Lawn and garden continues to be a hot growth category for The Home Depot, which has nearly 2,000 stores in the United States and Canada. Divisional Merchandise Manager Don Blume has been at the helm directing live goods sales for the last five years. He works closely with a dozen merchants who are in the trenches with growers and store managers executing programs each season. Prior to coming to Home Depot, Blume worked for another large retailer, Kmart, for 28 years–14 years in the stores and then 14 years in the buying office. Seven of those years were in plant sales. In this exclusive interview, Blume shares the strides growers and the stores have made and what’s next.
GG: How have the last five years been a transformation in how growers are working with The Home Depot?
DB: Growers are utilizing our point of sale data more today than years prior.Before, they knew what they sold us, not what the customer was buying. If they wanted a 5 percent increase and sold 20,000 plants, they’d grow 22,000 the next year. Our pay-by-scan growers are receiving detailed information by store, by SKU every day. They are much smarter about what the consumer is buying in each store, when things are selling and not. The transition between seasons is better now with that information.
Another big difference today is the merchandising aspect of live goods. Before it was drop and go. Now they are more involved in the merchandising of the product. Presentation continues to improve.
GG: How have growers stepped up to assume a leading role in coordinating the full spectrum of live goods on a regional basis?
DB: We have a lot of different models in the United States, not one dictating nationally to target the whole country. We’re looking at regional models that work. We look at what’s best in a particular marketplace based on the players involved, which varies throughout the United States. There’s not one model for Home Depot. We’re often asked if Home Depot is 100 percent pay-by-scan for live goods and the answer is no. It’s whatever works for the grower and for us, whatever works for both parties.
GG: How has the narrowing of the grower vendor base heightened accountability and performance? What metrics are used to measure performance?
DB: The stronger growers have survived and gotten stronger. We look at tons of metrics. Top-line growth and market share are the top two. Quality is at the top along with frequency of delivery. It’s taking care of our customers, which are our stores and ultimately the consumers.
GG: What role has the switch to pay-by-scan/vendor managed inventory played in live goods? What are the results today compared to 10 years ago?
DB: The quality of the goods has improved at store level. The presentation has improved from where we were 10-15 years ago. We heard there were a lot of cancellations due to weather this year. With pay-by-scan, the growers have the ability to merchandise the product in our stores. It works to our advantage to move goods in different markets when supply is tight.
GG: How are leading growers continuing to raise the bar for each other?
DB: They are continuing to raise the bar on the quality of goods and the merchandising aspects. There’s a lot of competition out there on display today. Sometimes we have to be creative because we’re tight on space and need to display plants in a parking lot, in front
of the building or on the side of the buildings.
GG: What are your expectations of the growers who serve The Home Depot and where do you see things headed? What’s next for the grower base?
DB: As I said before, there’s not a specific model for the country and regional models will continue to be the way to go, whatever works in a particular area. Within this business, there are so many regional differences. Our expectation is the category continues to grow a lot. The economy has not negatively affected this category like others year after year. At Home Depot, we’ve expanded from eight merchants to 12, which demonstrates the dedication senior management has to additional resources. The future is positive. There’s a ton of market share available with so many independent retailers and chains. The opportunity for growth is unlimited.