Marketing consultant Jerry Montgomery spent the weekend in Charlotte visiting the Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers Metrolina Greenhouses serves, among other garden centers in the Charlotte area. Below are his findings from the April 24-25 weekend.
On Saturday (April 24), retail traffic was heavy and consumers were buying like there would be no plants available tomorrow. Vegetables, as usual, were getting a lot of attention with the Bonnie displays being pillaged, especially at Lowe’s, which ran a buy-one, get-one free on 5-inch SKUs.
I observed many hanging baskets and potted annuals in the larger patio containers seemed to be a little sluggish at retail. On Sunday, after a huge overnight storm, it was overcast and threatening rain until about 2 p.m. when the sun appeared. Most of the day was slow at retail until the sun came out. Then the pace picked up but nowhere near Saturday’s pace.
It is clear, based on visiting almost 300 stores this spring, that the consumer wants to buy green goods with a special emphasis on edibles. The only obstacle is the weather. The demand is certainly there; it is just a question of how good or bad the weather will be in various locations.
Walmart in this region has great stores, offering great quality with a lot of “wow.” Stores are well merchandised, clean and all SKUs have clear pricing signage. Between Charlotte and Atlanta, you will seldom find Walmart garden centers of this caliber. Store No. 1452, which sells all outdoor plants in a parking lot corral, was one of the busiest garden centers I have ever visited. The parking lot was 100 percent full and plants were literally flying out doors.
These were the best Lowe’s stores I’ve seen, featuring good quality products, clean well-organized stores with superior merchandising. Lowe’s also offered an array of novelty items more typical of an independent garden center. The novelties were:
–8-inch ‘Kong’ coleus
–Sweet n’ Neat 8-inch patio cherry tomato
–8-inch strawberry baskets
–Plant the Pot, offered in pints and quarts, premium annuals in a coco fiber pot
–Wing pack premium annuals
–10-innch trellis thumbergia, named the Climbing Collection
–Wave double petunias
Also noticeable was the amount of interaction between consumers and merchandisers, who always took the time to answer questions and make recommendations.
The Grown Your Own (GYO) edible program was really well executed in this market with a nice array of tomato and pepper varieties offered in both the quart and 1-gallon SKUs.
I noticed a nice improvement in the product quality and merchandising compared to the last two seasons. I saw nice 10-inch hanging baskets using the Dömmen Confetti concept that seems to always look good at retail.
It is still hard to understand the Viva versus the Vigoro brand, with some premium items in Vigoro 1-gallons priced at $5.97 and the Viva items all priced at $5.97 in this market. I have yet to see Viva ‘Rhythm and Blues’ petunia look like a premium item. It always seems to be open in the center and stretched, whereas the Viva ‘Lemon Zest’ and ‘Orange Zest’ have a neat, compact habit.
Home Depot has one of the best perennial programs in this area from Stacy’s Greenhouses, featuring large, easy-to-read labels with lots of consumer information. Containers are marked “sun” or “shade” and always have nice promotional items, like the 8-inch salvia ‘May Night’ in a colorful lilac container that really stands out at retail.
Located in an upscale area of Charlotte, Pikes is clearly a premium retailer and a consumer destination. As it does in Atlanta, Pike offers products that are not available at the big boxes at higher but reasonable prices, especially on premium items like the Monrovia line of perennials and bushes. Most of their vegetable SKUs were organically grown and featured the Organiks brand.
Items offered at Costco were:
- 12-inch patio tomato, not caged, retailing at $13.99
- 12-inch coco fiber baskets retailing at $29.99
- 12-inch patio pots retailing at $15.99
- 3-gallon Knock Out roses retailing at $14.99
- 12-inch hanging basket ferns retailing at $14.99
Items offered at Sam’s Club were:
–12-inch coco fiber basket retailing at $17.86—an outstanding item
–10-inch fern hanging basket retailing at $9.88
–10-inch tomato caged retailing at $9.43—value
–13-inch Castella patio pot retailing at $17.86—a great buy
As observed last year, the flowering tropical category continues to emerge and grow and is now consuming considerable shelf space. The growth has been spawned by the revolutionary new genetics from Suntory. The Sun Parasol group has revolutionized the category with great genetics and good marketing.
The edible category is growing by an estimated 30 percent, plus as consumers are spending more time at home, some say they are motivated to save money by producing some of their own edibles. What is really interesting is most are focused on vegetables, while companies like Lowe’s are focused on the entire edible category with its Grow Your Own (GYO) program launched this season.
I have seen a lot of interest in perennials, especially when they are offered in flower, as exhibited by the Digitalis offered at Lowe’s and Walmart by Metrolina and Layman. It seems as though every other cart was leaving with flowering perennials. Another great program was the ‘May Night’ salvia in an 8-inch container sold in full flower from Stacy’s at Home Depot. Hey, color sells!
Charlotte is an exciting market with some of the best Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers in the country supplied by Metrolina Greenhouses–clearly one of the top-performing vendors in the country.