Taking Your Gardening Dollar

That Monrovia Thing, Continued.

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 on December 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
Comments are off for this post

51 Responses to “That Monrovia Thing, Continued.”

  1. John says:

    and what about next year? and the year after that? The economic doo doo we’re standing in today will be here for a long long time – some say at least a decade. At what point do the SOS letters lose their effect.

  2. Hmm… I think Monrovia markets differently than Annie’s because their customer isn’t individuals, but retailers. And it sounds like they have a pretty good relationship with those retailers, given the IGCs are trying to come to the rescue.

  3. Amy Stewart says:

    Joseph–I disagree that they don’t need to reach gardeners. My publisher’s customers are bookstores, but they’re reaching readers to drive customers to the store. Hendrick’s Gin has 20,000 Facebook followers and over 2000 on Twitter, and they sell to liquor distributors, but still reach gin drinkers directly.

  4. Hoover says:

    Banks don’t care about quality plants. They don’t care about plants at all. They don’t care about IGCs and the people who work there. They care about profits.

    As soon as it becomes cheaper to grow everything in China and have it shipped over here, you bet there will be a Goldman Sachs team making it happen.

    If those Chinese plants are contaminated with lead and cadmium, or drenched with pesticides that are too toxic to be legal here, well, too bad.

  5. Derek says:

    Just FYI: Here’s a direct link to the Monrovia thing: http://www.ballpublishing.com/growertalks/Newsletter.aspx?article=751

    As others have said, Monrovia’s customers are garden stores, not gardeners. It’s easier for them to deal with hundreds of stores than thousands of gardeners. They may also be contractually limited to not go after customers directly, so that they don’t compete with their own customers (the stores).

    I’m not saying any of this is smart or how it should be, mind you.

  6. Amy Stewart says:

    Derek–they don’t have to compete with their own stores. The examples I gave–Algonquin Books, Hendricks Gin–are not selling books or gin. They are engaging their consumers and driving them into the bookstores/liquor stores to buy the product.

    In fact, most companies that make a product (Colgate, Coca-Cola) reach out directly to consumers, and try to drive them to the stores to buy the product. That’s how it should work.

  7. Jim Monroe says:

    Rants-

    The real story here is not the financial situation that Monrovia finds themselves in-nearly every woody plant producer in the country is in a similar situation. The nursery industry is in ruins. The interesting story here is the grass roots effort of IGC’s to try to help. IGC’s everyday have to deal with the price pressure of the box merchants, banks, govt agencies, etc. They are “independent” so they have no collective voice when things like this happen. We wish Monrovia the best in this and are encouraged to see the efforts that small businesses are making to help out another small business (which Monrovia really is in the big picture). I hope that garden writers will also band together to support the independet nursery / greenhouse industry! Times are tough for many of these companies and they are keeping money in the communities and support many local gardening efforts.

    Jim Monroe
    HORT COUTURE

  8. Derek says:

    I don’t think anyone here would disagree that what you’re describing is how it should be. It’s just clearly not that way now. The only question is, why? Is it because Monrovia is prevented by something from engaging customers directly, or are they just inexperienced with the social web? In my experience with big companies and the web (it’s what I do, besides garden), it’s usually a combination of the two.

    Still, even if Monrovia had a legion of gardeners following them on Twitter, I’m not sure how it’d be much help with their immediate cash-flow problem.

    Look, I’m a gardener. I’ve bought Monrovia plants from Sloat. I like them and want them to survive. And there are probably a lot of people like me. But what can we really do about it? (Sincere question.)

  9. Amy Stewart says:

    Derek–What we can do about it is go buy those $20M worth of plants the IGCs just agreed to order.

    That’s my whole point–it’s great that Monrovia is able to convince IGCs to up their order, but can they back that up by driving gardeners into the IGCs to buy those plants? I could come up with a few dozen things Monrovia could try–I’m not saying they’d work, but things they could try–to engage gardeners and get them out to buy those plants at their local garden center. Then the IGCs could afford to re-order. And so it continues.

  10. Derek says:

    Agreed! Of course, I was gonna do that anyway. I’m good for about 0.0025% of that $20M. (I think. Math is hard.)

    But if Monrovia has cash problems now, us buying plants in a few months won’t really help. They need the stores to place bigger orders like yesterday.

    I suppose gardeners could call their local stores and say “I want Monrovia plants!” I’d actually be happy to do that if it would help, and maybe others would, too.

  11. Jim Monroe says:

    Amy- you have it right. Monrovia as a brand has failed to involved the consumer in the conversation and it shows with their lack of social media efforts. They should have the biggest community in the industry. That is what it means to be a brand (as you mentoined with the liquor distributor)that you are promoting your unique idea or products- that is branding. I think they should use this crisis as a jumping off point to tell their story- maybe they need a call from you!

