The weather was ideal May 25-26, 2012, with temperatures in the 80s, moderate humidity and sunshine – perfect for gardening. The stores were very busy especially on Saturday, May 26, with consumers anxious to start their spring planting. The edible displays were particularly busy as interest in that category continues to grow – although it is somewhat surprising that Bonnie Plants seemed to be the only real organized brand with great distribution. It supplied all three national retailers with seemingly no challengers.
As we observed in Baltimore and Philadelphia, Home Depot has spectacular stores offering great products and even better merchandising, both supplied by Bell Nursery. These stores all had annuals and perennials with far more color than the competition leading back to the old basic axiom that “color sells.”
Color really sells when you combine the WOW factor with great merchandising executed by passionate, well-trained and highly motivated employees. Although Bell Nursery stocks Home Depot with above-average product quality, their real competitive advantage is their frontline personnel. Many of their competitors just don’t understand that being a good grower is only a ticket to be in the game and no longer a sole solution for success.
It’s a whole lot easier to improve product quality than it is to build a world-class merchandising group that we have seen in four different Bell markets this season and many more over the past six years. Bell obviously makes considerable investments in selection and training of this world class merchandising group.
In this market, Lowe’s competes more on the product side than on merchandising with nice clean stores stocked with good merchandise. They have a number of interesting marketing programs and a wide selection of patio pots in some very interesting containers.
• Ready Refill seems to a be a very sought-after item with each store stocking them in highly visible displays.
• 8-inch premium annuals, retail $7.98, were colorful and eye catching
• Large selection of patio pots in price points from $10.98 to $49.98
• Cell pack annuals in various sizes: 606, 306, 209
• Large numbers of flowering tropicals featuring large displays of Rio Dipladenia bred by Syngenta in a quart SKU, retail $4.98, and a 10-inch hanging basket, retail $19.98. Both sizes supplied by Fernlea Flowers.
Walmart had a large focus on the Better Homes & Gardens program with prominent displays in most stores. Overall, these stores have better garden centers than we visited in the East but not nearly as good as the stores in Atlanta and Charlotte, which are arguably the best in the country.
Overall product quality was above average but there were some issues with items like pansies and violas that were way past prime.
Most garden items were displayed in the parking lots using outdoor corrals. Each store had fairly large inventories and a surprising number of SKUs for a warehouse club. They offered some really nice patio pots and hanging baskets:
• 14-inch square patio $21.98
• 12-inch square patio combo $15.98
• 12-inch square Gerberas $15.98 (great value)
• 12-inch basket $15.98, 10-inch Mandevilla $15.98
• 10-inch Patio Elatior Begonias
• 10-inch Hibiscus Tree $18.98
• 10-inch basket basic $5.98
• Flat 606s $9.98
In this market, Costco carried the best hanging baskets we have seen this year in any warehouse club. They offered 14-inch pulp fiber baskets for $18.49, clearly the best value of the season. Their vendor used all Kwik Kombos from Syngenta and every recipe flowered together, making for very compelling displays. Consumers were mobbing the displays and buying these great combo baskets produced by Thorsen’s Greenhouses of Delaware, Ohio:
• 14-inch combo fiber baskets $18.49
• 16-inch patio combo $29.99
• 12-inch patio combo $17.99
• Eight 4-inch Geraniums $19.99
• 12-inch patio vegetable trellis $13.97
We visited two Meijers locations. This was a really well-merchandised garden center with above-average product quality provided by Masterpiece Floral. It had a large selection in an array of price points with all displays showing clear, easy-to-understand price signs. Meijer sells a lot of products in the Dillen market basket that holds six 4-inch pots. They offer hybrid geraniums, New Guinea impatiens and double impatiens in this convenient multiple sale format.
In the Columbus market, it is Bell Nursery and Home Depot who are the clear leaders, offering high-quality products coupled with amazing merchandising that create a great shopping experience for the consumers. A big part of their success is the quality and passion of their people who are highly motivated and trained.
Columbus is a very interesting market with all three national retailers offering above-average garden centers. Having Meijer with standout garden centers as well, the competition is very keen.