Everyone on our staff, including me, loves new plants. The problem is there are always more. There are more annuals, more perennials, more shrubs and trees than you could possibly offer. More petunias, more heuchera, more hydrangea, more of everything — you get the drift.
Here’s how we edit our choices at Lowe’s Greenhouses:
First Step: Review Performance
Since we grow our annuals and perennials, planning for a successful spring next year begins as soon as this year has ended.
Early in July our retail staff discusses the winners and losers of the season. What did we have too much of, what did we fall short on and what was requested that we did not have at all? The staff fills out a questionnaire to focus in on what is most important: How we can grow sales?
Our production team notes order cancellations, variety substitutions, crop failures and production errors that may have affected our retail availability and/or plant quality. Specific plant varieties’ performances are noted, as is weather that may have affected growing conditions.
Customers Think Differently
Interestingly enough, as fast as the pace of new and exciting plant introductions has grown, the appetite of our typical consumer for those plants has diminished.
My typical customer doesn’t know what is new, but they sure do buy dynamic color. They don’t value unique as much as ease of care. They aren’t as excited about new plants as the hobbyist gardeners that helped build most of our businesses over the past 20 years.
Quality is a non-issue. Consider televisions. It is really hard to buy a bad TV. They are all pretty much the same. In fact, with cars, phones, computers, and, yes, plants — there isn’t nearly as much difference today between the various offerings as there once was.
What makes a huge difference is the quality, methods and costs of delivering these plants to our doors. I need vendors who will deliver what I want, when needed and in good condition. It’s more important than the latest and greatest shipped (at great expense) from across the globe.
There’s Still Room For Excitement
How do we distill a tangled field of introductions along with everyone’s desires into our plant list?
If we add something to the mix, it will be at the expense of something else. So what do we look for when adding a new plant to the mix?
First, can we buy/grow and sell this plant at a profit? As much as we seem like a non-profit, it isn’t something we necessarily plan for. Next, it has to fit a current dynamic within our product mix. Adding colors to existing plant lines is most likely — adding ‘Cherry Rocket’ to our existing snapdragon selections, adding ‘Stars and Stripes’ mandevilla or adding Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ to complement ‘Limelight.’
Trends have an impact. This year we added several new sedums, lewisia and sempervivums in response to succulents’ popularity. We’ve also added numerous vegetables, herbs and fruit, as well as dwarf and miniature plants. Trends come and go, so we adjust offerings as these fashions come into or go out of vogue.
Some introductions offer solutions to gardening issues. Endless Summer hydrangeas blooming on new wood, long- blooming and care-free Knock Out roses, downy-mildew-resistant SunPatiens — these are easily added to the mix. (At least until something better rolls along.)
I value shelf-life, as well as production efficiency. I look for features that I know will lead to product turns and profitability. Look at the ease with which we can grow fall mums or poinsettias today compared to those of 10 or 15 years ago.
Then there is the 4th of July effect. That’s when the fireworks explode and everyone goes, “Ooh.” Whenever you look at a plant and you have the 4th of July effect, there is a good chance it is making the cut, regardless of maintenance needs, profitability, current fashion, dynamics or trends.
Our natural attraction to plants has always been and will always be an emotional connection, reaching far deeper than we are consciously aware. So when you hear about the new generation and its lack of desire for our products, remember that as humans, we cannot escape the primal attraction to plants, the need to grow and nurture and the 4th of July effect.
We can’t become stagnant with our offerings and can’t hide our love of plants behind efficiency. We must have new, we must be different and if we aren’t exciting, I just don’t know who is.