Perspective: Jason Parks, Parks Brothers Farm

An independent retailer who dismisses the box stores as a threat these days is in need of an awakening. Considering the strides the box stores have made in their garden centers the last few years, the Home Depots, Lowe’s and Walmarts in your area are as big a threat as ever to the health of the independent garden center channel.

Jason Parks, the operations manager at Parks Brothers Farm in Van Buren, Ark., is well aware of this growing threat to IGCs. As a Top 100 Grower and the largest greenhouse operation in Arkansas, Parks Brothers has built much of its business around independent garden centers in the South. Parks, therefore, is a big proponent of IGCs continuing to differentiate themselves from their big box competition.
We caught up with Parks recently to get his perspective on the health of the independents in his region and pick his brain about ideas IGCs should be implementing.

GG: What are your biggest concerns for the independent garden center channel right now?

JP: Our biggest concern for this past spring was the increased cost of delivery. We deliver on our own trucks using our own racks and drivers that we hire or from lease companies. This past spring we tapped out all the lease companies. The drivers who applied to drive don’t want to load and unload racks. In addition to that, diesel fuel was up $1 a gallon, and replacing a bob truck this year costs almost twice as much as it did six years ago for the same truck. For the next few years, we don’t expect to see any of that improve.

GG: As a grower who primarily serves IGCs, are you concerned the big box channel has gained ground or surpassed IGCs in areas like marketing, merchandising and product?

JP: Box stores have marketing departments–huge budgets compared to a single garden center–and people dedicated to securing exclusive products and programs for their stores. You aren’t comparing apples to apples. Some IGCs do a great job competing individually on store versus store level, and some don’t. IGCs, however, can reap the benefits of the marketing that the box stores do by offering alternative products (and in some cases superior varieties) and by letting the box store build the demand for the products. As we have seen, when the exclusive items become available to the IGCs, there is still a demand for them from the consumers.

The same goes for merchandising. The box stores have whole departments dedicated to researching and implementing the best merchandising practices. Again, there are IGCs who are great at this and some are not. A good way to learn is to see what the box stores or any national chain is doing with their merchandising and emulate it.

GG: Because the big box channel is gaining ground on IGCs in certain areas, what should independents be doing to further differentiate from the big box channel besides the things we usually hear like customer service?

JP: This is one of the reasons I am a grower and not an IGC owner. I don’t know if there is a good answer to that question but I have some suggestions: The first is to get involved in your state association. Second, get involved locally with your chamber of commerce and other networking groups. Third, focus on what you do best. Fourth, look into joining forces with local complementary businesses. Last, and the one that I feel is most important: work more closely with your suppliers.

GG: The big box channel has been very aggressive over the last couple years capturing new products and programs that really elevate their place in the market. How can IGCs counteract this?

JP: For a breeder with a new plant introduction, the opportunity to have a national chain promote their product is hard to resist. Again, I think the IGCs can benefit from this, but it will be several years after the introduction. I believe the only thing IGCs can do in the meantime is promote alternatives to the exclusives.

At this time there is no way IGCs can offer breeders the same opportunity. In the past, when breeders have introduced items exclusive to IGCs, the end result has not been very impressive. This could be due to the items themselves or it could be due to the marketing power that is supporting the exclusive item. I tend to think it has to do with the latter.

On a similar note, I have been talking to some folks about ideas on how IGCs can counteract the box stores aggressive marketing. While the solution will be complicated, we have definitely come up with some outside the box ideas that could work if we can work out all those pesky details.

GG: It is an independent garden center’s responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure their own well being. But how responsible are the growers serving IGCs for the independent channel’s well being?

JP: That is a loaded question. From the grower’s side, how loyal has the IGC been to them? Has the garden center done a good job communicating their needs to their growers in time for the grower to be able to make any necessary production changes?
This goes along with my last suggestion. I think healthy growers and IGCs have to have good working relationships and work closely together. I think the growers and IGCs are simultaneously responsible for the independent channel’s well being.

GG: The IGCs in your region, the South, are somewhat unique compared to IGCs in the rest of the United States. How would you characterize the health of the IGCs in your area and, if you’re willing, throughout the U.S.?

JP: Southern IGCs are unique due to many reasons. They are fighters and survivors who deal with hail storms, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes on a yearly (and sometimes daily) basis. Often times they go head to head with at least one box store and sometimes two per town and not only survive but thrive. They are mostly overlooked by the industry (with a few exceptions). Despite all of that, they are still there selling their plants with a smile on their face.

