Greenhouse Grower’s lead editor, Laura Drotleff, and I got into a debate about why garden retailers, especially independent garden centers, snub marketing efforts from breeders and growers. She was very much on the breeders’ and growers’ side, expressing frustration about how limited retailers’ vision can be on the topic.
I’ve reported on the garden retail side of the industry since 1998, about the same length of time Laura has reported on growers. I’ve heard a lot of retailer views on this, so allow me to share the most common reasons why retailers decline free marketing:
- Costs. While the marketing materials are free, and sometimes advertising, participating in these projects usually requires minimum orders. From a grower’s perspective, the minimum orders are reasonable. If garden stores promote a plant line, they need to have enough supplies to satisfy demand. From a retail perspective, if inventory reports show a plant line can be expected to sell at a certain level that’s well below the minimum order, they’re hesitant to put money behind the line. No matter how much the grower tries to prove plant sales will improve with the right merchandising and branding, retailers will resist spending more money than they’re comfortable with. That doesn’t mean they won’t take a risk, but it will be an uphill battle.
- Branding. Branded plants are a touchy topic in this industry. In short, growers will point to all the research proving branding works. Retailers tend to fall into two camps. One group is those who want to promote their store brand. Independent garden centers try to position themselves as offering higher quality and more knowledgeable staff in order to compete with mass merchants. You can argue how effective downplaying any brand but their own store brand really is, but this is something that’s embraced widely among local garden centers.
Another aspect is retailers want to have a higher-end look when compared to hardware stores and mass merchants. Too many competing brands can cue shoppers that this store is more about bargains than quality. Admittedly, there are many store owners who think they have a high-end look when its very much a worn-down place, but that doesn’t change the fact that they believe their store to be a Neiman Marcus when compared to The Home Depot.
The other issue behind why independents avoid branded plants is a lightening rod. Many feel that they made most garden brands the big names they are today, and that they were repaid by being sold out to the mass merchants.
This was a much bigger issue when it was less common for companies to sell to both channels. Today’s suppliers are smarter about how they handle selling to a box store and, say, John Smith’s Garden Center. At one point, though, mass merchants were getting such deep discounts that they could sell a product at retail for less than what the independent was offered as a wholesale price. That ticked a lot of people off, and memories are long in this industry.
- One size fits all. A challenge growers face when selling to independent garden centers is that there are no standards. No standard size. No standard product mix. No standard purchasing policies. That dynamic comes into play with marketing and branding efforts.
Many of merchandising and marketing efforts require retailers to devote a certain square footage to the products along with minimum orders. What can be a reasonable size in one store can be overwhelming at another. If brands require the promoted products to be at the front of the plant display area, at one store those plants can be one of several front-of-the-store displays while at another it is the only front-of-the-store display due to layout.
- Rules are too restricting. From a retailer perspective, consumer trends are where big sales growth lies. If consumers are buying fairy gardens in huge quantities and the profit margins are big, retailers will want to leverage that as much as they can. They’ll pull together every product possible to boost sales, regardless of who supplies it. And if a brand requires that no other plant brands can be sold mixed in with their own, that creates limits that retailers don’t like.
All this said, retailers miss out on more than they know when they snub good offers to promote plants.