Retailer To Grower: Why Aren’t Garden Stores Letting Growers Help Them?

Carol Miller

Carol Miller

Have you ever sat around at a family gathering and heard someone recount a story from your childhood, except knowing your own version of the story, it’s something that casts an entirely new light on everything you think you experienced?


It seems like that dynamic happens a lot between growers and retailers. Both sides know the same story, but each version is so different, it’s like two unconnected stories.

This came to mind when I was talking with a regional grower, Elmer Grosser, who owns Cincinnati-based Diefenbacher Greenhouses. The operation serves about 50 customers — an even mix of local garden stores and landscapers.

Grosser first came to my attention last fall, when one of his customers, Chris McKeown of Bloomin’ Garden Centre, told me I needed to call Grosser, because he was a great example of a grower who cares about retail.

When Grosser and I connected, he was focused on why his customers didn’t take him up on the various offers he gives them. He wants to help them sell more plants, and he couldn’t understand why they turn his efforts down.

There was one campaign in particular that confused him.

For Mother’s Day, he offered to supply a postcard coupon for $5 off Calibrachoa baskets, for which he would deduct $5 for every coupon honored. He would mail the coupon at his own expense to zip codes of the garden center’s choosing and would compare the zip code mailing list with the garden center’s own mailing list and remove duplicates.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Grosser admits he wants to push his plants at the their peak, and for Calibrachoa, that’s around Mother’s Day.

“We can’t give them away after a certain point.”

In short, he was going for a win-win. But only eight or nine retailers out of 50 took him up on his offer.

In July, I had the chance to ask a busload of garden retailers what they would think of Grosser’s offer if it had been made to them. I was surprised at how many said they would have turned it down, too.

They pointed out that the only time of year they don’t need to discount anything is around Mother’s Day. If he made that offer at the end of the season or in the fall, however, they would jump on it. That’s when they really need the extra traffic.

Grosser was working hard to give customers what they wanted, and the customers weren’t telling him they wanted something else. Two sides of the same story.

Retailers declined a coupon deal for hanging baskets because of timing

Retailers declined a coupon deal for hanging baskets because of timing

Marketing Is A Year-Round Program

Grosser wishes more of his customers would be willing to use his help. He sincerely wants them to succeed, because the more they succeed, the more he will, too.

“We’re not saying we have all the answers,” he says. “But we see a lot of stores. We see what’s working and what’s not working. We’re not in competition with garden centers.”

He says that if he sees a plant surge in sales with several of his customers, he’ll urge others to jump on the bandwagon. When a customer reacts as if he is trying to unload product instead of helping them, he gets frustrated.

Most growers want long-term success, and that means helping customers succeed, not burning a relationship for a short-term gain.

Grosser has other practices in place to help retailers. In the summer, he’ll let customers know what plants are being dropped and added the following year. He trials plants and shares the results from the trials. That’s an important service, he says.

“We try to do that for all new introductions so they can get a view of it. And if they don’t do well, we’ll say we’ve planted it and grown it and don’t think it’s worth selling,” he says.

In other words, Grosser has the retailers’ back.

Diefenbacher also holds a field day. “We’ll bring the customers in and do a round table. We throw out ideas; we’ll have a couple of topics we see as starters. What works for you? We have retailers of different sizes, from big to small. And we’ll bring speakers from Ball or Syngenta and talk about consumer trends. It’s just one day. We try to keep it compact, focused and tight.”

Grosser is the kind of grower retailers like, yet even with all his effort, communication breaks down easily.

It’s time to start asking pointed questions, like “Why didn’t you take me up on that offer?” You may think you know, but the answer just may surprise you.