  12. Amy Stewart says:

    Well, they’ve asked stores to order by Jan 31, so these plants will mostly likely be sitting around in the spring, waiting for someone to buy them and take them home.

  13. Patrick says:

    Maybe they need to down size their operation to fit their current situation. Sometimes being big can be a disadvantage. Every garden center I ever loved has either gone out if business or is teetering on the brink of insolvancy. I think Monrovia needs to suck it up and make the changes it can to survive or perish. They are a really big entity and should be minding their store…
    And let’s not forget that Monrovia was responnsible for speading SOD to other states:
    ” A: SOD was found ONLY on infected nursery stock that originated from Monrovia Nurseries in Los Angeles County, California and was potentially shipped to Georgia and other states in the Southeast. Monrovia nurseries is one of the largest distributors and growers of nursery stock in the United States. Only HOST plants that came from Monrovia Nurseries in California within the last 12 months have been found to be contaminated with this disease.” from gainvasives.org
    Since this happened, I have avoided buying Monrovia products. I am probably not the only one…

  14. trey says:

    Who has the money right now to support their local garden center? Out here in nor Cal it’s about as slow as I have ever seen the nursery biz. Landscaping is non-existent. Most landscaping companies have laid off 90% of their workforce. The only thing that carried the independent garden centers this year was the sale of edibles, which Monrovia does in a very small amount. Trees and shrubs are non-sellers these days.

    Annie’s annuals, Flora Grubb, and other urban nurseries may be the exception. They have a narrow line of material they sell. Annie’s is annuals and perennials, while Flora sells cactus and succulents. Neither is exactly the bread and butter of Monrovia.That being said I can not speak for the financial situation of either company. Who knows what they have to deal with? Sometimes the healthiest looking companies are having trouble.

    Everywhere is different, but here in California we have so many bad economic issues, with the main one being the loss of equity in people’s homes. That equity was what fueled the landscaping boom seven plus years ago. People are tapped out here. They do want to support the local nursery, but finding the money to do it is another story.

    I have been writing on the Monrovia issue this last week. You can find more info here. http://www.thegoldengecko.com/blog/

  15. Derek says:

    I agree they should be doing more reaching out to gardeners like us, and I hope they will.

    I guess the thing I’m reacting to is this: Having a lot of followers on Twitter or Facebook is not the panacea it’s often made out to be. Monrovia’s problems are bigger than that.

  16. Great post and this is not just a Monrovia issue. This issue is international. The issue is about costs of stocking major levels of inventory, holding staff on standby, preparing plants for market to the highest quality under increasing environmental, consumer preferences, production schedule pressures. Then doing it to a collosal scale, over a wide range to deliver just in time. Many companies during the “good times” just didnt have to do what some smaller more “compact” companies have to do to pick off the niches. This can make any of us a bit single minded and understandably focused on the harvest more than sowng the imagination with new seed to grow during changing times. However I know many companies like Monrovia keept their product development going and invested in so even when you seem to do everything right one weak link bites your butt. The industry needs leaders like Monrovia but history has thought us just like IBM, Texas Instruments ,dare I say Microsoft, General Motors, the corner ACME grocery store, the Roman Empire, etc etc there are peaks and troughs in all our fortunes. Maybe Horticulture doesnt pay as well as it ought in the good times and consumer will pay more for what appear to me to be very short term silly things than they will for plants, whihc are often the first cut in large building projects etc. Time changes all things and time sure is changing many things right now. Time also repects nothing which stands still and us risk takers often get the stuffing knocked out of us. The answer is usually yesterday in my opinion and for every day that passes that we dont adapt to today it can take two more days to catch up. I hope I dont seem to be ranting on a rant page :). I am just sayin this is life, lots of us have to deal with it and maybe customers can carry a better balance of the inventory pain but I am not holding my breath for the day. It happens and we all usually have to dig our way out of it or not. I am sure when spring arrives we will have less pain but us growers need to measure just what does that big public out there want from us and maybe we have to scale back short term, pick the right niches to grow in the long term and explain how fantastic our products are a hell of a lot better than we do! Annies do a fantastic job and maybe Eric Hoffer best said it …
    “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

    Annies and many such owner managed enthusiastic team driven busineses are full of learners willing to share with the world and they get back in good measure. However scale such as some of the big nurseries or any companies brings tremendous pressure to sustain. That we find out on a very cyclical basis.

    Just sayin my twopence worth, its a very thought provoking issue, I am glad I read your post and Trey the blogging nurserymans post on same subject. Its good to talkabout these things.

    Pat.

  17. This garden expert, with NY Botanical credentials says/writes: Screw THEM.
    And please, with sugar on top, stop erasing/deleting my accurate, brief, to the point comments. Modersuckers.