I’m not saying IGCs in other parts of the country have it easier. All IGCs face the same challenges at the end of the day, but I am biased because I think the southern IGCs may have it a little tougher due to per capita incomes, the population densities in the south and the popularity of box stores.

GG: Spring was one of the worst in recent years in a number of regions throughout the U.S. How was spring in your area and what kind of consumer behavior did you see?

JP: Locally spring was great until the middle of April when we had two weeks of rain. One day it rained about 12 inches in 24 hours just 50 miles north of us. After that were the tornados. None were here local but they did affect several of our markets. There was a small increase in sales in mid-May that was short lived. Once it got hot, everything pretty much stopped for us.

The most noticeable consumer trend was the continued interest in growing their own vegetables and herbs.

Leave a Reply

More From State of the Industry...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories
HRI logo

April 8, 2015

Horticultural Research Institute Accepting Scholarship …

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) is offering seven scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year, totaling $20,000. Applications will be accepted through May 31.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates H…

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More
cultivate'15 logo

March 4, 2015

Cultivate’15: AmericanHort Announces What’s…

In an industry that has seen major changes occurring at a fast pace, many industry professionals leave Cultivate with their heads spinning and no clear idea of how to regroup and strategize. Cultivate’15 is “Changing the Game.” As this year’s focus, Changing the Game will call your attention to the ways in which our industry has changed and your opportunities to compete successfully.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

February 2, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 State Of The In…

The Greenhouse Grower 2015 State Of The Industry Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, including comparisons on 2014 sales to past years, details on how 2015 production volume and prices will compare to 2014, crops that growers will increase and decrease production on, where growers stand on using neonicotinoids on crops, how many growers will pursue growing medical marijuana and more.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Benchmarks: Let’s Change Our Story

It's a new year. Time for our industry to change how consumers perceive plants by creating a new reality where plants are valued for more than their physical beauty.

Read More

January 21, 2015

AFE Wins Platinum MarCom Award For “Murder, Sex a…

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) took home its fourth award for the animated awareness video "Murder, Sex and Greed." The organization also recently announced that there are two new members on its board of trustees.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

January 19, 2015

2015 State Of The Industry: Current Green Industry Tren…

Demand for green industry products and services is forecasted to increase in coming years as the housing market rebounds.

Read More
DNA-logo

January 14, 2015

Terra Nigra Joins DNA Green Group

DNA Green Group will be expanding its range of cut flowers by incorporating Terra Nigra, a company specializing in breeding and propagation of gerberas and roses.

Read More

January 14, 2015

Florensis Receives Horticultural Entrepreneur Award

During the January 7, 2015 award ceremony in the Keukenhof, in Lisse, Netherlands, Florensis received the Horticultural Entrepreneur Award. Florensis was one of four nominated companies, which also included Arcadia BV, Artemis and Martens Asperges.

Read More
AmericanHort

January 9, 2015

AmericanHort Celebrates Its First Birthday

AmericanHort was formally launched one year ago on January 1, 2014, and the association is celebrating numerous successes of the first year.

Read More
Carol Miller

January 7, 2015

We’re All In This Together

Growers and retailers have a common goal — to serve customers better. In this new column, Greenhouse Grower will take a look at ways growers and retailers can work together to take advantage of profit opportunities and better meet customer needs.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Industry Speaks Out Against “Waters Of The U.S.” Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule change to the Clean Water Act, known as “waters of the U.S.,” has the potential to disrupt normal business practices for growers across the country.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Students Tackle Real-Life Challenges At National FFA Fl…

Top prize winners put skills learned in the classroom to the test at the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Floriculture Career Development Event.

Read More
Lesley Judd

January 7, 2015

2014 Meister Scholarship Awarded To Ph.D Student

The Richard T. Meister Scholarship was awarded to Lesley Judd, a graduate student with a passion for horticulture and a desire to pass her knowledge along through teaching.

Read More

January 6, 2015

39th Annual Today’s Horticulture Symposium Will Be Febr…

The Professional Gardener Alumni Association (PGAA) will hold the 39th Annual Today’s Horticulture Symposium program will be on February 6, 2015 from 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. in the Ballroom at Longwood Gardens, and will feature an array of engaging speakers.

Read More
Shawn McBurney

January 6, 2015

Society Of American Florists Hires New Lobbyist

Shawn McBurney joined the Society of American Florists' (SAF) staff starting January 5 as the new senior director of government relations.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

January 5, 2015

Growers Are Optimistic For A Strong Year In 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s State Of The Industry survey reveals that growers are being cautious about the inputs they use, and they’re worried about input costs and regulation, but enthusiastic about the rebounding economy.

Read More