during the spring - they hire high school kids on the weekends to do nothing but direct traffic.

There's a lot wrong with it. I could go into great detail, really. But really doesn't it boil down to one thing: are they making money? I gotta say, yeah. They put very little back into the infrastructure, other than routine maintenance. They do a massive business in the spring (driven by a pretty established 7-mile radius of single-family home neighborhoods), carry some mums and host a hay maze in the fall, and turn a few poinsettias and firewood in the winter.

In these three blog posts we've looked at a good, better and best of garden centers. So who's doing it "right?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

U.S. Food Safety Concerns Continue

This is not good news, per se, but it continues to reaffirm why customers are determined to grow their own food - a recent New York Times story reported frozen food companies have labeled products in such a way to take the responsibility for killing harmful pathogens away from them.

One example cited ConAgra, which in 2007 could not identify which ingredient in its frozen pot pies was contaminated with salmonella. It could have been the peas. Or the carrots. Or potatoes. Or perhaps the turkey. After several attempts to find the culprit, the company passed the buck and labeled the 69-cent pot pies this way: "Internal temperature needs to reach 165 degrees F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots."

ConAgra isn’t the only one doing this, either. Other frozen food manufacturers are placing the onus on consumers to cook products well enough to kill salmonella and E.coli pathogens.
Is it any wonder your customers are now flocking to your stores to buy veggie, herb and fruit plants and trees?

And wouldn’t a fresh, homemade pot pie (like the one pictured above) taste so much better than a frozen one that may or may not make you sick?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Park-like Settings Aren't That Great

Not too long ago, I headed out on my own and visited three popular garden centers east of Cleveland: Lowe's Greenhouse (not the box-store), Breezewood and Eagle Creek. It was right before Easter, and there wasn't much going on. It's amazing what a few spring weeks will do.

Last Thursday, I hit up the same three, but this time I had a posse: Jen, Bob, Sara and Richard (editor, publisher, online editor and group editor).

Let me start off by saying that I am by no means a green thumb. Sure I work at a garden center, and sure I write for Today's Garden Center...but don't bother asking me when and how to prune your roses. What's with the disclaimer? Well, that's how I walk into a garden center...not too plant savvy. So when I peruse the greenhouse or the perennials outside, I sometimes need my hand held. And that was the biggest difference I noticed between Lowe's and Breezewood.

Lowe's had signs EVERYWHERE. There were large, simple signs by any and everything. I didn't need to reach for sales associate right away. I saw a sign and then knew where I was. There were even aisle numbers. For some reason, the aisle numbers were my favorite part. It was like a grocery store for plants. I didn't feel overwhelmed or lost when I walked around. I would take that over an "inspirational," park-like setting anyday.

And Breezewood did lean a little more toward a natural setting, which is definitely nice to walk through. But if you're new to scene and you're not even sure what you're looking for, then good luck. You better grab the nearest sales person.

My question is, how come garden centers don't put signs on every inch of their property? Are park-like settings really helping your sales? You have busy days, and sometimes you don't have enough experts to help everyone at the same time. For those unfortunate few who happen to slip through the cracks, wouldn't it be better for them to walk around a place with tons of visible information, instead of walking aimlessly around a place with a few signs here and there? I think the same can even be said for any inexperienced employees you may have.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Retail Sales Fall In April

IHS Global Insight painted a bleak picture of consumer spending in April in a recent update. Retail sales declined by .4 percent in April, and a revised March estimate showed a dip of 1.3 percent.
"This is not a pretty report, no matter how you look at it," wrote Brian Bethune, IHS Global Insight Chief U.S. Financial Economist. "Granted, consumer prices may have declined slightly in April, and that will buffer a small fraction of the decline, but spending weakness was fairly broad based with declines across most major channels."
Despite the gloomy news, garden center retailers across the country are reporting increases in foot traffic and better sales figures than last year at this time. Many retailers reported the average ticket down in April, however.
To read more retailer reports, check out our Weekend Weather Wrap-Up reports.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I'm Not Happy With WDIV Detroit

Win a $100 gift certificate to Ray Weigand's Nursery for Mother's Day. Sweet. Just answer this trivia question. No problem.

