Garden Centers are dead. Long live the garden center!

Whole Foods Garden Center
The picture shows the “garden center” at our local Whole Foods. They have had the metal racks with the plants on them in years past. They have sold soil amendments, too. This year was the first time they decided to put their banner up proclaiming the front of the store a “garden center”.

It’s come to the point where anyone selling a few plants or soil amendments can call themselves a garden center. As the younger generations and new gardeners start to experience their first “garden center” the idea of  independent garden centers will diminish. Who needs a real garden center when they can buy the organic, locally produced vegetable starts at the grocery store (garden center).

This trend is here to stay. It means the number of independent garden centers will continue to decrease as businesses attach small garden outlets to their stores, and call them garden centers. The memory of what garden centers were will soon fade, as more and more of us buy our garden supplies at Whole Foods, Costco, The Farmers Market, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, The Hardware Store, The Hydroponic Store, online, etc.

Yes, there is still room for indie garden centers, but their numbers will be much decreased. The new era of garden retailing is here to stay. Where do you and your business fit in?


About Trey Pitsenberger

Trey is a nurseryman, author, and speaker.

04. March 2013 by Trey Pitsenberger
Categories: | Tags: , , , , | 10 comments

Comments (10)

  1. I don’t know. I’ve picked up a few plants here and there at WF, but the selection just isn’t there and I don’t really see them giving up grocery aisles for more garden center products. And TJ’s is even more space-squeezed. Business at Talini’s is booming. An interesting question to ask is why. I have some ideas about that.

  2. I’m torn on this issue, maybe it is with the label of ‘Garden Center’ being thrown around with these store fronts.

    I like the fact that some of these stores are using store fronts to capitalize on their foot traffic. They won’t have the breadth and depth of an independent but maybe this could actually help indies. This could be the start of gardening for some people… them picking up a pack of lettuce etc. for the first time and having that spark their interests. But then, after some success with that- or them wanting to try other things that they commonly buy in the produce department (and can’t find in these store fronts because they lack the selection), they will have to probably go to an IGC for them.

    I feel like this trend means making it or breaking it for local indies. If you listen to what your customers want and that means, maybe you need to change your ways of doing business (using Facebook, websites, etc). The ways of doing business have changed… so I feel like you need to look for opportunities that your competition (big or small) might be falling short of and with a little (sometimes lots) of hard work, determination, and an open mind- that can take you far.

    • Jess, I agree with the term “garden center being thrown around.” I see it everywhere. What can you do? Nothing. Anyone can call themselves a garden center. I also agree that it’s a make or break time for the remaining indie garden centers. Some will thrive, others will hybridize, and still others will die. Overall I feel the “old school” model of garden centers will decline well over 50%.

  3. When I first saw plants and seeds at grocery stores, I thought it might be a good thing in my naive/ optimistic worldview: you can buy food producing plants and seeds with SNAP benefits. ( I know no one does, but I can dream of a word where families going through tough times see the value of a garden over processed food)

  4. I wouldn’t write off the garden center just yet. That obit is a tad premature. Centers in the right locations can do a bang up business. Yes, Capital Nursery shut down. Capital Nursery thought they could stay in the same location, decade after decade, instead of moving to where the new customer base is. Case in point? If you would have visited Green Acres in Roseville last night, a Sunday night, you would have found it PACKED with people. They were supposed to close at six. When I left at 6:30, there were close to 100 people who were still there. Gardening centers must change and adapt with the times. Change means moving to where the new gardeners are.

  5. A “garden center” sign or banner does not a garden center make. It’s been this way a long time and nothing really has changed except that there are a lot more “garden centers” like those in the consumer’s mind. Yet, there is only one “Golden Gecko” – the name your customers identify you by almost always WITHOUT the words garden center attached to it. They’ve already defined you in a new space – without all the rest. At least that should be the goal.

  6. I don’t like our franchised culture, ‘cept when I go to Sbux … but here’s one thing I think about the indie centers that needs to be addressed if they’re to be profitable, and thus continue.
    I worked at Capital for a short time one January. They had year-round staff, but no customers. I don’t see how nursery centers can survive if they have to stay open year-round, but are really only busy 6 months of the year. Doesn’t seem smart to me. In that sense, it’s not the big box stores putting them out of business. Lots of industries have to change their operating business to stay viable. Holding on to an outdated model is the cause of the RIP.

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