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 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'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.