Question: A Peruvian is the youngest person to give birth on record. How old was she?
  • 5
  • 9
  • 13
  • 15

Well, if that's not a weird enough question for you in the first place, the answer doesn't make things any better. She was five. FIVE!? One, that's crazy. Two, how can that be? Her name is Lina Medina. Google it.

My biggest gripe is the question choice. When talking about Mother's Day and a quality garden center like Ray Wiegand's, the thought of a five year old giving birth shouldn't be in my head. That's quite the buzzkill. I mean, if that was your garden center instead of Wiegand's, would you care about the question? Would you be a little miff'd at this local Detroit newschannel?

Britney Spears And Gardening...Yawn

So last week, we found the words "Britney Spears" and "gardening" placed in the same sentence. Big news, right? Not really. It sounds like perfect blog fodder. Too bad the only thing I can muster up for this earth-shattering news is "Who cares." And that's a statement, not a question.

I'm more interested in setting fire to junipers. Too bad I don't live in Nevada, near a Moana Nursery location. I take that back, no one's setting fire to any junipers...they're exchanging them. (Apparently I need to read the entire press release before I start typing.)

I didn't know this, but junipers are nicknamed "tall green gas cans." The University of Nevada Coop Extension explains that a juniper's dense growth and a high proportion of volatile natural chemicals make this shrub a highly flammable cocktail.

In an effort to reduce the threat of fires, the third annual Junk The Junipers is being held in conjunction with Nevada Wildlife Awareness Week. Juniper owners can bring in their tall green gas cans to Moana Nursery and receive one free replacement plant per household. The exchanged junipers will be made into mulch. Some of the replacement plants include yellowtwig dogwood, crimson pygmy barberry, Anthony Waterer spirea, snowmound spirea and Katherine Dykes' potentilla.

That's good PR for Moana. I just hope people were leaving with more than their tall green gas can replacement.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Not To Do

OK, I realize it’s April. It’s not like it’s Mother’s Day. But we’ve been popping in to a few local garden centers recently and I’m not liking what I’m seeing. Or rather, what I’m not seeing.

I’m not seeing clean floors, or wide aisles. I’m not getting asked if I can be helped, and in one case I seriously questioned whether the garden center was even open.

It’s going to be 70 degrees here on Saturday, and these retailers should be hopping. But if customers question whether the store is open, I’m not sure they’ll be reaping the benefits of our good weather.

There are things to be done in April, even in Cleveland. Early baskets full of pansies should be flying out the doors, especially after the long and dreary winter we’ve had. So here are the don’ts I’ve come across recently:

  • Don’t barrage your customer with product at the door. I walked into one retailer recently and instantly didn’t know where to go or what to do - there was product all around and I didn’t inspect any of it.
  • Don’t hide what your customers need this spring. I saw a display (if you could call it that) of garden fencing leaning up against the wall at one retailer. With herbs and veggies exploding this spring, this stuff needs to be cross-merchandised with your edibles and not in the same place it’s taken up residence the last five years.
  • Don’t push your benches so close together only one person can walk through at a time and call yourself a garden retailer. How do you expect me to shop this? If I can’t get a cart through, I’m only buying as many plants as I can hold - and without getting dirty I’m going to say that’s two.
  • Don’t try to sell product that’s faded, torn, worn, out of the package or just plain dirty. I’ve seen an awful lot of that in the last week, and I wonder why you think I’d want to buy a product that looks five years old.

OK, that’s it for now. I’ll be working on my new bird sanctuary this weekend, so I’m sure I’ll be stopping at more retailers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

To Pandy’s With Sandi

As much as I’d like to deny it, I’m pretty sure being the youngest of four (and the youngest by nine years) automatically makes me a mama's boy. So, like any good mama’s boy would do, I eMailed my Mom (who loves gardening) to see if she wanted to go to a garden center she’s never been to.

I was thinking the huge Petitti's in Avon would be a good stop...but everyone goes to Petitti's. I stayed on I-90, zoomed passed Petitti's, which is pretty impressive from the highway, and went to Pandy's Premier Garden Center in Elyria.

(Their sign is classic.)

