Mark 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?
Think 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.