Stop One-Size-Fits-All For Annual-Plants Pricing

Carol Miller resized for onlineMark Sandstrum, one of the best garden retail general managers in the country, once contrasted the way our industry prices 4-inch annuals to how grocery stores handle their spices.

If you go to any grocery store, he pointed out, you’ll find most spices are in bottles that are the same shape and size, and their labels are almost identical. Yet the retail prices of basil and saffron are not the same. It’s the spice inside that matters, not the bottle.

Then there’s our industry. Garden centers tend to have a single price for all 4-inch annuals. It’s a practice so entrenched that no one asks why our most valuable category of plants is being written off as a commodity by use of this pricing method.

The most common argument in favor of the practice is convenience. It’s easy to check out plants at the register if they are all the same price. It’s easier for growers to substitute replacements in shipping.


Allow me to give three reasons why it’s time our industry changed this practice.

1. Mono-Pricing Cheapens Plants

To me, this is by far the most important reason we need to change how we price 4-inch annuals. I’ve participated in national level boards for both retailers and growers and a common theme at both is we need to help consumers better appreciate what we grow and sell.

Yet even as these high-level people fret about home gardeners’ attitudes, most are telling them only the pot size matters for plants, not what’s grown inside.

Let me expand on Sandstrom’s grocery store analogy. The more difficult it is to source or process a spice, the more expensive it is. Saffron is hand-collected from Crocus sativus, which produces three red threads within each bloom. Compare that to any herb in which all its leaves can be used, like basil.

When I see that cloves are more expensive than cumin, as a consumer, I don’t know why. But I assume something happened before it arrived on the shelf that added a few more dollars per bottle.

So when I see benches filled with annuals, with an array of colors, textures, shapes and even sizes, it makes no sense that all of them cost the exact same price. If tuberous Begonias take an extra few days on the bench, or Vinca needs higher temperatures in the greenhouse to grow, why don’t they cost more?

RetailToGrowerThink about the fanfare surrounding a new breeding breakthrough. That’s because a lot of years and labor led to it. Sometimes the breakthrough is a rare bloom color, or it might be a change in blooming patterns or habit. Or it’s something as deceptively small as improved disease resistance.

Then those same plants end up in a garden center under a sign that says all 4-inch annuals are $3.99. The consumer hasn’t a clue why the plant they see before them is special. Why aren’t yellow and white Petunias and Calibrachoas presented as something extraordinary in comparison to their pink and purple siblings?

I’m as big an advocate as any for making the process of buying plants more consumer friendly. It can be overwhelming to walking into a sea of green and not know where to begin. But one-price-fits-all doesn’t simplify things for the consumer. The practice just adds to the confusion by saying that such obviously different plants are of equal value.

2. Our Most Important Plant Category Needs More Scrutiny

Any profitable retailer knows how important inventory control is. They strive to have enough inventory onhand to satisfy customers, but not a smidge more.

Huge annuals sales in spring can seem to make that an easy goal to reach, even without point-of-sale reports. Every other plant category needs close scrutiny to track what is sluggish and what is running out in order to keep customers happy. But annuals give retailers a break.

Or so it seems. A handful of local garden retailers have begun tracking every plant sold, including annuals. These retailers range from grower/retailers to those who buy-in every plant sold.

What they found out after they began tracking by variety is that they had problems they were unaware of. Yes, annuals sold very quickly. But they realized their memory about a lot of things was off.

That popular variety that sold out in one day was actually out for five days. And those sluggish Lobelia that were used for a container class? Turns out the store was making a higher profit margin on them, and they were hot sellers. These are basic inventory control benefits, but ones all too many miss out on.

3. The 1-Price-Fits-All System Is Cumbersome

I’ll just state flat out that the idea of one price for all 4-inch annuals makes things easier for cashiers is a myth.

I spoke with a retailer who recently converted to coding all annuals. He, too, believed it would slow things down at checkout. To his surprise, it did the opposite.