Pandy's is on Facebook, they have a great website, and on their homepage is an active Twitter feed. From those three things, my imagination began to get in the way. I assumed Pandy's would be some huge, sparkling, cathedral-like garden center...like the Petitti's we passed. It wasn't. Darn you, social media.

I think my problem is that I've just grown accustomed to more "urban," state-of-the-art garden centers, and I wrongly get caught up in newer this's and bigger that's. At a little over 30 minutes west of downtown Cleveland, Pandy's leans a little more toward rural, but it's definitely not off the grid.

Crammed up against Griswold Rd. and a railroad track, there wasn't much in the form of curb appeal. I did think about Mike Brady's architectural style when I pulled into the parking lot.
The inside, however, offered plenty to look at, all basically under one huge/high roof. Lots of yard art. Customers are greeted with tons of running fountains, immediately upon entering. The running water echoed throughtout the ginormous storeroom...very calming and very rainforest-esque.
Pandy's mulch display was neatly set up inside on the floor, near the checkout area. The bags of mulch (and stone and soil) are stood up and then the tops are opened and rolled down. It's a nice, protected spot, but tucked away. I happened to come across it when I was leaving. I can't remember seeing any signs drawing attention to it.

As for my Mom (Sandi), she signed up to win $500, fingers crossed, and also purchased wind chimes. She spoke highly of Pandy's houseplants. We were both impressed with the staff. Phew! Last week's trip to three garden centers on the eastside was a bust, in terms of customer service. I'm glad Pandy's picked up the slack.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hop, Skip and a Jump

Lake effect snow...who doesn't love that? Here in Cleveland, we had a nice dose of it yesterday. And just think, our Sunday topped out around 60, with blue skies for most of the day.

Around noon, I took advantage of the great Sunday weather and went on a quick trip to three northeastern Ohio garden centers: Eagle Creek, Breezewood and Lowe's Greenhouses. Eagle Creek and Lowe's are on our 2009 Revolutionary 100 list. All of them were on the same road (route 306), and they were all within a couple of miles from each other. Isn't that convenient?

Eagle Creek's parking lot was dappled with cars. Not much going on, yet (remember? lake effect). It's a beautiful place with huge, airy greenhouses. With the small traffic, I was surprised I wasn't hounded by the staff. It was actually the complete opposite. I didn't get one, "Hi, can I help?" (The same goes for Breezewood. What's up with that?) Maybe my Neptune's Harvest t-shirt gave off the false impression that I'm a green thumb.

Private labels are growing in popularity, and Eagle Creek does a great job reinforcing their brand with huge banners, promoting their house brand of plants. The banners read "Buying with confidence has an official name." They also had a home-front vignette in one of their greenhouses that does an excellent job showing how easy it is to dress up the front of a house.

A mile or so north, Breezewood Garden & Gifts is a good deal smaller, at least in greenhouse space. As seen in the pic, not much hustle and bustle there, either. It's clear here that an emphasis is placed on gifts. I've always heard they do an excellent and profitable job in that department. They offer a small selection of outdoor apparel: Columbia, Merrell, The North Face, Ugg... I didn't find too much in my size. Is managing an apparel section a pain? Too bad one-size-fits-all doesn't really work, like Snuggies.

My last stop was at Lowe's Greenhouse. Unlike the first two, this place was packed. Two overflow lots were used and filled for parking. Kids everywhere, thanks to an Easter Egg Hunt and a visit by the Easter Bunny. I like Lowe's. It reminds me a little more of my work at Gali's. It's not huge and fancy and perfect. It has character and a smiling staff...and a really low entry into one of their greenhouses.

In the picture below, I think it's a hot water pipe that spans the top of the entrance into Lowe's Rainforest House. I didn't see a caution sign, and the clearance is around 5'10". I'm sure it hasn't met a forehead it didn't like. For older garden centers, how do you overcome/improve obstacles like that without making huge changes?

Friday, April 3, 2009

False Advertising

I hope this doesn't get me blacklisted anywhere, but I like the new Lowe's Home & Garden commercial. It's fun and it certainly gets out the message that Lowe's is going to be stocked, stocked and stocked some more. Check it out...

