The temperatures were ideal with days in the high-70s and nights in the mid-60s, but there was some intermittent rainfall. The stores were jammed with product. April 7 was a strong retail day with good, but not overwhelming, consumer traffic. Flamingo Road Nursery Davis, Fla., however, had so many cars it took me 15 minutes to finds a parking spot. It was by far the busiest garden center of the more than 30 visited.
The tables in most garden centers were still fairly full, possibly with the exception of hanging baskets where we saw a lot of empty basket lines. It seemed to me that traditional bedding plants were not that strong, especially seed grown basic annuals, and that many shopping carts had more of the premium items along with landscape foliage plants. The vegetable displays were not as busy as one would expect this time of year, and it was somewhat surprising not to see any Grow Your Own (GYO) vegetables at Lowe’s.
Clearly the leader in South Florida with the busiest stores offering a very diverse and relevant line-up of products and the best packaging with lots of colored containers. Some of the interesting packages were:
- Colors of Coleus- yellow pots
- Premium Petunias 3 different colors depending on the variety
- Colors of Coleus- pink pots
- Cora Vinca- bright pink pots
- Generic Vinca- pink pots
- Colors of Caladiums- pink pots
- Colors of Celosia- Aqua blue
- Soil Wrap- four color printed
They have also developed a branded program for generic annual bedding plants positioned for South Florida called Flower for Florida. This program is offered in a 306, 1 quart and 1 gallon sizes with printed pots and nice, descriptive labels. The 306 is a handle pack with graphics and seems to be the largest stock-keeping unit (SKU). All of the items we saw were open-release items with a lot of ‘Mexican Heather,’ ‘Blue Daze’ and generic lantanas, all of which are high volume items. The color of the packaging could benefit from something lighter or brighter, but the concept is valid and puts a lot more focus on generic offerings at the point of purchase.
One store had a really descriptive point-of-sale (POS) sign, maybe 4-by-3-feet, stating the brand attributes, as well as a QR tag:
- Bedding plants with year round color
- Selected to withstand the Florida sun
- Add color year round; no need to replant every season
- Attract butterflies and hummingbirds
The stores were very well merchandised with the exception of some missing or occasionally misplaced pricing signs. One thing is very clear that Lowe’s is doing more to educate their customer’s than many other retailers. Some stores display how-to vignettes on things like “How to Make a Tree Ring,” where they build the tree ring and display all the components with prices adjacent to it. One store built a mock-up of a backyard with a fence, furniture, landscape plants, stone and sod, and they listed the components and prices. You know they are serious when this much retail space is devoted to customer education.
In this market, each location is like a store within a store, with Pure Beauty in the front of the garden center and Riverview Greenhouses in the middle section in front of the bushes and trees. Both companies offer annuals and perennials The Florida Friendly (Riverview) brand is comprised of mostly a 1 gallon SKU but they have recently added a quart SKU. Riverview also has some high-density pack vegetative items in a program called SausEdge as well as some mixed patio containers.
Pure Beauty handles the other brands with a lot of emphasis on Vigoro and Viva that leaves me somewhat confused on their pricing strategy with Vigoro 1-gallon geraniums priced at $3.97 and Viva ‘Big Red’ geraniums priced the same. In the Viva line, they had a large number of items including petunias, geraniums, dahlias (new XXL) and a lot of Sunpatiens.
In this market, there is a large emphasis on seed-grown annuals with a lot of space devoted to 4.5-inch priced at $0.99 and an 18-pack priced at $9.96.
The stores were fairly well merchandised with the biggest issue being the number of displays with no price signs.
The hot new program for Walmart is certainly the Better Homes and Gardens (BH&G) program that appeared on the shelves of six of the 10 stores we visited. The program consisted of the following sizes:
- Quart retail- $3.68
- 8” combo retail- $5.98
- 12” Hanging basket- $15.98
- 12” Patio combo- $15.98
Some stores merchandised on carts with a colorful header board, while others put it on tables or risers. If seems to me the program was dominated by yellow shades with recipes that did not wow. The packaging and labeling were well done, but the label visibility would greatly benefit if they employed the use of a locking label.
