Garden Retail 2013 Report: Hartford, Conn.

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The Hartford area is a mixture of some outstanding IGCs and the usual spread of national retailers based on population density. My visit was June 12 (warm with intermittent rain) and June 13 (cool and rainy). There was not much traffic in any garden center during this two-day retail tour.

In almost all stores, whether big boxes or IGCs, there was a lot of inventory on the shelves and in some instances it had some age to it with a typical spring product mix. There was no indication of a transition to a summer product mix. In talking to the retailers, they had a decent year but most thought they still needed a good solid weekend of sales to make their year compete with last year.

Walmart: Emphasis On Merchandising And Perennials

It seems as though there is far less emphasis on the Better Homes and Gardens brand this season, versus what we observed last year. The Confetti recipes were by far the most colorful with all three items flowering together. In the annual category, Garden State Growers must be one of the high-performing vendors based on the product mix, product quality and merchandising teams.

Merchandisers were building displays and replenishing the inventories that had been beaten up by the inclement weather. There was a lot of positive interaction between the merchandisers and the Walmart employees, which is not always the case in many retail situations. Also noticeable was how well the stores were signed and retail prices were very obvious, which is not always the case.

It is clear that Walmart has intensified its effort on perennials with a great selection of high-quality flowering perennials from Garden State Growers. Garden State has a unique labeling system with a large sticker label on the container, which makes the price completely visible to the consumer, as well as an easy-to-scan QR code. In the Connecticut market, this perennial program is second to none in quality, assortment and merchandising. We have not seen a better perennial program this season.

Over the past several years, we have visited a lot of retailers, including many Walmart stores, and the Connecticut stores serviced by Walmart are clearly in the top quarter.

Home Depot: Sticking With Brands

Staying with its brand-centric strategy, Home Depot offered a number of national and private-label brands including Vigor, Viva, Proven Winners and Wave. There seems to be far less emphasis on the opening price point merchandise and more focus on the branded items. However, we did notice much smaller inventories of the Viva brand than in past years and a clear uptick in the Proven Winners inventories.

There is also a noticeable increase in the inventories of the Vigor brand that is the wholly owned house brand of The Home Depot.

Lowe’s: Added Value

Lowe’s still maintains a large focus on Garden Club Select (GCS) for most of its premium annuals, but also offers a small assortments of Proven Winners. Lowe’s has some good, straightforward marketing programs like the Color Of Coleus, which features an assortment of generic coleus with a colored pot and a nice descriptive label. It retails for $5.98 and is produced by CK Greenhouses, along with an outstanding Kong Coleus SKU. It’s a good way add value to a product.

Costco: A Diverse Product Mix

Here’s what we saw at Costco stores in Hartford.

• 16-inch hanging basket for $29.99 that was mostly out of bloom and somewhat small

• 12-inch patio geranium, $13.99, undersized and not enough flower

• 12-inch caged veggie, $14.69, decent item

• 14-inch perennial, $14.99, decent item

Stew Leonard’s Grocery Chain

• 8-inch annuals, $9.99

• 10-inch basic hanging baskets, $9.99

• 6-inch annuals, $6.99

• 8-inch veggies, $6.99

Independent Garden Centers Offer Advantages

A number of really well-run IGCs in the area most notably:

• Winterberry — Southington

• Van Wilgen’s — North Branford

• Lewis Farms & Bake Shop — Southington

• Revay’s — Broad Brook

• White Flower Farm — Morris

The IGCs offered a number of advantages for the consumer versus the national retailers:

• For the most part, a far better shopping experience

• Simple but really informative signage

• Far-better-trained personnel

• High-impact displays, like the geranium display at Van Wilgen’s

Overall Impressions

Connecticut is clearly one of the better markets for Walmart because of a really well-performing vendor base, led by Garden State Growers.

In this area, seed impatiens were almost non-existent because of the downy mildew scare. They are being replaced primarily with begonias, New Guinea impatiens and coleus. At several IGC retailers, there were signs explaining the mildew issue and telling consumers why they were not offering seed impatiens, whereas at the national retailers they had no signs referring to the situation.

There was noticeably a lot more begonias in various sizes, type and price points. We noticed a huge uptick in the number of Big begonias from Benary in this market, in a multitude of sizes from 6-inch to large hanging baskets and patio pots.

Item Size Home Depot Lowe’s  Walmart
Annuals Basic 6 pack 2.29 1.98 1.78
  209     5.98
Full flat 3201 14.98    
  4-inch 1.29 1.28 1.28
  6-inch 2.50    
  801 8.98    
  306   4.98  
  8-inch 7.99 5.48  
Premium annuals        
Proven Winners 1 gallon 9.97    
Proven Winners 4.5-inch 4.98 4.68 3.48
Vigoro Quart 3.98    
Vigoro 1 gallon 6.98    
Wave 306 7.98 6.98 5.98
Wave 6-inch 5.99 5.98 4.98
Garden Club Select Pint   2.98  
Garden Club Select Quart   3.98  
  1 gallon   6.98  
403 premium   9.99    
Hanging Baskets        
Basic 10-inch 8.98 8.98 6.98
Premium 10-inch 11.98 11.98 9.98
  11-inch 14.98    
Viva! 12-inch 19.98   16.98
Proven Winners 12-inch 19.98 25.98  
GCS 12-inch   22.98  
Better Homes & Gardens       18.98
Better Homes & Gardens Quart     3.68
Better Homes & Gardens 8-inch     6.48
Perennials Quart 3.98 3.98 3.22
  1 gallon 6.98 6.48 5.77

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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    2 comments on “Garden Retail 2013 Report: Hartford, Conn.

    1. Dave Jensen

      Home Depot = most expensive in every category. Over time this will eat away at both sales and profits as the consumer goes to Lowes across the street or Walmart. Home Depot needs to get rid of their pay by scan and BUY their product from us and also pay the shipping charges to take advantage of their lower shipping rates as we cannot even come close to getting trucks as cheap as they always did. Look, if we, the grower, is both shipping and stocking the shelves and taking the risk we simply ship less product and push the price up to help us pay the higher shipping costs we must incur. The bottom line is that Home Depot becomes more expensive by 30% in many cases and has less product in the store. Just look at the chart!!! Also, HOme Depot gets the cruddy product from us as we send the best stuff to our clients who pay up front as we want THEM to be happiest as we lose money on pay by scan. I have yet to find any grower who can consistently make money on pay by scan so we look after the clients who PAY for their product and pay shipping costs. Home Depot is going to see a massive reduction in garden center sales over the next few years if they continue. Whoever is in charge now over their will be gone if they don't change soon.