Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Organic Pest Control Company Says to Media: Don’t Bug Me.

Last week I had an assignment that required me to contact a variety of organic pest control companies.  Let me say right off the bat that a surprising number of them don't have any contact information for their media or PR person. This seems very strange to me. A company of any size should have a media/PR email address or phone number on their contact page, for those of us who wish to bypass the general mailbox and get what we need by deadline.

But–okay.  I got through to most of them somehow. Then it came time to contact GardensAlive, and that's where things got really weird.

I had already begun thinking that something was amiss with this company.  I've been ordering their organic fertilizers for years, not to mention assorted sprays and slug baits and what have you.  For many years, I was actually quite a regular customer, placing an order once or twice a year.

So a couple weeks ago when I bought a potted citrus tree, I thought I'd get my citrus fertilizer from them, seeing as how they sell so many specialty blends. (Strawberry fertilizer! Root crops fertilizer!  Fruit tree fertilizer!) The only problem was that the fruit tree fertilizer information said that it was formulated for "most" fruit trees.  Well, if any fruit tree was going to be the exception, it would be citrus.  So I called to make sure before I ordered.

And I got the call center.  Sounded like India.  And a customer service rep who assured me the fertilizer would be fine for my trees, until I pressed her on what "most" didn't include, and pressed her again, and finally she went and asked somebody and came back and agreed that, as I suspected, "most" meant "except for citrus and avocado."

So.  I was already pretty sure this company had gone off the rails a little, and I wasn't surprised that the website gave me no media or PR contact information.  No company headquarters.  Just that call center phone number.  Here's how the call went:

"Hi, can I speak to somebody who handles media or marketing for your company?"

"We don't have anyone like that.  We're the call center."

"Well, can you give me a number I could call? A corporate office, maybe?"

"No, there is no corporate office number.  You can write a letter and send it to (some address in Indiana)"

"Write a letter?  I'm on deadline.  How about an email address?"

"No, there really isn't.  If you want to reach them, you have to write to that address."

"So let me make sure I understand.  If you have a reporter on deadline who wants to interview someone about the company or the products, they have to write a letter on a piece of paper and put it in the mail?"

"That's right."

"Can you pass a message on to the marketing person for me?"

"We can't.  And there really isn't a marketing person.  We're a catalog company.  We don't do any marketing or PR."

"So there's no one who would talk to a reporter anyway?"

"No."

Well, Gardens Alive.  Way to communicate with your customers.  It should be noted that they tweeted twice in 2009, which is about when their Facebook page last got any updates.

A call center staffed by people who don't know the products?  An outright refusal to give media interviews?  No social media presence?  I don't know–what do you make of this?

Posted by on September 22, 2010 at 6:27 am, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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29 Responses to “Organic Pest Control Company Says to Media: Don’t Bug Me.”

  1. trey says:

    I don’t do business with companies that can’t answer the simple questions you ask. The internet offers so many products it’s sometimes hard to not want to buy.

    This is why a company that does the exact opposite has so much potential. Friendly greeters that answer questions, a person you know and can talk to, people that know their products, etc. Hey, that sounds like my garden center! If you can’t make it here maybe there is a local garden center that offers this? If not, business opportunity!

    Buy your products locally from people you know and trust. Trust is now the most precious resource we have in business. The internet has much to offer, but gardening is local and talking to someone in India while buying products from Indiana and who knows where else does nothing for the local economy. What happens if something goes wrong? Who you going to talk to then?

  2. Denise says:

    A somewhat similar experience with another organic product company….bought a mosquito spray from a big box store which almost wiped out quite a number of my ornamentals….burned the crap out of them…all efforts to contact the company by both phone and e-mail to constructively suggest that the directions be more explicit apparently fell on deaf ears…I could “win” something if I put in a glowing review but if I had a problem I could go pound sand??? Irony is the product did work but it should have been labeled better… I wasn’t looking for a freebie, just wanted to offer a suggestion…2 plus months later, still no response…way to give organic products a bad name!! GRRRRR!!

  3. Cindy says:

    Hmmmm…sounds like a new development. I actually wrote about this company a while back and the owner, whats his name, was very friendly.
    Maybe they signed up with the call service from hell and haven’t a clue how they’re handling things.

  4. Laurin says:

    i’m a newbie gardener, in love with it (and this site!) but sometimes frozen with a healthy skepticism toward companies that seem eager to capitalize on those who at least want the illusion of being green. this story is a great example.

    not every country agrees on what “organic” really means, and that label is even quite suspect in the u.s. (see http://tinyurl.com/lludct).

    if we want to be healthier and do better by the environment, i reckon part of that effort could include not having things shipped from BFE when we can help it. and if there is a distribution center in the u.s. that receives the product from BFE, well, that’s still an awful lot of fossil fuel being burned to obtain something “organic.”

    i’m learning that we have to make some tough value judgments and decisions out there in the yard and that perhaps we have to come to terms with the fact that there is no nice way to “kill” or “keep out.” it truly ain’t easy being green (unless it’s the green the companies make in profit).

    thanks for the expose on this – true investigative journalism in any context is rare and appreciated.

  5. anne says:

    Maybe GardensAlive recently sold their business and inventory to an outfit that doesn’t know or care about how the products are used–just interested in selling off the inventory (maybe because they are in recievership)? I know that sounds grim, but times are tough….