It must be nice to have their budget. I think that's Gene Hackman doing the voiceover, too...sellout. Didn't he coach a small town team to a national championship in the movie Hoosiers? Now, with this Lowe's commercial...it's like he's on the other team. Gene, that's so anti-Hoosiers.

Anyway, I noticed at the 20 second mark in the commercial, you get a nice aerial shot of their selection of annuals. I've been to a few Lowe's in my day. You and I both know it doesn't look like that. But we also know that your places probably do.

Hopefully, consumers who make the trip to Lowe's after seeing this commercial will learn what we already know - it's a big place with little quality. Then they'll eventually end up in your parking lot. Don't disappoint.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Panic? It's Organic!

So, I don't get what the big deal is. Call me ignorant, short-sighted and glib. But how can the "organic" vegetable garden at the White House be a bad thing?

Just a few days ago, members of the Mid America CropLife Association sent a letter to the First Lady, encouraging the White House staff to avoid going organic and consider using "crop protection products" and "recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S."

Maybe I'm looking at Mrs. Obama's organic garden through rose-colored glasses...but let's look at the big picture here. They are promoting vegetable gardens. I don't think they're saying you SHOULD be organic, or organic gardens are the ONLY way. Let's face it. Most people who decide to delve into homegrown veggies this spring, will do so to complement salads and just feel good about doing something, well, good.

I was asked if I thought that the Obamas growing an organic vegetable garden could be misleading for the American public. Basically setting us up to fail. Why? Well, because going organic is definitely not easy.

Again, bigger picture. I think focusing on the word organic might be a waste of time.

If you asked President Obama his opinion on going to college. Would he say, only go to college if it's an Ivy League school? I doubt it. He'd say, go to school wherever you can and get the most out of it. The same goes for vegetable gardens. In this case, the White House's happens to be organic. I know it's apples and oranges, but I think it works.

And say a good deal of Americans try their hand at organic gardening and it doesn’t pan out for them. What next? I'm assuming they’ll first turn to conventional ways to save what they’ve started. And if that doesn’t work, well, then it’s a wash. They gave it a try, and that alone is pretty commendable.

Am I way off here? What are the real, concrete drawbacks here?

Find A Penny, Pick It Up...

All the day you'll have ... free pizza?

Sure. If you happen to wander past a CiCi's Pizza restaurant in the near future.

As the economy weakens, I've been hearing about a lot of creative promotions businesses are coming up with to drive sales, most recently, CiCi's pizza. The chain is getting consumers to rethink the value of the penny through its "Penny Picker Upper" promotion.

It works like this: CiCi's has dropped one million pennies printed with offers for free food outside its stores across the country. The campaign is being promoted via television, radio and and the Internet. Consumers who visit BeAPennyPickerUpper.com can look up CiCi's locations and make avatars of themselves.

"We realized that as a value brand, we had to take some action, and with the penny, many people just walk by it and don't look at it as money anymore," said CiCi's CMO Tom Koenigsberg. "It may be a penny, but it's still money and money is cool. As a brand, we value every penny, as well."

Check out the full Brandweek story here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Take A Whiff

I love Cleveland, but it definitely has its pitfalls...weather being one of them. While garden centers in Southern Florida, anywhere Arizona, and even St. Louis are hopping with early season business...thanks to crummy weather, Northeastern Ohio garden centers are a little slower on the uptake.
Today, for lunch, Rick Welder (Today's Garden Center account rep extraodinaire) and I went on a quick, local field-trip. We went to Bremec Greenhouses & Nursery.

It was a little dreary out: 45 and rainy. Once you stepped into their main retail greenhouse, though, it didn't matter. The smell was enough for the two of us. It smelled like earth, go figure. I like to think that our reaction to the smell of dirt and tiny, not-ready-for-retail plants is representative of the consumer in the northern half of the contiguous 48. (Below, Rick was all about the Sweet Peet. One of the Bremec employees said they fly through the stuff, and she didn't mean by the bag, but by the yard.)
I think there needs to be a national campaign, a Visit Your Local Garden Center in February Day that promotes visiting your local garden center before it's even ready for you to be there. Kind of like what Rick and I did today. It's all about the bug, and using cabin fever to your advantage.