  18. mj says:

    Amy is correct, if Monrovia really wants to push inventory through, they should have started speaking to the end consumer a long time ago, instead of leaving the independent nursery holding the bag. Any nursery that is booking orders heavy for next season is taking a risk. Social media and marketing are definitly not one of the same. Face/twit are great for community and generating enthuasium. It keeps the brand of YOUR business out there, but I have to say promotion of/by brands such as Proven Winners (hate to beat the dead horse..) has done nothing to increase traffic into our store, I can count on one hand the number of times in the last 8 years that someone has asked for a specific PW plant. Most people come in and see a great new plant (thanks to breeders) and buy it. They have never heard of Limelight or Black Lace ’till they came into the nursery. Whatever promotion PW is doing directed at the end consumer is totally ineffective.
    The nursery industry is in a crisis, bad, here on the east coast too.
    There is no answer other that what goes up must come down, and we are seeing a really bad crashing down of things.. People just stopped buying at the end of May this year and that was that. I dont think its economic based only. I think in every way people are trying to simplify their lives and more stuff and plants to care for is not on their priority list.
    I agree with Patrick, not enough people minding their own store, and I am SO glad my business did not grow as big as others during the boom times, It’s so nice to be small right now.

  19. Monrovia is not only a supporter of ICGs but also a huge supporter of designers who use/specify plants. They have just introduced a ‘Find a Design Professional’ on their website to help engage that community. They sponsor organizations such as APLD (of which I am a member) and have been instrumental in creating educational content for those organizations. The have been walking the sustainable walk since before it was popular.

    Amy, you are correct in one crucial assessment: they are marketing old school relying very upscale ads in high end mags, IGC point of purchase displays, a TV show with the Aussie hottie Jamie Durie, and branded merchandise they’ve not embraced the new marketing avenues.

    All businesses must engage their customers in meaningful ways using the places where those people hang out. Spring Meadow/Proven Winners has an excellent social media strategy and is engaging the consumer directly–and they don’t have the commitment to independents that Monrovia has. I wonder if @plantsavvy has participated in #gardenchat on Monday nights…

  20. Michelel says:

    Looks like Monrovia needs to overhall their public relations! I was never a big fan of there stuff even though it looks nice. It’s often to expensive.

  21. trey says:

    Here is a link to a comment just made at my blog. Not everyone in our trade is going to be upping their order with Monrovia. Some feel betrayed, and others, as in this comment say Monrovia is already selling to Costco and Fred Meyer anyway. http://thegoldengecko.com/blog/?p=948#comment-47727

    Interesting to hear that things are as bad on the East coast as here on the West Coast. I am curious how it’s going on Patricks’s side of “the pond”?

  22. mj says:

    what exactly is spring meadows/PW excellent social media strategy??

  23. The world economy’s race to the bottom is as much responsible for the nursery industry’s woes as anything. However, in Monrovia’s case, they have never seemed to understand basic marketing principles. As a garden photographer and someone who lives in proximity to one of their main farms, I have been trying to get them to hire me for years to shoot their plants for their tags, POP displays and catalogs. I have concrete proof from many clients that a good picture will increase sales ten-fold or more. Monrovia has only offered to have me shoot on spec (i.e. I can incur the time and expense involved, and if they feel like buying a photo or two, they might) and I know they are instead buying ho-hum generic images from a large plant tag manufacturer, probably for more than I would charge and for less quality. If you don’t understand basic marketing and who your buying audience is, you will be the first to sink in a down economy, regardless of what industry you’re in.

  24. Curmudgeon Geographer says:

    I just went to “Like” Monrovia’s Facebook page, the number has already jumped to 120. Seems that this post alone has boosted their fans a few.

  25. Trey, I think in Europe generally this kind of situation has been happening on and off over the last few years. Its in many sectors of business maybe our industry after years of scaling up and up and up is just seeing some things we have not seen before due to the mainstreaming into our respective economies that has occured over the last 30 years. I am sure with a bit of dramatic change of fortunes and method, a few sad business stories which could be any of us, things will turn for the better on cue of economic recovery. We are just suffering what most industries do. At least thats how it seems from here.

  26. Joseph is right to imply that social media is inappropriate for Monrovia’s needs. Monrovia is or was marketing to retailers with a buying bureaucracy and Annie’s is reaching out and touching individuals. Your counter argument that book publishers reach out to individuals in order to get them into book stores isn’t strong enough because readers are motivated by authors, themes, and book titles. The nursery industry hasn’t been able to accomplish anything similar, as corroborated by another reader who mentioned that the PW promotional program has not been effective.
    Who goes into a nursery asking for a Monrovia plant? And why should they?

    Let us be realistic. A firm, whose bank asks for 20 million dollars in instant sales,in order to continue financial support, is in very deep trouble. Just like Humpty Dumpty, all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put Monrovia back together again. Blogging and social media are ineffective in such as case.

  27. Amy Stewart says:

    Allan, I agree-and I said near the end of my post–that social media is not the whole answer here.

