A question was asked of garden tradespeople. “Who are the 10 most influential people in garden retail today?” Some of the answers included consultants, breeders, and the customer.
There is no one person, or ten people who are the most influential in garden retail. The most influential people in garden retail are those who are involved in sharing with one another, mostly via the numerous online trade groups. It’s the ability to share ideas in real time with others in the trade, no matter where they are located.
Some of the best ideas I have heard are from people who otherwise wouldn’t even be known outside their garden shop world. They willingly share their ideas for the rest of us to try. I look forward to what my fellow trades people have to say. It’s through the folks who are on the floor working with the customer that the most profound ideas arise.
My vote for the most influential people in garden retail is a vote for the tradespeople who willingly share their ideas with others without any compensation other than the joy of sharing.
We talked earlier about How the Competition May be Hard to Spot. Food growing has taken on a life of its own and everybody has new ideas and techniques they want to talk about. Eliooo is a book which describes how to make a hydroponic system for growing food from parts bought at the local IKEA.
Two huge takeaways for me are, the explosive growth of the “maker culture”, or DIY (Do it yourself) movement and the mainstreaming of hydroponics. Oh, and one other takeaway. This is all done without the need of a local garden center. It’s only a matter of time before IKEA seize on this and start selling vegetable plants. They already sell house plants.
When we first started talking about selling hydroponics here in July of 2008 it was considered esoteric and something only marijuana growers used. No more! It’s going main stream and the problem for many garden shops is the people who are really interested in this stuff often think of places like IKEA, or Home Depot before they think of the local garden center.
The other important trend going on here is the “maker culture”. The author of Eliooo, Antonio Scarponi says he wants to show how to make this out of stuff you may already have, or can buy cheaply. How will you stay relevant when you need to sell “stuff” and these projects are more about ideas. How can you spread ideas and still make enough to stay in business? It will involve a new way of thinking and valuing what we do as horticultural professionals.
What would you do if a customer said they wouldn’t shop with you because you carry “Round-Up”, or “Miracle-Gro”? Why? Because by selling these products you are supporting Monsanto. You might mention that Round-Up is not solely produced by Monsanto anymore, or that Miracle-Gro is not made by Monsanto, but they just don’t care. In their eyes, you’re selling these products makes you part of “the problem”.
This is a whole new challenge in the world of gardening business. Yesterday I had a customer start ranting about Monsanto, and how they would only plant heirlooms so as to “stick it” to the company. I didn’t bother to respond as you could just tell they had made up their minds, and heirloom vegetables we’re the only way forward. What was interesting to watch was his son, approximately 9 or 10 years old, start ranting about Monsanto, too. You could well imagine what the conversation around the kitchen table must be like.
Rather than respond to each and every customers concerns, it might be wise to address this kind of stuff through your on-going dialog with your customers via social media, including in- store signage. If you have built up a reputation for truthful, fact based information you can spread this easier through your social media efforts, than one on one with customers who have “made up their minds”.
As our society becomes more and more fragmented into a million different causes and concerns, you will have to deal with all sorts of unforeseen consequences in your business. It will be easier to traverse this new world if you are sure of where you stand concerning what you sell. We choose the organic route as it’s what we believe in. We lose some customers when they ask for a specific synthetic fertilizer that we have chosen not to carry. Why not just carry it and make a few sales? Because it’s not who we are, and our fans know that. We send them to Home Depot, or the local hydro-shop.
At one time a garden center served the entire gardening community in a town. Now there are plenty of places for people to but their garden related stuff. Home Depot, the local hydro shop, Whole Foods, online, Costco, Payless, etc. Choose your theme carefully. It’s no longer just a 9 to 5 job you can leave behind at the end of the day. You will have to live it, or go crazy trying to please all the people, all the time.
My post from yesterday concerned the confusion concerning the differences between GMO’s, Heirlooms, hybrids, etc. Seems our customers in the garden businesses are receiving all sorts of mis-information that is affecting what they buy and plant. After I posted yesterday my first phone call at work was whether we carried organic seeds. I asked why, and they said they didn’t want to buy anything Monsanto had a hand in. Yup, they equate anything non-organic with Monsanto, and they are not the only people feeling this way.
To the rescue horticulturist “Farmer Fred” Hoffman posted a link to a PDF file this morning from the Home Garden Seed Association. It’s a fantastic summation of the differences between various horticultural terms concerning this subject. Do you know the difference between “GE” (Genetically Engineered) crops and “GMO’s” (genetically modified organisms)? Here is a shocker. Most people are concerned about GMO’s when the should be concerned about GE’s. GMO’s are “organism produced through any type of genetic modification, whether by high-tech modern genetic engineering, OR long time traditional plant breeding methods”. That means likely you have have GMO’s growing in your yard right now, and it’s OK!
I have been involved in horticulture for 30 years, and didn’t know some of this stuff. Imagine what a new garden enthusiast would be wondering about all this. Here is your chance as an independent garden professional to spread facts, and not fear. Encourage your fans (customers) to do the same.
Likely the most interesting trend I’ve noticed this year we’re the questions from customers asking if we sold GMO seeds, or plants. They seem concerned that they might purchase genetically modified organisms from us. Of course we don’t sell GMO’s, as I would suspect most garden centers don’t. The concern is that the public also seems to be confusing hybrids with GMO’s. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain that hybrids are not GMO’s, or that heirloom’s are not the only safe food to eat.
What can the local garden shop do? First you have to gain the public’s trust, and that doesn’t usually happen overnight. It takes years to build that, so you had better start today. I know of garden shops that purposely will spread rumors that seem at first to their benefit. Yes, there are some dishonest type garden shops out there.
