Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar

A Letter to Independent Garden Center Owners

Here's a rant from Barbara Pintozzii/Mr. McGregor's Daughter. UPDATE: I have moved this post up because the discussion is great and I hope more will join in. Also, please see Trey/Blogging Nurseryman's recent posts for more great talk about IGCs.


Dear Independent Garden Center (IGC) Owner:


I want to make it clear right away, I love IGCs.  They're among my favorite places to visit on earth. I get a bit of a high while wandering through a great garden center. I have just one complaint, and it's a deal-breaker.  At the IGC show a couple weeks ago, Raymond Evison ignored the title of his "Five Trends from Chelsea" presentation to assert that there was only one trend: quality.  I couldn't agree more.

Bidweed 

 

It doesn't matter if you provide free snacks and coffee, have the most stunning displays, are up on the latest trends, or have the biggest selection of plants, if the plants you have lack quality, you're not going to make it.  I don't care if you have plants normally available only in England, I am not going to buy them if they won't survive the planting.

Consumers will pay for quality, even in a down market, because quality saves money in the long run.  For example, it costs more to buy cheap annuals, have them die, and replace them than it does to pay a little more for the same plants that have received better care. I lost a zucchini in July because it was pot-bound when I purchased it, and the roots never expanded into the soil in the container.

There's no excuse to offer for sale plants with weeds in the pots.  I'm not talking about a little ground sorrel here.  I'm talking weeds that rival the plant itself.

Rattyplant-1 

There's also no excuse for offering stressed plants for sale at full price.

While the failure to pot up perennials and woody plants is understandable, the extra cost should be expended.  A pot-bound plant may take years to recover.

I talked with representatives from companies that require their plant product to be sold in distinctive containers.  One had no answer to my question of what an IGC should do if one of their plants needed to be moved to a larger container.  The other, Proven Winners, informed me that the IGC should send the plant back to the wholesaler for potting up.

Evison suggested that IGCs could avoid this problem by buying smaller amounts of plant material more frequently.  I've talked with gardeners who buy from the big box stores. They buy only when "the truck" has just come in.  IGCs need to follow the gardeners' lead and Evison's advice on this. Yes, you'll pay more in transportation costs, but you'll have less leftover inventory and happier customers.

An IGC near me is closing.  Some people say it's because of the big Menard's that went in next door. I disagree.  I did not patronize this IGC because it didn't have quality plants.  Every year I visited, hoping to see a change, and every day I was disappointed. There were still big weeds in the pots, some of the plants near the back of the bench clearly hadn't been watered, and others looked stressed.  I did not recommend this IGC, nor mention it on my blog.

I love IGCs, and I will happily name them and recommend them if they carry quality plants.  Heck, I'll even list them on my local resources page.  If you sell quality plants, and offer a good selection, including some unusual plants, I'll be more than happy to drop big bucks at your business, rather than get plants through mail order or buy from a big box.  

Closing-1
 

Take heed—don't let this (above) happen to your business!

Posted by on September 3, 2010 at 10:00 pm, in the category Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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50 Responses to “A Letter to Independent Garden Center Owners”

  1. BoxedDirt says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Besides quality plants, selling quality mulch and compost is high on my list too. Yes you can buy $3 compost but what’s in it? Boiler ash? Ground up pallets? Toxic chemicals? Let the BOX STORES sell that.

    I visited two IGC’s this past month, and was amazed to hear phrases like “It’s cheap and customers buy it” and “I really don’t care what’s in the compost as long as it says natural on the bag”.

    What good is buy a quality plant if you sell me junky soil to plant it in?

    Come on people, let’s kick it up a notch.

  2. Potato Queen says:

    On the subject of root bound plants, the last time I bought a plant from a big box was three years ago, when I couldn’t turn down a fabulous $50 deal on a 3-ft high boxwood (I love that smell). Took it home and got ready to plant a week later–only to find upon removing the plastic pot that the shrub was burlapped! Yes, they potted an already burlapped shrub. You want to talk root-bound.

    I should have taken it back, but by this time I had already named the shrub (Big Julie; don’t ask), and decided to do everything I could to give it a chance to fulfill its garden destiny. I babied that thing as best I could, and amazingly it survived and is now a lovely part of my landscape. But I sure never bought another shrub from The Box again.

