Independents Hold As Much Promise – Or More – As Big Boxes For Growers

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There have been a lot of articles in the press recently about the independent garden center sector, some of which cast a negative shadow on this vibrant sector. I have a totally different opinion of the independent market and feel it presents the greatest growth opportunity for the supply chain over the next five years.

First let me comment on the IGC Show held in August at Navy Pier in Chicago. This show was the most energetic and enthusiastic event of all the events we have attended in the past several years. The retailers were enthusiastic, as well as their vendors, with a lot of conversations centered on the potential growth and how to connect with the consumer.

Consider two major hardware chains, True Value and Ace Hardware, becoming far more active and opening many garden centers over the past two years.  True Value’s Home & Garden Showplace is working closely with their membership to provide more products and information on how to run a profitable garden center. True Value also recently announced a licensing deal with the Master Nursery group to help their members with more efficient buying and give them access to the Garden Elements plant brand. Look for these hardware companies to open hundreds of new garden centers over the next several years.

In traveling the country, we have visited some magnificent garden center operations that clearly tell me well managed independents can flourish even in today’s economic environment. When you see companies like Al’s Garden Centers in Oregon, Petitti’s Garden Centers in Ohio, Armstrong Garden Centers in California, and Tagawa, Welby and Nick’s in Denver, it is evident the market is strong for well-managed garden centers. These companies don’t sit around complaining about the big boxes, but I would bet the big boxes sit around complaining about them. Another great example is Bordine’s Nursery in Michigan, doing very well in arguably one of the most economically depressed states.

It is true a number of independents produce their own annuals and perennials, but the preponderance of them rely on the supply chain for their green goods. The demand over the next several years will increase as new businesses open and current garden centers expand, providing opportunity for growers. Clearly, the independents buy differently than the big boxes and that is driven by different wants and needs of this market segment. 

There has been a lot of information in the press recently about the independents– mostly favorable, but some have questioned their buying habits with comments and criticisms like these:

• Not taking commitments.
• No planning.
• Don’t take care of the plants.
• Whine about the big boxes.

Well-run companies don’t operate like this and it would be worthwhile to consider independents as a potential source of new revenue growth and to make a concerted effort to learn everything you can about them before writing them off. Too many times we all make assumptions that end up being unfounded causing us to miss opportunities.

Let me suggest that perhaps potential vendors take a more proactive approach starting with the mindset that garden centers are viable customer’s and have the potential to help you grow your business. Then it is your job to figure out their wants and needs by conducting sales interviews to uncover opportunities.

When is the last time you sat down with your garden center potentials one-on-one and asked them a series of questions about their issues, their problems? Ask them open-ended questions about their challenges, here are some examples:

• What are your biggest challenges for 2012?
• What would help you grow the bedding plant portion of your business?
• What are the most important attributes when selecting a vendor?
• In what areas would you like to see your current vendor improve?
• Tell me a little about your customer base?
• What are the services that are most important to you?
• What are your most important sizes and price points?

These are just some examples of questions you can use to uncover problems, needs and wants of your customers. Once you have a complete understanding of a potential customer, then it is time to make another sales call with a presentation based on what you discovered during the initial call.

The independent garden center is a growing segment and in my estimation will grow faster than the national retailers over the next five years.

About the author: Jerry Montgomery operates Montgomery Consulting Services and can be reached at 407-808-4077 or mrplug@cfl.rr.com.

 

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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