So here's what I find interesting about this Monrovia story, from a gardener's perspective.
Monrovia is a big ol' grower of popular and familiar plants, and you know how I feel about popular and familiar plants, especially when they've got a corporate logo plastered across the pot. Mass-produced. Predictable. Etc etc.
And now the banks are telling them they need to sell some plants, real quick-like, to improve their financial situation. So Monrovia sent letters to their retailers asking them to please order a bunch of plants by the end of January or else bad things could happen. (Read the whole story here; use the nearly-invisible scroll bar on the right to see the story)
So here's what's interesting about Monrovia: They only sell to independent garden centers, and seem truly committed to helping IGCs survive by offering them a good selection of the sort of "backbone" plants any garden center would need to sell. IGCs seem to like them and want to continue to do business with them–in response to the possibility that Monrovia would be forced to sell in big box stores to satisfy the banks, a letter from 75 IGCs said, "We, as Independent Nurseries, cannot afford this to happen. We agree that we shall increase our spring bookings by a significant amount to help Monrovia Growers reach their goal." (Oh, and memo to banks: Selling your products in big box stores only drives down prices and quality, leading to a race to the bottom that will not help the company. Just saying.)
And here's the other thing: I met a Monrovia representative once and I went off (as I always do) about sustainability in the nursery industry, and how plant growers need to be looking at growing their plants organically or at least in some manner that's closer to organic, and guess what the rep said? They already do. You can read about it here, but what gardener is going to go to the trouble to search this out on the website? Why isn't their green strategy more obvious to gardeners?
And for that matter, where do gardeners fit into this whole "please buy $20 million worth of plants by January or we're in big trouble" situation? Because doesn't somebody need to get into the garden centers and buy those plants once they arrive?
Monrovia has just over 500 Twitter followers (using not its name but PlantSavvy as its Twitter handle) and 111 Facebook fans, to which it delivers desultory garden tips like "Foundation plants are the bones of the garden, providing structure and shape. Watch our video for tips."
Meanwhile, my beloved Annie's Annuals has 4,092 Facebook friends, plus another 2436 fans on their Annie's Annuals and Perennials page , and 1412 Twitter followers. Why? Because they're fun. And they have passion. And they're real people. Real, fun, passionate people with opinions and ideas and enthusiasm.
Annie's is a tiny specialty nursery on 2.5 acres. Monrovia's nurseries cover 4,724 acres and they ship plants to 5000 garden centers.
So why, in this moment of crisis, doesn't Monrovia have 20,000 avid gardeners on Twitter and Facebook they can mobilize to get into garden centers to move these products along? I gotta say, if Annie ever dropped a hint that they needed to sell some plants in order to pay the rent, I'd be the first to order a few plants and beg my friends to do the same. I've got your back, girlfriend. (and if you think 20,000 followers is unrealistic for a company like Monrovia, my publisher has 49,612 followers on Twitter and over 2000 Facebook fans.)
I'm not saying that putting out an SOS to customers is always a healthy business strategy. Maybe they spin it another way. A sale, a coupon, buy one-get-one-free, a garden makeover contest you have to visit an IGC to enter. Something.
And I'm not even saying that social media in particular is the missing piece here. Monrovia has an email newsletter, a website, ads in magazines, etc. I'm just saying–what now? You got the IGCs to up their orders. Now who mobilizes the passionate plant people and gets them in to buy those plants and stick them in the ground, so that Monrovia–and the IGCs–survive?
Posted by Amy Stewart on December 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.