  3. Since I live in Puerco Rico,USA and all nurseries STINK.

    Not only in quality but in VARIETY, I propagate what my collection deserves by the known procedures with or without root hormones, division, and seeds.

    Your rant is really pertinent considering that most people depend on their local nursery to have a so so garden.

  4. Tara Dillard says:

    Sadly the average gardener doesn’t know poor quality at an IGC or big box.

    Long before the bad economy IGC’s were critiqued for their management style, nepotism.

    Happily some IGC’s have become employee owned. They are the great green hope!

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. Lisa says:

    I couldn’t agree more on quality, and along w. Potato Queen, I’ve turned to just growing my own using whatever means of propogation that I can. I used to look for on sale stuff, but it’d usually be to far gone to save. Funny, where else do we buy on sale and accept poor quality? When I buy at sale from the grocery store, I don’t by meat past it’s prime, or buying clothes on sale, I don’t buy a sweater with a gynormous run in the front of it.

  6. trey says:

    The person from Proven Winners said, “the IGC should send the plant back to the wholesaler for potting up”? What are we missing out of her in nor Cal? Do IGC’s is different parts of the country have this option?

    Let me see if I get this straight, my local Home Depot only pays for plants that sell (pay at scan). Plants that don’t sell are picked up by the wholesaler, or dumped. IGC’s buy the plants outright when they are delivered. This representative from Proven Winners is saying what? We should send back our over grown perennials or annuals and we will receive new replacement plants? Or do we send them back and get a refund on the purchase price we paid?

    You hit on why people who shop at box stores right when the truck delivers plants. Once the plant hits the ground it’s either bought by the customer or starts a slow (or fast) decline to the point where the vendor is required to pick up the plants. Where is the motivation for the box store to care for these plants when they are just thrown away if they don’t sell? The box doesn’t loose any money.

    I don’t buy it. Will a Proven Winners representative please comment on this new plan? Have they told their growers, who are independently owned, about this new plan? Would a representative of these growers speak on this? After all, they will be the ones picking up these plants for, “re-potting”.

  7. Aubs says:

    I like to patronize IGC’s whenever possible, and there are some fabulous stores near me whose employees and selection can’t be beat. So I decided to stop by a local mom and pop place I’d never been to before, excited to see what treasures they had. First, they had hand made signs all over the store and greenhouses that basically stated that they were on the verge of going under, and to please keep shopping there and tell our friends to shop there as well. So right off, I’m getting hit with the guilt big time. They had some 3 inch potted perennials on sale for a dollar a piece, so I decided to take 10 of them with me. All of the perennials were clustered together in a heavily shaded area, none looked anywhere close to blooming, but I figured what the heck. I get them home and set them out on the deck to await transplant, and the next day they had all withered in the sun, despite the fact that they were all full-sun plants; geum and mallow. They hadn’t been hardened off to sun at all. I was sorely tempted to return to the store and let them know that their business might improve if their product was properly cared for. You can’t blame everything on the big box.

  8. Kaviani says:

    Antigonum- that really is a tragedy given how the climate in PR could host such an *awesome* array of plant life.

    I guess I’m lucky in that the IGCs in Austin are very cogent and perceptive about their products while providing an excellent selection. The only crappers I end up with are my rehab babies- cast offs from friends who don’t know a thing about plant care. And that’s fine. I’d rather nurse them back and regift than let them perish.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with have great plants. It is what we, as IGC, can do better than the big box stores. Thanks for all you do.

  10. commonweeder says:

    I shop at IGCs, partly because there isn’t much in the way of ‘Boxes’ on my routine routes, but the biggest problem I see is poor watering. Quality quickly deteriorates when plants routinely dry out. I remember a friend had gone to work at an IGC and one day she boasted that she had proved herself and had been promoted to watering. She knew how to do it properly. Those of us who have trouble keeping our own container plants watered can appreciate the attention it takes – but we also know it must be done.

  11. Don Shor says:

    “The other, Proven Winners, informed me that the IGC should send the plant back to the wholesaler for potting up.”

    Ha ha ha! Hoo hoo hoo! Oooooo ha ha ha ha!!! Oh, thanks for the great laugh. That was good.

  12. VP says:

    Hearty clapping coming from this side of the pond too Barbara. We have exactly the same issues here and it just doesn’t make sense – either from a gardening or business viewpoint.

