Garden Retail 2012: Observations In Charlotte, N.C.

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The Flip-It tomato

The weather on Saturday, April 28, 2012, was overcast and in the low 60s (farenheit). This obviously impacted the shopper turnout, which was extremely low and very disappointing. However, on Sunday the 29th the sun came out and the temperatures zoomed into the low 80s by afternoon; stores were filled with shoppers.

Lowe’s

In Charlotte you will find some of the best Lowe’s garden centers in the country. This quality is driven by a combination of a very relevant assortment of products, crack merchandising and very consistent product quality with a lot of color, or as I prefer to say, “The WOW Factor.”  One often neglected part of merchandising is customer interaction, but in the Charlotte store it appears to be SOP. Merchandisers constantly assist consumers by answering their questions and making a lot of suggestions. This obviously leads towards both higher sales and customer satisfaction.

On the product side, Metrolina Greenhouses always seems to have a few new and innovative items each year. Some of the interesting merchandise this year was:

  • Flip-IT hanging bucket tomato. Consisting of a bucket with a handle, the tomato is planted in the bottom and can be attached to any hanging device by the handle
  • 2-gallon vase planter in a deep burgundy color — a very classy look at retail
  • 1.5-gallon wall planter
  • 8-gallon patio pot retailing for $49.98. It looks like a value and is usually displayed by the front entrance of each garden center
  • 3-quart planter called Sunken Treasures in an unusual shape that attracts a lot of attention
  • And my favorite — a pepper program in a 12” color pot with a cage, below a banner that says, “The Color of the Pot Tells You How Hot.”  There are four colors indicating the various degrees of heat: green for mild, yellow for medium, orange for hot, red for very hot.

Lowe’s offered a nice array of patio pots in price points from $6.98 for a 3-quart Color Pot to $49.98 for the huge 8-gallon. The patio containers were very colorful, and the recipes they used bloomed consistently.

Home Depot

Home Depot carries a larger inventory of woody items that seems larger than the other national retailers. It also has a much larger offering of roses, especially the Knock Out brand. In the annual category Home Depot continues to focus on the premium items in the Viva, Proven Winners and Vigoro lines. Basic annuals were a big category with the 606 on sale at 4 for $5, and large quantities of 4.5 “and T-18 trays were evident in each store. It appears that the Viva Big Red Geranium (Calliope) is doing well with good inventories in every store we visited.

A standout program was the perennials supplied by Stacy’s Greenhouses, which was highlighted by great packaging that includes large, informative labels. Stacy’s arguably displays a higher percentage of perennials in flower at the point of purchase than most perennial producers. Clearly Stacy’s knows that color sells.  When you couple this with really good merchandising, it results in a first-class program. They make good use of colored containers, especially in the 8” and 10” sizes.

Walmart

We visited really great stores with a nice assortment of products all in good color.  We especially noted that the stores are well merchandised with well-organized and creative displays. Between the Atlanta stores and the Charlotte stores, Metrolina Greenhouses clearly is a first-class vendor.  Somehow, they get things accomplished in each store that others struggle with. Whatever they do, it results in putting good, consistent products on the shelves in stores with well-merchandised displays. It appeared that they had much higher customer traffic than any area I have visited.

Some of the best patio pots were in the Walmart stores. A 14” container retailing for $29.95 was one of the most colorful combos we have seen this season. The two recipes that really stood out were Fire & Ice and Hot pink Jazz.  Another item that really looked outstanding was the Calliope geranium in a 12” patio pot retailing for $14.98 — a great value.

The Better Homes & Gardens program was well executed, although you wonder about the recipes consisting mostly of yellows and orchid shades. The packaging and POS materials seemed to all blend together to create a separate identity for the program.

Pike Nursery

As in Atlanta, their Charlotte store is very well organized and has been nicely upgraded since Armstrong Gardens took over. They are real plant people specializing in green goods, not hard goods. Pike does not have huge stacks of bagged goods but focuses on selling plants with a highly trained and knowledgeable staff.

They seem to be more focused on the whole outdoor garden, not just bedding plants and perennials.  They have a large space devoted to trees and shrubs but do have a nice assortment of annuals. Pike has large displays of Monrovia-branded products including a lot of Monrovia perennials. All in all, this store was a first-class, well-managed independent garden center.

Costco

Costco seems more focused on large evergreens and roses than annuals, but they did have an assortment of patio pots and potted annuals:

  • 3-gallon Knock Out — $12.99
  • 12” baskets — $15.99
  • 12” patio pot — $15.99
  • 8-pack 5.5”annuals — 11.99
  • 10-pack 4.5” annuals — 19.99
  • 12” hydrangea — $19.99 (With 10-12 flowers, this was a great value.)
  • 2-gallon calla lilies — $15.99

Sam’s Club

One store had built an outdoor corral in the parking lot with a lot of merchandise on display:

  • T-18 annuals — $10.95
  • 12” caged tomato — $9.98
  • 10” premium hanging basket — $8.98
  • 10” hanging fern basket — $9.98
  • 3-gallon peppers, staked — $12.98
  • 1-gallon Mandavilla ‘Sun Parasol’  — $7.98
  • 10” Mandavilla ‘Sun Parasol’ trellis — $18.88
  • 10”-square patio gerbera — $12.98

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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2 comments on “Garden Retail 2012: Observations In Charlotte, N.C.

  1. Edward Knapton

    Are the places you list really garden centers or just places that sell garden supplies and plants. Do we see the owners on the shop floor. Who grows the plants? How is the customer service? How many garden center events do they hold? How does listing the prices tell me anything about how the retail ceters operate as a business? What about the many other independent garden centers in the area

  2. Robin Siktberg

    You are correct – this is not an all-inclusive look at everything about these businesses. It is meant to be a snapshot of some of the bigger stores and the programs they are offering, as well as to give an idea of pricing in those stores. It's just a piece of the puzzle. You are correct, customer service, events and the knowledge of employees etc. are all important; this article was not intended to delve into all of that.