The recognition of BH&G as a brand of leading experts in the lawn and garden category partnered with this global retail leader means this brand will make a positive impact.
Overall there did not seem to be much traffic in these garden centers, as evidenced by the aging inventories and a lot of missing price signs. One store, #1916, was the busiest we have seen this year and had a line at the garden center register stretching back into the store. There were only two customers in the green goods area, which is probably a sign of the times.
No outdoor garden plant offering, Costco focused only on the Easter plant sales.
- 8” azalea- $11.98, a super value
- 10” hydrangea- $17.49, a real value
- 10” Easter lily (4PPP)- $15.99, a great quality
- 6” orchid- $19.99
- 2g bougainvillea- $9.99
- No vendor ID on any of the above items
Had a large array of indoor and outdoor garden offerings.
- 10” Caged peppers-tomatoes- $9.98, a great value from Metrolina Greenhouses
- 3 pack 6” Easter lilies- $15.98, an above average quality from Metrolina Greenhouses
- 10” Easter lily- $15.98, a great value from Metrolina Greenhouses
- 10” Premium HB- $9.98 from Metrolina Greenhouses
- Just Add Ice Orchid 5”- $14.98, almost sold out from Green Circle Growers
- Daffodils in a garden vase- $8.98, a super value from Green Circle Growers
- Easter basket with two mini roses- $14.98
- T-18- $10.98 from Metrolina Greenhouses
- Wooden Basket with four flowering plants- $22.98 nice item-No Vendor ID
Flamingo Road Nursery, Davie, Fla.
Talk about a great shopping experience. This garden certainly provides a great experience through product offerings and the friendliest, helpful people in retail. Additionally, the overall venue is so compelling you want to keep looking.
This venue includes:
- Farmer’s Market
- Juice Bar
- Country Store
- Boar’s Head Deli that also sells box lunches. You see many customers sitting around enjoying their lunches.
The merchandise is all separated by use, and there are a lot of signs helping the consumer find their way around. The most impressive part of this shopping experience is that the personnel were all laser-focused on the needs of the consumer and seemingly very knowledgeable about the products.
This place had more customers than any four national retailers combined by far, but because of the way the store was laid out, there are very few bottlenecks. Well, maybe a few in the parking areas. Their prices are a little higher than the national retailers, but the service is off the charts.
I did not note any prices because this is not a place you would come to if you only want cheap. The only area that was a little disappointing is the restrooms are hard to find and a little dated.
It was a little surprising to see the lack of challengers for the vegetable sector with Bonnie Plants in this market controlling over 90 percent of the category. Arguably they have improved the program over the past two years with much better and more relevant POS, changing their patio vegetables to colorful caged containers and expanding their herb bowl offerings.
Their merchandising skills have increased, as evidenced by how they space the trays on the shelves of stores where there is a decline in sales velocity.
In the small fruit sector, Costa Farms has done a nice job packaging and has a package of two plants with convenient handle. In the non-vegetable category, strawberries are most popular and are getting stronger with the great seed varieties from ABZ Seed. It seems as though the dormant roots are rapidly becoming irrelevant.
Every day we see visual evidence that packaging is becoming more important, and the successful growers see this as an opportunity to increase the sell-through at retail by offering a more compelling look at the point of purchase.
We are entering an era of brands battling for retail shelf space as the proliferation of brands continues.
Of the current brands, how many have the distribution necessary to be successful? Just because you put a well-known name on it, does not mean it will sell. Many forget about distribution and product differentiation.
Of all the new entrants, HGTV has the best chance of succeeding because they partnered early in the development stage with Dummen, who has great genetics, knows major retailers and has grower distribution in place.
There is one thing that will come out of this battle and that is a greater investment in the marketing of green goods, and that is a very good thing.