  13. Boxed Dirt – good point. They also need to have quality potting medium for their plants, too.

    Potato Queen – I don’t know about naming a plant (much less before it’s in the ground), but that kind of tactic is a cheat. But then I’ve also seen plants in containers that were rootbound in a smaller pot and simply stuffed into a larger pot with more potting soil around them.

    Antigonum – that’s disheartening, but at least you can propagate. My efforts at growing from seed and propagation have been more failures than successes.

    Tara Dillard – good point, the horticultural industry needs to do a better job of educating consumers of what to look for when buying plants.

    Lisa – too true! The sale or clearance plants should be those that are beyond their season of bloom, but are still healthy and will perform again the next year.

    Trey – I hadn’t thought of the problem like that. Maybe they were just fobbing me off because I asked a difficult question. I’d like to hear how Proven Winners, Monrovia and Bailey Nursery (the Endless Summer Hydrangea people) respond to your more pointed and informed question. In the meantime, I think I’m going to be extremely careful when buying anything in a trade dress pot.

    Aubs – I don’t think you did them a favor by not at least complaining. I feel somewhat complicit in the failure of that IGC near me, because I never bothered to complain. Maybe if I had, they would have changed their methods.

    Kaviani – you’re lucky to live in Austin, for many reasons, but I’m aware of how great some of your IGCs are.

    Western Plant Pro – thank you for providing a quality horticultural retail therapy experience.

  14. Susan says:

    I saw a large garbage bin in the garden section of my local big grocery store filled with small shrubs. I asked the clerk if they were being thrown away. The answer was yes. Could I have some? No. I spoke to the store manager. I couldn’t have them because their contract with the nursery required that any they couldn’t sell must be thrown away. I tried to sell him on “Customer service” to no avail. Crazy!?

  15. Laura Bell says:

    Please stock quality potting mediums, amendments, etc. I’m really tired of asking for a bag of topsoil for a minor infill project and discovering that there’s no ‘soil’ in it. More often than not it’s little more than partially composted fir bark. I might use that as mulch, but what do I use to raise those new plant I just bought behind the new retaining wall ?

  16. lloyd traven says:

    Proven Winners suggests sending overgrown plants back to the grower for repotting? Hilarious—that HAD to be Marshall Dirks saying that. When Proven Winners BEGINS to police the quality of the product with their name all over it at any garden center, either IGC or box store, then perhaps they have some right to make such a ridiculous statement and outright fabrication of their ‘policy’. Right now, there is absolutely ZERO WARRANTY of quality sent to retail, and in my book, that means it is a marketing campaign, NOT A TRUE BRAND.

  17. Kate says:

    What a sensible letter. Nine times out of ten, I know where to look for quality perennials and shrubs. Unfortunately when it comes to indoor plants, I’ve never been able to find a consistent alternative to the big chains. I often buy Norfolk pines as Christmas gifts, only to have them wither away by January. For once, I’d like to give a plant without mass-produced, sparkle sprayed, disease-ridden trauma written all over it.

  18. Susan, what a shame. Pearl Fryar built his amazing topiary garden in Bishopville, SC from throw-away nursery plants.

    Tell it Barb! We will pay for quality!

  19. ann says:

    If you owned an IDC, how would you price your plants to cover small business’s cost of health insurance, shipping, taxes on land, heating costs, labor costs (to keep everything in tip top shape), to mention a few? How would it make sense to buy in anything in late summer on when your customers expect that everything should be discounted and bases a reasonable price on the latest big box flyer! (the media promotes this idea in connection with fall plant shopping!) It is no wonder IDC’s are disappearing.

  20. greg draiss says:

    Quality sells way more than fancy signs and bullcrap

    The TROLL

  21. Rick Brown says:

    This is the best discussion for plant people everywhere. The solution, quality, is the only answer. The Home Depot’s program is Pay-by-Scan but also is better described as Vendor Managed Inventory. The grower works closely with the Home Depot Merchant/buyer in driving the business with the best varieties, highest quality and most competitive prices to beat their primary competition, Lowes, in offering the customer value and quality they will return for. If a grower is not up to the task, another grower steps up to assume this lucrative business. The model works for growers who can produce, merchandise, replenish and water quality plants. Plants that loose their sales appeal are taken back to the nursery and rejuvenated or composted. In most of the country, The Home Depot has the best garden centers and their business continues to grow despite the economy. Where Home Depot’s are located close to quality IGC’s, both prosper and there is a need for both. I can assure you, quality is winning in Florida. Check our blog link below for more on this.

