The Grower-Retailer Relationship: We’re All In This Together

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In Greenhouse Grower’s December issue, we published a feature from the green goods merchandise managers at Swansons Nursery in Seattle, Wash. – “A Retail Perspective: 11 Ways Growers Can Help Us.” We followed that up with another list from the team a couple of weeks later: “12 More Ways Growers Can Enhance their Retailer Relationships.”

The Swansons team made a number of progressive recommendations that growers could adopt to help retailers, including: Make better use of available technologies for consistency and accuracy in ordering and billing. Make sure all incoming plants meet the retailer’s quality standard. Invoice by individual plant type rather than the more generic “premium annual.”

It was a wish list that would make any retailer’s life easier. And it also laid a lot of the responsibility for change at the feet of growers. So, I wasn’t surprised when much of the feedback we received on the articles was less than thankful and enthusiastic about all the helpful new ideas.

Unlikely Competitors

Growers can (and did) argue that some of the suggestions in the articles just aren’t feasible for everyone. That’s probably true, but it seems clear from these requests there is a feeling that growers simply haven’t been responsive enough to the needs of their customers; that perhaps the relationship has been a little one-sided.

That’s not the case with all growers, of course, but I’ve talked with enough retailers over the years to know many of them share the same frustrations.

If there is an underlying message in the articles from Swansons, it is “Please make an effort to understand my business!”

From my seat on the outside looking in, it often feels like the grower-retailer relationship is one of tough competitors rather than one where both sides need the other to survive and succeed.

As one commenter on the articles said, “Growers and retailers always want the best of both worlds. Growers want retailers to pre-book their orders, and retailers want growers to have enough of every item that they need every week without pre-booking.”

Taken to that extreme, it’s a losing proposition for one side or the other. The only real solution to problems like this obviously lie somewhere in the middle. That means communicating regularly and trying to find ways you can help your business partner win. There has to be a commitment to making sure your customers – and your suppliers – can be successful enough to still be your customer or your supplier next year and the year after that.

I Don’t Win If You Lose

It’s easy to sit back and say, “The Other Guy needs to change and understand my business better.” And it’s true. They do. But think about the flipside – to your customers and to your suppliers, you are also The Other Guy. And I can pretty much guarantee they’re saying the same thing about you.

The business of growing and selling plants has changed. It’s changed for you. It’s changed for your retail customers and for their customers. It’s changed for your suppliers and for their suppliers too. This isn’t a zero-sum game, where if you win, I lose. Business today needs to be about finding ways everyone can win.

Opportunity lies in the space between supplier and buyer. The forward-thinking growers and retailers who can figure out how to bridge that divide will be the ones we’re all looking at as success stories.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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