Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Independent Garden Centers -- How To Put Them Out Of Business

Full disclosure: this is my third year working at independent garden centers in our area, on two different sides of town, serving two completely different markets.

Recently, one of our local TV news programs ran a story about home consumers buying plants at wholesale outlets.  Our local newspaper helpfully picked it up and broadcast it on its own website and Facebook page.  The gist of the story was that the poor economy has forced wholesalers to open their doors to the public ("for the first time ever!").  Apparently this is good news for consumers, who can now buy a plant for 30% less than they could at their independent garden center, or even (gasp!) at the big-box stores.

I'm not an unbiased observer, to be sure.  But stories like this got me thinking about what the consumers value and what they're actually voting for, when they put price considerations above all else.  It's a recipe for disaster for the independent garden center, certainly, but I don't think it's ultimately good for the customer either.  But if price is king, then here's the best way to make sure those overpriced independent garden centers go out of business.

1.  Rely on independent garden centers to provide answers to all of your plant questions, but buy the plants somewhere else.  Spend at least an hour with the trained and knowledgeable sales people at your local garden center -- they make a bit more per hour than the cashiers at the big box stores.  It drives up the labor cost for the independents, sure!  But if their knowledge isn't worth anything to you, then go ahead and get all you can from them.  But be sure you buy your plants from the cheapest possible source.

2.  Don't feel like driving to the independent garden center?  Then call them on the phone from the big-box store or wholesaler.  Make the independents answer all your questions about bugs, plants, fertilizers, mulches and soils.  Then buy the products somewhere else.

3.  Call the independent garden centers and ask for a free speaker for your garden club meeting.  Or better yet, organize a field trip and a tour!  How much can it cost them, anyway, to provide a knowledgeable speaker or tour guide?  Buy a little something if you feel you must, but when you redo your entire backyard, visit a wholesaler.

4.  Take advantage of the free events offered by many independent garden centers.  Bring your kids to climb all over the fall pumpkins.  Take pictures of the lovely display gardens.  Hear interesting speakers on a variety of topics.  But for heaven's sake, shop price first.

5.  Just come sit awhile in the shade at one of your beautifully landscaped independent garden centers.  Recharge your spirit while you occupy a parking space.  We don't mind!  We welcome the company.  But if you can get a plant for 10% less at a big-box store, go right ahead.

6.  Many independent garden centers offer at least a basic plant guarantee. We stand behind our products, even when they're planted in your garden.  What the true bargain hunter does:  buy a cheap-o plant from a big-box store.  When it dies (because it wasn't properly cared for at the store or at home) return it to your local independent.  Maybe they won't ask for your receipt!  After all, customer service is important to them.

You see where I'm going with this, don't you?  If consumers, by voting with their plant purchasing dollars, consistently prefer low price over beautiful surroundings, free events, plant expertise, knowledgeable people, customer service, etc. then there won't be any local garden centers.  The bargain-basement customer will end up with a bargain-basement price and will have to rely on themselves for gardening info. 

Independent garden centers can be outstanding resources for customers, providing so much more than just a plant in a pot.  I believe it's a fair product for a fair price.  If you don't agree, fine with me.  But try asking your plant questions at Home Depot or Houston Garden Centers.  See how far you get with that.

1 comment:

  1. everything you write does happen in my garden center...daily. In Houston, the market has moved in the direction of perceived low price and no service. There are those that want to take advantage of the friendly, helpful nature of the independent garden centers but don't want to support them with their dollars. It hurts those small businesses. Those that can least afford it.