  22. Chris Murray says:

    Rick-went to your blog because your comment sounded so positive about Home Depot garden centers being the best. No wonder, you’re one of their suppliers. Do you offer the same level of service to IGC’s that you offer to HD, at the same pricing? Just wondering.

  23. Tibs says:

    Who pays to send the root bound Proven Winner pot back to them and to repot and mail back to the IGC? Proven Winner? The IGC? And wouldn’t all this travel be hard on the plant, and what about making less of a carbon footprint? I don’t buy anything that is a brand name plant. For some reason it just grates.

  24. Commonweeder – Inadequate watering is a big problem, which could be solved easily by better training of staff.

    Don Shor, Lloyd Traven & Tibs- You should get together and do a group rant on this one. This is such a serious problem. I don’t know enough about the industry to think of any solution. If branding is the wave of the future, as Evison seems to think it is, we’re all in trouble.

    VP – I’m completely disillusioned! I had assumed that British nurseries would be paragons of quality.

    Susan – crazy, and sick and wasteful. I hate that mode of doing business. Too bad they can’t donate those unwanted plants to prison and nursing homes for horticultural therapy programs.

    Laura – I hear you. Last summer, I took a photo of what was in a bag of soil I bought, all the weeds and crap that I decided not to use for my retaining wall project.

    Kate – holiday plants are the most abused things ever. They’re intended to be pitched after the holiday. Very sad.

    Helen – I don’t think Pearl could do that today, which is a real shame.

    Ann – IGCs are in a tough spot, which is why they have to offer what the big boxes can’t.

    Greg – but the bullcrap helps to get people in to the IGC to find out about the quality in the first place. The quality is what keeps them coming back.

    Rick – I have no argument with the quality of the plants when they arrive at Home Depot, it’s what happens to them after they’ve been at the store that makes all the difference.

    Chris – good question. Too bad the IGC’s don’t have the retailing clout of places like Home Depot.

  25. I just cannot head over to the garden area of Home Depot anymore. It makes me ill to see the rows of shade plants baking in full sun, plants crying out to be watered and inappropriate plants for the two zones here – 6 and 5 being sold.

    The waste. :(

    What hurts more is the piled up Round-Up on sale waiting for uneducated buyers.

  26. Don Shor says:

    Rick: ” In most of the country, The Home Depot has the best garden centers”
    That statement is neither provable nor falsifiable, so it just amounts to cheerleading.

    “… and their business continues to grow despite the economy.”
    Sales at Home Depot and Lowes were substantially down in 2008 and 2009, and have only begun to grow again. The rate of sales growth at both stores is about the same, or slightly lower, than retail overall.

  27. Don Shor says:

    ” If branding is the wave of the future, as Evison seems to think it is, we’re all in trouble.”

    Branding is the wave of the past. It is a trend from the 1990′s that is of benefit to the big box retailers, as it provides built-in merchandising for them. It has almost no benefit, and several disadvantages, for small retailers. We don’t get the same price structure, we don’t get guaranteed sale, and the branding leads to direct price-comparisons that aren’t to our advantage.

    IGC’s know that once a product is branded, it is going to become a big-box item and they might as well start avoiding it. Why? Because there will be availability problems (tried to find a Bloomerang lilac yet?), and the vendors who provide the materials will service the big retailers first.
    There are always — always! — alternatives out there that will set our IGC’s apart. I buy almost entirely from small, family-owned wholesalers who have a passion for interesting, quality plants. If I want people to shop at small, family-owned retailers, it behooves me to shop for my product the same way.

  28. Eliz says:

    I have left Rick’s blatantly promotional comment up–reluctantly–because it has provoked a discussion about Home Depot. If anyone feels I should remove it, please say so.

  29. Rick Brown says:

    Chris,
    The service is very good at many Florida Home Depots because the business is year round here and the staffing is good with many long time garden associates. I saw the same in California stores. 600 Mid Atlantic Home Depots are all staffed by Bell Nursery and have some of the highest levels of service, maintenance and quality plants of any garden centers. I realize it varies by store and region but these are some of the best nurseries and they are doing a great job. I have nothing but praise for growers and retailers of any size that supply quality and maintain it at retail. I am just saying it is being done at Home Depots in Florida and other places too. It is a very good place to shop for value and quality. Many IGC’s offer great service, value and quality too. Just because it is an IGC does not guarantee it has these qualities. Everyone, including me, loves to shop a great IGC but we all don’t have great ones.

