We’re All In This Together

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Grower David Wilson of Overdevest Nurseries (left) visits with retailer Mercedes Noten of Bob’s Garden Center in Egg Harbor, N.J.

When various industry players gathered at the GROW Summit in December 2014, they were focused on exploring the most important issues facing greenhouse growers today. Amidst discussions about too-small profit margins and controlling costs, the conversation kept circling back to retailers and consumers. There’s a great hunger to better understand retail customers and consumers so growers can better meet their needs.

I was struck by something Susie Raker of C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Mich., mentioned. She said she was tired of the way she and other growers gained market share by wrestling it away from others. She would much rather keep her percentage of market share and have the industry grow as a whole.

The only way the industry as a whole will grow, the participants all agreed, was if consumers bought more plants. And the best way to do that was to coordinate a message with all green industry segments — growers, retailers, breeders, suppliers and all others — of passion for plants in daily lives.

This new column is one way Greenhouse Grower hopes to open communication between growers and retailers in order to better serve consumers. Growers and retailers often work so independently of one another that opportunities that can profit both industries are overlooked.

In this coming year, we will be presenting a different issue each month that causes friction between growers and retailers, then exploring how to resolve those conflicts. We’ll also take a look at successful grower/retailer relationships that spur innovative programs that appeal to consumers, while also benefiting retailers and their growers.

What Retailers Want

I reached out to a dozen or so independent retailers with a simple question: Do you have a list of topics you wish your growers would understand about retail?

The responses were anything but simple. Topics they mentioned ranged from big to small, from consumer trends to better technology to allow up-to-the-minute availabilities. The passion, however, was consistent. I had unknowingly tapped a well of frustration for them. Most sent me lengthy emails, but a few wanted to discuss the issue in more depth, with one conversation lasting a full hour.

I will continue to reach out to retailers as the months pass to discover the issues they most wish to discuss with their growers.

Here are a just a few of the topics the retailers raised:

1. Tags and labels. Most of the retailers would like to open a dialogue about plant information on tags and labels. Some feel the current formats are designed for customers from another era and that current customers want a different set of information.

2. Better communication about shipments. With all the technological advances both the grower and the retail industry have enjoyed, very little has advanced with alerting customers to what has been shipped and when. Retailers want to know if something they ordered will arrive in smaller quantities or won’t arrive at all, so they can take the necessary steps they need on their end.

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A custom plant label created for Petitti Garden Centers is attached to the pot, not stuck in the soil.

3. Take the time to know your retail customers. Because retailers deal directly with consumers, they must adapt to consumer changes or suffer. As a result, the garden retail industry has changed quite dramatically in the past five years. While the better growers make the effort to visit their customers on occasion, others have never stopped by even large customers’ stores and seem to be operating on the assumption that little has changed.

4. Communicate about what is selling well and what isn’t. You have a broader view than retailers, so you may be able to recognize when a particular trend is underway. And retailers are always looking for ways to improve their margins. If you have a plant that isn’t selling well, you may be able to negotiate a deal with a customer who can use the plant as part of a consumer marketing campaign.

5. Provide more detail on plant availabilities. Is it in bloom, budded, going out of bloom, even more attractive than usual, or does it need more time to mature? Retailers want every plant they buy from you to sell, and they will have more success in their goal if they know what they are buying from you. If you win your customers’ trust in this area, retailers say, you can improve your margins. One retailer says she has a grower she trusts so much, she allows her rep to choose his best plants for higher, value pricing. She happily pays for this service.

6. Find a way to handle increases in special orders. Due to the ease of online research, retailers are seeing a big increase in consumers requesting specific plants. As a result, they are placing a lot more special orders. Business as usual — finding out if the plants are on a shipment only when it arrives, or not having an order fulfilled in full — isn’t working out very well.

7. Stocking and shelving services for local garden centers. Independents would like a bit of the action that mass merchants are enjoying. This is a service that would be worth paying for during the frantic days of spring.

Retailers And Growers Share A Common Goal Of Raising Sales

As you can see, just about every topic they raise ultimately ties to better serving consumers.

On a side note, we decided this column would primarily focus on local garden center needs. The thinking is that mass merchants have their marketing and buying plans clearly communicated to their suppliers. Those relationships are defined. The relationship between local garden centers and growers, however, is more fluid and open to a great deal of improvement on both sides.

That said, both mass merchants and local garden centers are serving the same consumer — one who shops at each location for differing reasons. All retailers also are focused on making plants less intimidating to consumers.

Both retailers and growers desperately want to increase sales. Neither side has perfected this, but if they work together, we have a chance of a more stable and healthy industry.

As grower/retailer Kate Terrell of Wallace’s Garden Center said to me, we’re all in this together.

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