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, 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


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.