  30. anne says:

    The 2 local IGCs I shop at both are in the lucky position of having enough room to have their own greenhouses. They’re not huge, but allow them to grow up some of their inventory themselves, which I think helps with pricing, and definitely with offering unusual and locally-successful plants. Also, they can stagger the timing so that they can offer some plants at different stages of growth (and size). They also buy from other nurseries, and will special order for people.

  31. Mimi says:

    My local Lowe’s will order whatever I want for me if it’s in their system–even if I only want 3 and the minimum order is 10, they’ll make it come on the next truck in. I’ve asked for special orders at my local IGCs and been given a hand-wave.

    Seriously now? When a big box is willing to bend over backwards for me and an IGC won’t even let me prepay for the plants I want…yeah, that’s getting ridiculous.

    I’m going to go off and tell my Lowe’s about the 14 Nellie R Stevens hollies I can’t seem to find anywhere. I bet they can get me a supplier!

  32. The problems stated on this rant are solved easily.

    Propagate: cut stems with root hormones or without, seeds, division, and grafts.

    That is how I created my one over one hundred species collection. In Puerto Rico USA, there are no nurseries independent or not worthy a grain of salt.

  33. Rick Brown says:

    I do appreciate you leaving my comments up. I promote and shop IGC’s and quality and service too. I stand by the statement that Home Depot has continued to grow the Live Plant business year after year and they have not added but a few new stores. Lowes plant sales growth has come from expansion and not same store sales increase. As a grower, I can confirm that we are frequently delivering customer’s special requests without minimum on the next truck.

  34. Barbara – IGCs sell a lot of Roundup too. There’s a lot more profit in a product that does die and can be stored on shelves inside.

    Don – I hope you’re right. I don’t like the branding trend. I don’t want to have to buy from a big box store because they’ve secured the exclusive rights to sell a branded plant in my area.

    Mimi – it’s very unusual that your IGC won’t special order for you. That’s one of the areas in which they can really excel, and if they don’t have excellent customer service, I don’t blame you for not shopping there.

    Antigonum – It is illegal to propagate vegetatively any patented plant, so those plants must be purchased from somewhere.

  35. Judson Grant says:

    Home Depot is just a joke. They’ve all but bankrupt a good percentage of their suppliers with their pay by scan pipe dream. I work for one of their suppliers and we rarely manage to sell more than 82% of a given product. The remaining 18% of the plants are returned to us and the vast majority end up in a shredder within 24 hours of receipt. Our business with Lowe’s is much better even after we allow for their merchandising fees and the lower price they pay for plants.

    As for Independents,so many of them are slow to pay, and the time spent trying to collect from this is so expensive that they aren’t really worth the trouble.

    Commercial horticulture is a huge mess since pay by scan was started and the average homeowner sees us all as a din of thieves who are dishing out hard work…more work than the average housewife is willing to do. If we’re going to save this industry, we need to simplify things.

  36. Heather says:

    Susan – it’s common retail practice to destroy or, in this case, compost items that are past their prime or go unsold. Cafes throw out old pastries, garden centers compost the pitch outs. Why? To discourage theft. It can be a slippery slope of tucking away that bagel until it’s stale or not watering that rare perennial just enough so you can take it home. It isn’t pleasant, but it’s not uncommon.

  37. Don Shor says:

    Seriously, Rick, do you sell to anyone except Home Depot? That is all you list at your business web site.

  38. luise h. says:

    This is a great conversation.We all seem to have similar experiences. More than anything I want our local nurseries to survive and even thrive.I shop four different independents,depending on what I am looking for. Trying to order a specific plant means waiting and waiting and waiting.And I also shop Lowes. No waiting there,just for the next Truck.Then there are the carts in the back of the Gardencenter at Lowes: plants past their prime,some way past,are offered to customers at very reduced prices.That is something the independents could do.And the employees are super friendly.They may not be Garden Experts but they are happy to see me in their store and try to be helpful.Maybe the answer is that any Retail Business needs to be flexible and consumer oriented to stay viable.

