GG: As an independent retailer with different locations, what are your thoughts on the strides the box store channel has made in the last year?
AP: The box stores are gaining a lot of ground, regardless of what the independents may believe. The box stores are a lot more aggressive and the growers are taking a lot more control of the product. This Christmas, the box stores even had cut Christmas trees – Fraser firs, a good selection of trees. They weren’t premiums, but they weren’t Charlie Browns either. The box stores affected the independent sales of cut Christmas trees because they were selling them at a very attractive price.
Poinsettias are another example of improvement. It used to be you could (only) get a big beautiful poinsettia at a garden center, and the cheap ones were at the box store. Now, you can get one whose quality is just as good as the independent garden centers’ the day it is delivered.
GG: What could independent garden centers do to better prepare for spring each year?
AP: You can’t start looking March 1 at what product you’re going to promote. By January, you should have a really firm plan in place of how you’re going to operate that year. At least have a direction. You can always change directions and adapt throughout the year. Come October, you should really start to think about next year. By the end of January everything should be firmed up.
For us, everything has to be ready March 1. Stores have to be 100 percent set by then. Come March, the weather could be good and you could lose opportunity.
Right after the first of the year we get the place cleaned up. The sooner we get done for March 1 – another thing happens. Come March, our employees are rested. They don’t have all this pressure to get everything done. They can focus on customers. They can really do their jobs much better.
Otherwise, you miss opportunity; you’re paying overtime; you’re putting pressures where they don’t have to be if you use January and February to finalize.
Plus, if your competitors aren’t ready by March 1, customers will come to you and not others. You would be amazed at how many people would tell you they stopped somewhere and [your competitor] wasn’t ready yet. We really need to work on having the stores more year-round.
GG: What could growers serving independents be doing better?
AP: One of their big challenges is to develop systems to fit what retailer needs are. Local growers really have a huge opportunity, especially within a 200- to 300-mile radius. Another thing growers should be doing is using the retailer’s data. We share our data with our vendors. We’ll share whatever they need off our POS system to help vendors plan. We want them to see where our business is going down the road.
GG: What’s the number one factor you look for in a vendor?
AP: We look at integrity .We want to make sure we can rely on them; that the grower has all the means to grow efficiently so they’re going to be effective from a cost standpoint; and that they’re a true partner who’s willing to work with us openly.
Look for more insight from Angelo Petitti in Greenhouse Grower’s upcoming February 2012 issue.