His staff told him having everything that they handled barcoded made it easier. Instead of pausing to count how many annuals were in the tray, then putting them in the system, they could simply swipe the plants through. They have a rhythm that gets interrupted with the old system.

As more retailers switch over to barcoding each annual, the word of the benefits of doing so will speed up.

Pricing plants is a joint effort between retailer and grower. If you aren’t ready to offer your annuals to retailers with each variety boasting its own UPC code, you may find yourself obsolete.

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14 comments on “Stop One-Size-Fits-All For Annual-Plants Pricing

  1. As the end retailer I would love to have every plant that comes into our nursery be barcoded. Since that isn’t happening we have begun our own labeling on gallon and larger plant material so we can track it. But not cost effective to put on colorpacks or 4″ annuals, especially if they already have a generic label on them.

    1. The company I work for, just does not have the labor to stop and price 4″annuals. They are a set price at $5.99 for all, with a cost of about $2.70-$3 for all. Typically it’s the 4pk and gallons that are top sellers. Customers are frugal when it comes to annuals, so they are always looking for more bang for the buck.

  2. Carol: That definitely is correct, good job in sharing it and so true. The perceived value of many of our 4″+ annuals are where the retail price should be at. Keep going on inspiring our industry.

  3. I’ve never accepted the one size same price strategy. You’re simply losing money by accepting this mantra. Retail prices are set according to size of pot, variety, what plugs/liners cost, time on the bench, etc. And, if you can charge an extra dollar – or whatever – on a certain variety, do it. The vast majority of customers won’t even blink an eye. If they want it, they’ll buy it. If you’re uncertain as to what you should be charging, check out other retailers. Look at what they’re charging. What’s their quality like? If they’re charging $5.99 for a 4.5″ begonia, why aren’t you? If your plants are in super shape and quality, why aren’t you charging even more? This only makes sense.

  4. Carol.
    I have been trying to convince retailers for years that the system of pricing is not logical to the consumer,congratulations for bringing the issue up again.Perhaps wee will see some changes.

  5. Absolutely! And what about adding that IGCs can differentiate themselves by buying annuals that actually have the variety name on the plant instead of a generic “annual” or “petunia” label. Why would any breeder not insist that their product be properly identified!?

  6. Very well written Carol and so very true not all plants are created equal in the consumer mind. Fourteen years ago we created the Chef Jeff veggie program for Stein Gardens and Gift stores. It was based on charging more for plants that are or are perceived as being more unusual or valuable. In order for the concept to work and part time cashiers correctly charging for each price point three tag shapes and three pot colors were used for veggies with a fourth color for herbs. Today many IGC use the Chef Jeff program through the country with this 4 color multiple price point program. The effort it would take to do something similar for annuals would certainly have it’s monetary rewards.

  7. We have had different pricing on 4.5″ annuals for years. Most everything we grow, we put into a white pot with our logo on it. Higher priced annuals go into a green pot.(I wish those had our logo on them, but they do not at this point in time) Easy for the cashier to tell that it is a “premium annual”, and fairly quick and easy for them to identify what type of annual it is and determine the correct price. I think we only have 3 different price levels for the green pots.

  8. Wouldn’t it be great if Big Box Store Growers and Small Mom and Pop growers all could pay the same price for plugs rather than a tiered price on how many flats you purchase from a plug grower??

    1. Do you pay the same price for one can of coke as a single as you pay for one can in a case? Volume discounts are fair for everyone and are in every business.
      If someone comes to your and asked if I buy 30 hanging baskets will you give me a deal, will you? How is that different?
      I hear this complaint all the time, act like a business and not a hobby! Price your product to make a profit, you set the price not your customer. If something is profitable for both parties it works if a transaction is one sided it is not sustainable.

  9. The national brands make it even harder, sometimes, by putting a bar code on their pot. One bar code=one price, unless we reprice all of the pots (which we sometimes do.)

  10. We have 3 price categories for 4.5″ pots – they’re barcoded and also color coded for those of our customers who don’t have scanning capabilities.

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