Marketing consultant Jerry Montgomery visited 28 garden center retail locations in Southwest Florida over the weekend (February 20-21) and offers his assessment.
South Florida sells bedding plants year-round with February and March being the spring peak times. The weather was ideal for our 1 ½ -day look at this market with day temperatures in the mid-70s and night temperatures in the 50s. Consumer traffic was not what you would expect for this period, especially after severe losses of landscape plants during the past record winter.
Our tour included 28 retailers–nine Walmarts, eight Home Depots, six Lowe’s, three Costcos and two Sam’s Clubs. Lowe’s and Home Depot are served by the same bedding plant vendor, so there was not much of a difference in product quality or product mix but a substantial difference in other elements of retailing.
Its garden centers just keep getting better with increasing product quality and vastly improved merchandising. There was some new POS signage with a vegetable focus. One theme was “Tomato Time” with the size of signage at 42 x 30 inches. Walmart was the only retailer that had accurate price signs in all the displays I inspected. From my perspective, Walmart in this market has a far greater emphasis on foliage. That is the core product group in the outdoor landscape business.
With the massive losses sustained by consumers this winter, it appears Walmart is on the right track. The annuals it did have were good quality and most items displayed good color. Clearly, the Walmart vendors in this area are above average performers.
Home Depot offered a well-rounded product mix with an array of generic and branded products. Much more space was devoted to Scott’s bagged soils than I’ve seen in the past. Scott’s products were merchandised on end caps formerly used for bedding plants and perennials, and the outside aprons had more space allocated to Scott’s bagged media.
On the branded plant side, I observed Vigoro that’s used for the mid-range price points, along with Viva, Proven Winners and Bonnie Plant. Viva had two new items–’Orange Zest’ petunia pairing up with ‘Lemon Zest’ and ‘Rhythm and Blues’ petunia. ‘Orange Zest’ looked like a compelling color and matched the size of its Lemon counterpart. ‘Rhythm and Blues’ had a decent picotee effect but the centers were open and lacked flowers because of its spreading habit–not a winner for the grower.
The only new item that really stood out at Lowe’s was its new “Grow Your Own” vegetables and herb program that goes head to head with Bonnie Plants. The line consisted of two sizes–a quart herb program and a 1-gallon vegetable line. Both sizes were offered in a 100 percent biodegradable coconut fiber container with a large descriptive label. The container had a plastic collar similar to Bonnie’s that was printed with consumer messages, a UPC and planting instructions. The label had recipes on the reverse side.
The 1-gallon tomatoes had no variety designation on the label. A separate white sticker was used, but in some cases plants arrived at the store without variety ID. The quart herbs were retailed at $2.48 compared to a 5-inch Bonnie Plant at $3.48. The 1-gallon tomatoes were at $5.98 retail, similar to the Bonnie SKU.
It appears Lowe’s is offering an alternative to the Bonnie Plant line–and in the case of herbs at a much lower retail price. The real story may be in the merchandising because Bonnie has much better placement and is merchandised on risers with nice POS signage, whereas the “Grow Your Own” program has no POS materials and is scattered around the garden center, sometimes in low-traffic areas.
Sam’s Club only offered two bedding plant items: a 14-inch fiber hanging basket retailing for $23.62 and a 14-inch patio pot at $25.02.
Costco was offering the following this past weekend:
–10-inch patio at $10.98
–3 to 6-inch cyclamen at $9.99
–10-inch lilies at $11.68
–4- to 4.5-inch kalanchoes at $8.99
The spring season in Southwest Florida is so long, starting as early as January and peaking in late March, that it’s hard to determine the growth or decline. Still, in talking to several garden center mangers, they all commented they were up significantly for the year.
What was most surprising was how little focus there was on the vegetables category except for the “Grow Your Own” program at Lowe’s. The other retailers have done nothing different to exploit the opportunities in this high growth category.
In stores, I did not see one Wave SKU–the most recognized plant brand. I observed only a handful of the hottest geranium on the planet, Calliope, and they were in Lowe’s and not identified by variety.
Outside of vegetables, I saw very little you would consider new and exciting. For the most part, there was little difference from Spring 2009.
Florida, in my opinion, has fewer independent garden centers than far less populated states, so the consumer is more reliant on the national retailers for information and recommendations. Unfortunately, there appears to be much less information available than one would find at most independents. The home centers have a huge opportunity to capture the loyalty of the consumer but history says we will not see much change. It will continue to be a battle based on pricing.
Table 1. Retail Prices: Southwest Florida
|Annuals Basic||4.5 inch||0.99||0.98||0.95|
|Viva Asiatic lily||1 gallon||4.97|
|Premium Annuals||1 gallon||4.97||3.50|
|Garden Club Select||Quart||3.48|
|Garden Club Select||1 gallon||5.48|
|GCS perennials||8 inch||7.98|
|Coco fiber||14 inch||19.97|
|HB ferns||10 inch||8.97|
|Patio Pots||8 inch||7.97||7.98||7.00|
|Window box||16 inch||10.98|
|Color bowl square||12 inch||11.98|
|Grow Your Own||Quart||2.48|
|Herb garden||10 inch||12.98|
About the author: Jerry Montgomery is a 40-year veteran of the floriculture industry and has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers specializing with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, he 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 almost 1,500 stores since January 2008.