  39. Chris Murray says:

    Mimi, I can understand your frustration about special orders. At my store we try to accomodate special orders, and luckily our growers are mostly local and don’t subject us to minimum orders. However, for other IGC’s it may not be as easy if there aren’t local growers available, and remember, it may be that Lowe’s is forcing the supplier to bend over backwards for you.
    Judson- I would ask you the same question I asked of Rick, which he never answered. Does your company offer the same service and terms to IGC’s that it gives to Lowes. If they are pay by scan and the IGC is 15 or 30 days, it can make a big difference.

  40. ann says:

    How shall I put this- a great deal of the plant material sitting on display at the “big boxes” has the “vigor” of a person who lives on potato chips. It’s grown, packaged and promoted as the latest tasty snack for the eyes. Quality is a matter of appetite?

  41. Marie Tulin says:

    I asked the buyer at a small but seemingly successful garden /farmstand type center if I could put in a special order and why she is carrying fewer “less usual” perennials. Her answer was succinct: people don’t buy them and she ends up selling them for less than she paid or throwing them out.

    It seems fewer people actually plant plants in pots by their own labor. They sell many, many pre planned and pre planted planters.

    I also realize that the garden center is secondary to their “farmstand”…which sells mostly produce year round. Their real cash cow is the deli department they opened two years ago….at lunch the line is out the door. They also diversified int more baked goods, frozen entrees, desserts.

    People stop to buy their lettuce, pick up a dinner, grab a few mums or pre planted pots: one stop shopping!

    I should stop, but here’s what else has changed there over the last five years: pot sizes- used to be small and 3-5 dollars, now they are gallons and 12 dollars.
    Now all the fall plants are in: funny but the fall plants are small: quart pots of asters, mums, grasses. I suppose they are for planters, but I’d love to see them in the spring.

    Someone on Gardenweb explained that the small plants are very difficult to keep watered and healthy, hence the “trend” or seachange to much larger pots.
    Maybe because the weather is getting cooler, the small plants have have a better chance of surviving?

    Haven’t been to a big box store this summer. We had week upon week of mid 90′s temps and I simply could not imagine crossing the asphalt parking lot or the lines.

    Marie

  42. Sue Miller says:

    I must be lucky here. The IGC’s in the far Western suburbs of Chicago are terrific and full of quality. Not just the plants but the selection of organic and environmentally friendly pesticides, herbicides and soil amendments. Thank you Chicagoland IGS’s for doing such a great job!

  43. Don Shor says:

    20 – 50% of every order we place is special orders. It means we seek out small growers that don’t have minimum unit quantity policies. We take 50 to 100 special orders a week during the spring, for anything from a particular tomato to #15 trees. Special orders drive our ordering much of the year.

    I am baffled by any IGC that doesn’t emphasize special ordering. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle. You definitely have to keep it on a database, make a lot of phone calls, and keep it updated. But why would you NOT do something where a customer has asked you to CALL them to return to your store?!? The slight risk of getting stood up for product (it happens occasionally) is far outweighed by the goodwill and return business it generates.

    “Trying to order a specific plant means waiting and waiting and waiting.”
    Yes, sometimes it takes time to get a particular plant. We often have to explain the vagaries of our business: with thousands of varieties to choose to grow, and production cycles being highly variable, it may be that your Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ is going to take a while and you may want to consider another cultivar.

    So a grower that requires that I buy 10 #1 or 5 #5 of any variety simply isn’t going to get my business. Nor is one that requires $1000 or more for delivery. I can be flexible about delivery schedules, but they need to be flexible about minimum orders and quantities.

    Unusual perennials and similar plants continue to be our strongest category, as they have been for over 15 years.

  44. Shirley M says:

    I once worked at an independant garden centre and proudly did so. I knew what we offered for sale was well taken care of, fertilized, pruned, watered and weeded when necessary. If a supplier offered inferior products, we dropped them. Our prices from the supplier are higher than what box stores pay simply because they order in volume. Imagine hundreds of Home Depots ordering from one supplier. Reduced prices are offered for volume sales. IGCs simply cannot compete in that fashion. They do, however, offer great service and quality cared for plants and great advice.