  6. Michele Owens says:

    This is why I solve all problems with a single blunt instrument–compost.

  7. Don Doumakes says:

    They assert their products are organic, but they won’t put the ingredients on the label. That’s grounds for deep suspicion right there. If they want to get my business, they can tell us what’s in the bag, AND they can point us to independent empirical research proving their stuff works.

  8. Jenn says:

    Take that fishy odor and use it to fertilize your plants. Plants LOVE fish.

  9. Laurin says:

    ok, i found some serious scoop on gardensalive (and several “other” companies that, as it turns out, are all owned by the same dude):

    http://www.countrysidemag.com/issues/90/90-2/Jerri_Cook.html

  10. shira says:

    Kind of a bummer. I used to buy stuff from them once in a while. The lack of social media exposure isn’t really a big surprise unfortunately.

  11. Donna says:

    This is the way the world is coming to. I do not like it one little bit. I do not want to go global. I like dealing with someone that I can trust and get answers to my questions about. I do not want to call some nit wit in some far away country who could care less. The only thing you can do is find someone you can trust and speak with.

  12. Tibs says:

    So write ‘em a letter, send it certified mail and see what kind of response you get. I think Anne might be right.

  13. anne says:

    Laurin, thank you so much for the link to the article on the corporatization of the seed industry. The GardensAlive website gave me the heebie-jeebies (Septic tank maintenance? Bird bath cleaner?). It feels like a clearing house for multiple businesses.

  14. Ali M says:

    Do you notice how many “last day for $25.00 coupon” emails you get from Gardens Alive? How many “last days” can there be?

  15. trey says:

    I took Laurin’s advice from above and checked out Countryside mag. “Sure enough there it was. It is an umbrella corporation for The Garden Store, The Michigan Bulb Company, Gurney’s, and Henry Field’s. For a mere $1 fee to the fine state of Indiana I was able to find the owner of Scarlet Tanager, LLC, Niles Kinerk. A couple of peripheral searches turned up more information on Mr. Kinerk. He also owns Spring Hill Nurseries, Breck’s Bulbs, Audubon Workshop, Flower of the Month Club, and Gardens Alive. Wow, Niles has a lot of companies under his umbrella.”

  16. You would think that PR would be #1 for an organic company for the gardener, eager to get its message to consumers.

    That might mean that as of yet there is no money to be made in selling organic garden products.

    Here in New England, in the Portsmouth,NH area, a chicken fertilizer company called Cockadoodledoo, or something like that, went out of business a couple of years ago. They were in business for as long a time, I think. Used their products in my garden. Did a story on their fertilizer for Seacoast Media papers up here. Their list of customers are now serviced by a similar company in Wisconsin.

  17. Della says:

    Geeze Trey, all you would have had to do is google Niles Kinerk and you would have gotten all that info for free. He owns a lot of companies doesn’t doesn’t really sound like too bad of a guy. He started out as a good (and shrewd) Midwestern farmer with some good business sense.

  18. Ilona says:

    woah. THAT was an eye opener.

    As for the many companies… not sure about the inferred story might be there… I hate Michigan Bulb, but loved Brecks, and Spring Hill was always good one for me.

    *anne. That is typical marketing speak. I recently joined 3Tribe to learn more about this aspect of media, and admire their advice and intention to utilize marketing while keeping integrity. (In other words, creating scarcity and value in truth and not just the illusion of it). The “tricks” worked for so long in American print business that I think they need to wake up to how the internet is making consumers more savvy to these old ploys.

    Anyway…. the commenters ( my spellck is yelling at me for this word) make this a highly interesting conversation.

  19. Laurin says:

    more food for thought from other gardeners over at dave’s garden:
    http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/146/

  20. Chris says:

    Their main headquarters is in 110 W Elm St., Tipp City, Oh., also the home of Spring Hill Hurseries. I believe the phone number is 937-667-1199. Good luck in catching up with them.

  21. So it sounded like INDIA. That shows little geographical wisdom: Bangladesh, Pakistan, could also be in the bag. Or even better citizens of the Old British Empire with dark skin, Muslim or Hindu.

    Were they articulate?

    That is what you get for buying from catalogs, web sites with not in the house customer service.

    A global TREND.

  22. Kathy Shadrack says:

    Sounds like GardensAlive! has jumped the shark.

  23. Wes says:

    Interesting countrysidemag article… Worth some more investigation on my part…. but I couldn’t help a big guffaw when I spotted the Gurney’s and Latham High Tech Seed ads at the bottom of the page… thanks to another global monstosity… Google.

  24. Kaviani says:

    Thanks, Laurin. That pretty much says it all.

    Gardens Alive’s website just LOOKS screwy.

  25. Jackie says:

    Sounds like they were ‘bought out’ by an even larger company. Maybe even the devil himself…ooops, I mean Monsanto.

  26. Jo says:

    2 observations on GA; I wrote them (via email to Customer Service) several years ago asking for the breakdown of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium and received a very detailed, per-product, list. Why it isn’t included in the description of each product is beyond me.
    Second; upon opening a bag of fertilizer from them I discovered a half-page of Chinese chemical instructions (I had a friend who read some of it to me), so they may be purchasing some components from China.

  27. Henny Penny says:

    Do no writers understand what a hybrid is and how it’s different from genetically modified?

  28. I have had the same problem with them and some of the claims on their products. It’s such a shame.

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