Hort Couture founder and grower-retailer Jim Monroe is absolutely right to be concerned about the independent garden center channel getting left behind when it comes to new product development in plants and packaging.
It used to be the hot trends and cutting-edge varieties began with the independents and were later copied by large chains. More recently, box store buyers have been working with the entire supply chain on new product development. This has helped them bust out of the commodity trap, differentiate and even capture premiums.
A month before Spring Trials, breeders had a separate event just for box store buyers to choose their exclusives before the market had a chance to see them. This is why Monroe started Hort Couture just for the independents. “Breeders and suppliers are jumping the independent and that’s not a good dynamic,” he says. “It’s a numbers game. We have to be less independent and come together to provide enough business for them to pay attention to us.”
Several leading brands are available to both channels – Wave petunias, Burpee Home Gardens and Proven Winners. All three offer resources independents can take advantage of to tap into a national brand. While some retailers distance themselves from anything that will appear at a box store, I’d argue no one can do these brands justice and create a real destination the way an independent can.
I was at Green Circle Growers a week before Mother’s Day and was floored by all the fantastic stuff that was ready to be shipped to Walmart and Home Depot. The diversity in types, styles, shapes, colors and textures in plastic patio containers was just astounding. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t see anything like this at my local independent garden centers. To get a similar look, the combinations would have been in much pricier and heavier containers. I hope buying groups who serve the independents are looking at these new plastic styles, because without buying power, they won’t be offered to independents.
So here we have the great divide: The box store channel is becoming more fresh and innovative, but for the most part, we’re just seeing more of the same at the independents. Large retailers are embracing “masstige” – classy looking offerings at a lower price point. Regardless of whether it’s handbags or patio pots, most of us are “masstige” customers. Hort Couture is delivering just that with its fashion-forward but affordable brand. Monroe is a market equalizer.
He also was one of the first to jump on the 2D tag/QR code craze with MasterTag last year, which brings me to my next market equalizer – tag companies developing high-quality, universal engaging content to support plants being sold. While MasterTag has partnered with Learn2Grow.com, The John Henry Co. has developed BloomIQ.com.
John Henry created the website last summer after its promotion for veggies with AllRecipes.com was such a big hit at the 2010 Spring Trials. Growers said they wanted something like this to help consumers with flowers. There’s only so much you can put on the tag itself, but the QR code links consumers to information related to plants they purchased and a whole new world of inspiring projects and more plants to add to shopping lists. Collections are especially popular – deer tolerant, drought tolerant, sun, shade, etc.
The next step is to capture market intelligence on the site users via surveys and tracking where they go online. Proven Winners has found this type of information to be highly valuable with the audience it has grown. Consumers are often sounding boards before marketing decisions are made.
Because Bloom IQ is not tied to specific varieties or products, it could be our industry’s Got Milk campaign, John Henry’s Brenda Vaughn says. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she’s right. It’s just up to us to drive the traffic and engage more consumers collectively.