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.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Flowers & Veggies In Perfect Harmony

Who says flowers have to be on one side of the garden and veggies on the other? Why do vegetables and herbs have to be segregated to a separate plot of land - or even a separate part of the garden center?
Learn2Grow.com, a website that caters to gardeners of all levels (sponsored heavily by Lowe's) advocates mixing edibles in with ornamentals, showing all plants the love.
This marketing message could be particularly beneficial to garden retailers who want to capitalize on the sale of edible plants, but not at the expense of ornamentals.
Check it out here.