It's that whole scent-to-memory sensory thing. The olfactory bulb in your brain has "intimate access to something called the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning." Make your customers connect. Make them remember what mid-June smells like.

Bremec's is in that "getting ready" stage, so there wasn't much to drool over plant-wise. They do, however, have a relatively new and expansive structure that acts as their pottery barn. Its permanent openings were temporarily covered with protective plastic sheets. The inside was packed with pots, statuaries and fountains.
All I know is I'm getting pretty tired of talking about "getting ready." Smell ya later!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Flash Is The Enemy

I recently invested in a new camera for myself. It's a point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot...10 megapixels, which means the images can be enlarged into wallpaper, I think. It does all the work. What are you working with?

Spring is here, technically. Soon, the colors will pop and make you a believer. Whatever camera you have, I hope it's digital and I hope it allows you to upload your floral images to your garden center's website. Then you can show your customers what you're working with, literally.

Writing for Today's Garden Center, I've come to learn one thing...people love pictures, sometimes more than words. I think it's because one picture is worth 1,000 tiny little words...at least that's the word on the street. So make sure you indulge in photography, too (if your website can handle it).

Take pictures of what's new, what's hot...or simply, what your place looks like. What you snap can also make for some great signage. I came across two helpful floral/landscape photography websites: Landscape and Floral. Sort of a photography for dummies. Which is perfect, because I'm a dummy when it comes to this, and I found they both had great tips and FYIs I sometimes forget.

Encourage digital camera use with your customers, too. They can print out pictures of ill plants and bring them in for you to diagnose. According to a recent The News Tribune article on cameras as the newest must have garden tool, cameras help with record keeping, inventories, identification and so on.

So get out there and get your Ansel Adams on.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Week Early

It's Spring! I know the 20th is circled on your calendar as the first official day, but for me it's here a week early.

Now it's still pretty brown and blah here in C-town, and I'm not too sure where the swallows are...my spring indicator is a little different. My first day of spring comes at Gali's Garden Center in Beachwood, Ohio. My first day of spring revolves around bare-root roses from Jackson & Perkins and Star Roses.

Not sure the exact amount, but each year, Gali's gets in huge boxes filled with hundreds of bare-root roses, which are then pruned and potted up by the staff. It takes a couple of days.
Sunny blue skies this weekend, but the customer spottings are still few and far between, despite the nice temps. I'm pretty sure Mother Nature was so overcome with guilt for the kind of winter she put us Clevelanders through, she decided to give us a sneak peek at spring. Well, it's at least a start.

Those customers who actually pulled into the parking lot and parked the car, did so just to do so...if that makes any sense. They came in to remind the senses, "Hey, this is where I'll be in a few weeks."
Like always...it'll be here before you know it.

Pretty soon, I'll be working weekends there, regularly ...ringing out crazy customers, loading cars, watering flats and delivering mulch. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll keep my camera with me just in case something pops up.
After my first day back at Gali's rounded out, I threw on some shorts, grabbed my tennis racquets and met a friend at some local courts...spring is definitely here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Name Your Price

I came across a story about a small business owner who's found a creative way to attract customers during the recession. Sam Lippert, who owns the Java Street Cafe in Ohio, is letting his customers name their own prices for the food and drinks they purchase there.

Sure, some customers are definitely underpaying, but many are overpaying, too, which balances it out. And according to employees, patrons are definitely digging the new policy.

"In the current economy, maybe that's what people need to feel comfortable going out again," Lippert said. "They need to know that they're going to pay what they feel is a fair price for what they're getting."

Check out the full story here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Howdy Partner! Garden Chaps

GreenJeans can save your legs from gravel, dirt, paint, sharp edges, thorns, flying objects, you name it. And in this case, these GreenJeans aren't recycled Levis or denims dyed a hunter hue...these chaps are tough and great for those do-it-yourselfer/landscaper customers.

They come from a small operation on Whidbey Island in Washington State called Muscle and Arm Farm. The GreenJeans are made of 1000 denier textured nylon with built in knee-pads. They were recently seen on local Chicago television with Joe Lamp'l. Lamp'l is the founder of The Joe Gardener Company. The GreenJeans were also mentioned on his website.