The Hartford area is a mixture of some outstanding IGCs and the usual spread of national retailers based on population density. My visit was June 12 (warm with intermittent rain) and June 13 (cool and rainy). There was not much traffic in any garden center during this two-day retail tour.
In almost all stores, whether big boxes or IGCs, there was a lot of inventory on the shelves and in some instances it had some age to it with a typical spring product mix. There was no indication of a transition to a summer product mix. In talking to the retailers, they had a decent year but most thought they still needed a good solid weekend of sales to make their year compete with last year.
Walmart: Emphasis On Merchandising And Perennials
It seems as though there is far less emphasis on the Better Homes and Gardens brand this season, versus what we observed last year. The Confetti recipes were by far the most colorful with all three items flowering together. In the annual category, Garden State Growers must be one of the high-performing vendors based on the product mix, product quality and merchandising teams.
Merchandisers were building displays and replenishing the inventories that had been beaten up by the inclement weather. There was a lot of positive interaction between the merchandisers and the Walmart employees, which is not always the case in many retail situations. Also noticeable was how well the stores were signed and retail prices were very obvious, which is not always the case.
It is clear that Walmart has intensified its effort on perennials with a great selection of high-quality flowering perennials from Garden State Growers. Garden State has a unique labeling system with a large sticker label on the container, which makes the price completely visible to the consumer, as well as an easy-to-scan QR code. In the Connecticut market, this perennial program is second to none in quality, assortment and merchandising. We have not seen a better perennial program this season.
Over the past several years, we have visited a lot of retailers, including many Walmart stores, and the Connecticut stores serviced by Walmart are clearly in the top quarter.
Home Depot: Sticking With Brands
Staying with its brand-centric strategy, Home Depot offered a number of national and private-label brands including Vigor, Viva, Proven Winners and Wave. There seems to be far less emphasis on the opening price point merchandise and more focus on the branded items. However, we did notice much smaller inventories of the Viva brand than in past years and a clear uptick in the Proven Winners inventories.
There is also a noticeable increase in the inventories of the Vigor brand that is the wholly owned house brand of The Home Depot.
Lowe’s: Added Value
Lowe’s still maintains a large focus on Garden Club Select (GCS) for most of its premium annuals, but also offers a small assortments of Proven Winners. Lowe’s has some good, straightforward marketing programs like the Color Of Coleus, which features an assortment of generic coleus with a colored pot and a nice descriptive label. It retails for $5.98 and is produced by CK Greenhouses, along with an outstanding Kong Coleus SKU. It’s a good way add value to a product.
Costco: A Diverse Product Mix
Here’s what we saw at Costco stores in Hartford.
• 16-inch hanging basket for $29.99 that was mostly out of bloom and somewhat small
• 12-inch patio geranium, $13.99, undersized and not enough flower
• 12-inch caged veggie, $14.69, decent item
• 14-inch perennial, $14.99, decent item
Stew Leonard’s Grocery Chain
• 8-inch annuals, $9.99
• 10-inch basic hanging baskets, $9.99
• 6-inch annuals, $6.99
• 8-inch veggies, $6.99
Independent Garden Centers Offer Advantages
A number of really well-run IGCs in the area most notably:
• Winterberry — Southington
• Van Wilgen’s — North Branford
• Lewis Farms & Bake Shop — Southington
• Revay’s — Broad Brook
• White Flower Farm — Morris
The IGCs offered a number of advantages for the consumer versus the national retailers:
• For the most part, a far better shopping experience
• Simple but really informative signage
• Far-better-trained personnel
• High-impact displays, like the geranium display at Van Wilgen’s
Connecticut is clearly one of the better markets for Walmart because of a really well-performing vendor base, led by Garden State Growers.
In this area, seed impatiens were almost non-existent because of the downy mildew scare. They are being replaced primarily with begonias, New Guinea impatiens and coleus. At several IGC retailers, there were signs explaining the mildew issue and telling consumers why they were not offering seed impatiens, whereas at the national retailers they had no signs referring to the situation.
There was noticeably a lot more begonias in various sizes, type and price points. We noticed a huge uptick in the number of Big begonias from Benary in this market, in a multitude of sizes from 6-inch to large hanging baskets and patio pots.
|Annuals Basic||6 pack||2.29||1.98||1.78|
|Proven Winners||1 gallon||9.97|
|Garden Club Select||Pint||2.98|
|Garden Club Select||Quart||3.98|
|Better Homes & Gardens||18.98|
|Better Homes & Gardens||Quart||3.68|
|Better Homes & Gardens||8-inch||6.48|