  45. Rick Brown says:

    Chris, I did answer you that their is some level of service in Home Depot. It varies by store but some stores are well staffed by horticulturists that have been in the business for many years. There is a training program for every garden associate from beginner to advanced. We personally go to the stores and teach all the associates all about the plants and plant care. They have the same training for other garden products.
    Don, yes, I only sell Depot. My worst decline in sales was October 09 thru Feb 2010 and it was all weather related. Sales since March 1 are up 20% over last year and held through the summer. Your reference is for the whole garden department. Plant sales throughout the country were up at Depot in the period it shows a decline.

  46. Mimi says:

    Chris–

    No, my Lowe’s ordered 15+ pyracantha in 2 different sizes and several varieties because I said in passing that “I’d really like three pyracantha–the ones with orange-ish or yellow berries would be favorite. I’d like the variegated even more, if you have a source, then orange or yellow-berried pyracantha would look great in the spot I have for it.”

    So the manager ordered a bunch. He didn’t know what size I wanted (I did say this in passing), so he got two different sizes of two different orange-berried cultivars. Just because I mentioned it.

    So it was my local store that got a ton to make sure I had it, not Lowe’s doing something to its supplier.

    Even better: I can buy a bunch of stuff they have to pull for me, go grocery shopping, and come back when it’s all ready and sitting there for them to load. I don’t have to wait.

    Meanwhile, I’d already stopped by my IGC for the variegated pyracantha they advertised ON THEIR WEBSITE only to find the teenager behind the counter thought that it must be a kind of iris (I kid you not) and the folks she called about it said they hadn’t had any all year. No offer of a special order. And that’s the one I shop at the most. :-/ Most of their associates are very friendly, but friendliness doesn’t get me my plants! I buy clearance and stuff I can’t find elsewhere from them.

    And I tried to special order a Higgins weeping cherry from another place only to be told by the owner that he won’t sell them because he doesn’t like them. Not because they don’t do well here–they do. He just doesn’t like cherries. So he won’t sell one to me. (And he LIKES me. You should hear the stories of what he’s said to customers he doesn’t like! One woman came in with an architect’s drawing of a patio she’d just had built and was ready for plants, and he basically shut her down! She would have dropped an easy $500 right there with a different attitude.)

    It’s pretty crazy.

    My next IGC trip is to Homestead. I hope they’re better!

  47. I can add just one thing to this: AMEN!

  48. Okay, so I do have one more thing to say. When we raised our girls, we taught them that no matter where you work, make your work habits as if you owned the company. Even if you work at Walmart (and one of them did, in high school), act like you own it. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, get the answer for them right away!

    I think the attitude of most employees in a chain is such that they’re such a small part of the whole that they don’t really matter that much. But it isn’t true. If I walk into a store and you’re the one I’m dealing with, you matter a LOT to me.

    It’s ultimately up to the business to hire quality people that want a job and want to do the best job they can. Then it’s also up to the business to make it clear to the employee what’s expected of them and make sure they do it. Of course, the business has to care, too. All of that takes time and monitoring, but their business may depend on it.

    The bottom line is, it’s up to the management to maintain quality products and quality service, whether they’re a major corporation or a family-owned IGC.

  49. Mimi says:

    I’ve been to Homestead Gardens. It is, if anything, even MORE expensive, but the quality and selection look better.

    IGC A sold me a Skimmia japonica that ended up having a blight. I yanked it out of the garden as soon as it got sick. I returned it to discover that they have only a 30-day exchange guarantee–and WORSE, that almost all their other Skimmia were dying, too. JOY!!!! Seriously, now, they have a serious DISEASE among their Skimmia, and they’re still selling them??? And then humming and hawing over turning one when it inevitable dies??? What’s going to happen when they ALL die in another month? Are they going to say, “oops, sorry, it’s past the date” even though they gave me plants with a SERIOUS DISEASE?

    If I sound peeved, it’s only because I am. The one I just picked up? It’s going into plant quarantine for several weeks.

    I’ve never gotten a Wal-mart plant that’s been so diseased. And if I had, they’d have let me return it with a quibble!

    So, with Homestead’s prices making me pale (and I’ll ask about the warranty BEFORE buying anything on Sun.) and the “guarantee” of Place A being horrible and the customer service of B being almost as bad, I think most of my purchases will stay with Lowe’s first, Wal-mart for the really boring stuff, Home Depot for some bits here and there, and online for much of the rest. Homestead can probably count on no more than $250 of about $4000 I’m spending this year.

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