Just the other day I called a local garden center to see if they had a product we we’re out of, fish emulsion. The person on the phone said they didn’t have that particular brand; wouldn’t you like our brand? No, I needed a specific size, and brand. Then they started to tell me about how my brand might have “mercury” in it? Talking down the brand we carry to promote their brand? They didn’t know who I was or that I represented a garden business, like them.
No wonder the public is confused. I have had people say they wouldn’t buy our Foxfarm Potting Soil because it was owned by Monsanto! Say what? Apparently the rumor was started on message boards and has spread from there. It’s even caused the CEO of the company to send e-mails out saying the rumor were false. Too late, damage done and sales lost.
We are entered the age of rumors and innuendo spreading quickly through The Internet. What happens when your company becomes the focus of these types of rumors? These things can be countered, but only if you know they are happening (keep an eye on your reputation on The Internet), and have a loyal following of customers (fans) that will stick up for you. Often stopping these rumors is just a matter of a critical mass of “fans” speaking up for you, because they trust you, and don’t want to see you hurt.
Trust is the “gold” of The Internet. Start building it today.
It’s easy in our trade to point at the mass merchants as the prime competition for smaller independent garden centers. When you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and see the line of people snaking out the door on a sunny weekend, you might think, “That’s where all my customers went”. After all, the box stores most resemble our brick and mortar operations in that you have to go to the store and buy stuff.
What we need to notice is not so noticeable. It’s the power of The Internet to draw business from your store. You don’t see the people who now buy their fertilizer online instead of from you. They might still shop at your store, but the total sale might be smaller since their gardening dollars are being used to buy more stuff online. It will become increasingly probable that the customer will still come to your store to buy some potting soil for the citrus tree they bought online. They might still come to your store for advice, for the succulents they bought online. They don’t need fertilizer since the succulent place sold them some. Of course, as soon as they can get real time advice online they won’t even need to come into your store and bug you with their questions.
This could be quite depressing for the small garden shop, or it could be invigorating depending on how you look at it. What can I say? I do much of my shopping online now. I buy locally roasted coffee online. I support a local business this way, and get really great coffee beans shipped to my door. This doesn’t have to be the end of the small, local garden shop. People do want to support smaller local businesses, but only if they do it better than larger concerns. We worry that we can’t compete with the bigger players online. That assumes that those already online are doing it right. What if you could take the the small garden shop concept and offer it to more potential customers online?
Your biggest competitor could be another small garden shop that decided instead of fighting change, to roll with it. They offer the same great service you do, but to a larger audience. They ship quick, offer free real time advice, and enjoy the good will of customers who feel they are supporting a small, well run operation. Sure it would be nice to have that fertilizer customer come into your brick and mortar store. They would be able to enjoy the ambiance, and maybe see some other stuff they want. You know what? They just want to get that fertilizer. They don’t have time to come and visit your store. If you don’t make it easy to buy it from you, they will buy it somewhere else that is more accommodating to their needs.
We talked a couple of days ago about, “The Day Your Supplier Sells Direct to The Customer”. It was about the inevitability that some of our suppliers will sell direct to the public, rather than using the traditional sales chain of wholesale, to retail, to the customer.
Four Winds Nursery is a great example of a company that has decided to sell direct to the customer, as well as the box stores, and the smaller indie garden centers. Four Winds grows and sells mostly citrus trees and have been around longer than I can remember. They we’re at one time a indie garden shop supplier, then the headed into the box stores, and now they will sell directly to the end user!
The online section of their web page offers foil gift wrapping. They ship to most of the country, and also have “Citrus Zester” you can pick up in the kitchen department. What a great gift idea for friends or relatives back east. A dwarf lime tree for their mojitos! Spend over $120 and you even get a 10% discount. Wait, don’t people want to drive over to your store, possibly find that citrus tree, and then figure out how to ship to their relatives? You think they will be happy to hear you say “we don’t ship”? What a hassle when all they have to do is “click” buy and ship at The Four Winds Online Store.
There are only so many suppliers of citrus trees, so the trees that Four Winds ships would have been the same trees in your nursery! What a win for the customer, and Four Winds.
Welcome to the future of garden retail.
Does that customer buy all their gardening goods from you? Some customers do, but I think the majority buy some of their gardening supplies from you, but also spread their gardening dollar around to other businesses.
When a customer shops at Whole Foods in Folsom they walk right past the “garden center” to enter the door. The garden center is some racks with vegetable and flower starts on them. These are not sad looking little starts, but organically grown starts produced by a small local grower. That small grower use to just sell to independent garden centers. Reality set in and they got the gig with Whole Foods. The soils are organic and produced by a small operation putting quality at the forefront. So easy to buy a few vegetable starts, pick up some potting soil, and head home with the groceries. There is no, “can I get these plants healthier or cheaper anywhere else?” You can’t.
That same person heads home and sees that tomatoes need fertilizer on a regular basis. They didn’t call your garden shop, but looked it up online. Guess what? The place they looked it up online also sells the appropriate organic fertilizer. Why wonder all the way to the garden shop to buy fertilizer when all the information and products are a click away, and two days from delivery? Click, and now the fertilizing needs of the tomatoes will be met.
Something is eating the tomato plants. Let’s search “tomato plants chewed” and see what comes up. Ah, ah! Tomato horn worms can be picked off by hand, or you can spray organic BT on the plants. Low and behold the BT can be shipped overnight express from the very place that provided the information and advice. How cool and convenient.
About that garden center the customer never visits. No, they really don’t want to have to go there. It’s always crowded, smells like pesticides, and the people working there seem too busy to help you. Besides, you don’t want to feel stupid by asking stupid questions. Your intelligent and know how to use The Internet to find out just about anything. Frankly, if you never have to visit that Home Depot garden center again, that would be fine by you.
Where do you and your small independent garden center fit into this picture?