    But I gotta say–anybody who measures social media by how well PW (Proven Winners) did is missing the boat. I stopped following PW after a hundred or so boring container recipes and silly garden sayings. PW is almost a textbook case in how NOT to use social media.

    And if the assumption is that gardeners won’t get excited about plants the way they do about books, gin, or other products–why bother branding them?

  28. trey says:

    Amy,
    Exactly! Growers should not be branding their plants. They should allow the independents to do the branding. Gardening is local. I never really liked the fact that Monrovia was branding their plants. I would have preferred to receive them in plain black containers, and put our own brand on them. I want people to remember The Golden Gecko Garden Center, not Monrovia. If they do end up selling to the box stores people won’t remember they bought Monrovia plants, they bought Home Depot or Lowe’s plants.

    The worst part is for years we have been hearing from customers that “we all get our plants from the same places” In other words Home Depot gets their plants from the same suppliers we do. After years of telling them that we DO NOT buy our plants from the same suppliers, we will now be the ones with egg on our faces.

  29. Patrick says:

    Trey, thanks for the link to your blog. Interesting read, and I would have to agree with you that it is more than likely that Monrovea has been headed down the path of selling to box stores for a long while. Let them. Box stores make the worst customers, talk about fussy, and the current trend is the grower takes all the risk, the box store just supplies shelf space and collects a percentage. 2 or 3 years dealing with the box stores and they’ll be begging to get back into IGC sales. There are a lot of small nurseries that grow form seed and/or do their own propagation, that would welcome the business. It would be more work for the designer to round up the plants for a job. But there would still be plants available. With Monrovea out of the picture maybe the smaller nurseries could make a go of it and survive…

  30. Ryan Miller says:

    Monrovia is not just about backbone plants, they’ve got Dan Hinkley on staff now and I can probably credit him with the Chinese Fringe Flower that came in a Monrovia pot that I bought this year. Loree and dangergarden spotted a Schefflera taiwaniana in a Monrovia pot in BC this fall. Serious plant geeks are salivating over that one and even our ahead of the curve nurseries here in Oregon are still working on bringing that one to market.

  31. Ryan Miller says:

    sorry for the double post, I wanted to also say that I agree with the comments about Monrovia not reaching out to the consumer enough. I mentioned the plant geek plants that Hinkley is likely responsible for, what is Monrovia doing to market those plants to Hinkley fans? There’s some info on their site about him working for them, but that’s about it, no mention of what he’s working on, or what is about to come out from him. I’m just self-aware to know that I’m just shallow enough to want a plant more if it’s some cool new plant he helped bring to market.

  32. Michelle D says:

    Monrovia is a plant wholesaler. They are not a retailer -that’s completely different beast.
    Comparing them to a retail nursery such as Annies Annuals is like comparing apples to elephants. . It’s not even close .
    Both nurseries sell plants but their clientele purchases the plants in a ‘completely different way’.
    Monrovia does a pretty good job, actually it does the best job as far as a wholesaler, in having name recognition via the high quality of their product.
    They have to walk a particularly complex tight rope. They can’t directly sell plants to an individual consumer, that would be cutting out the hand that feeds them/ represent them.
    Social media may give Monrovia another venue for education and marketing to the public , but they are not retailers.
    Completely different way of selling and distributing plants.

  33. Katie says:

    Whether Monrovia markets via social media or not, the power is moving to the end consumer. Social media and the internet have assured that. So, however they choose to do it, they have to reach out to their end consumer.

    Proven Winners has a great name. Who wouldn’t want to buy a “Proven Winner?” I also enjoy their Facebook activities, like “vote on our next ad.”

    Monrovia has beautiful plants. I have bought several from my IGC (before the IGC itself was so rude to me that I stopped shopping there), and those are my largest, healthiest plants. They are worth the $18 they cost.

    Somehow, monrovia has to reach out to the consumer. Amy is right: we will vote with our dollars.

  34. Eliz says:

    I just bought a very nice Monrovia lemon tree and I am more than happy to buy a couple more citrus plants from them.

  35. Lynn Ferda says:

    I hope that Monrovia has someone following this thread and will act upon the (positive) suggestions here about doing their part to promote the plants that IGCs have agreed to purchase from them in their hour of need. As an IGC owner who buys from Monrovia, I agree that the they need to do their part to promote the plants sold by IGCs so our customers don’t turn to the box stores.
    Things are tough in this economy at the retail level as well as the wholesale level, and we’re basically all in this fight together– until and unless Monrovia is forced by their financial situation to send product to the box stores– then it will be us against them, unfortunately.

  36. What is the exact title of their Facebook page? Could not find to “Like.”

  37. Amy Stewart says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but Michelle D, you’re missing my point. Whether Annie’s is a wholesaler or not is not the point–they have developed a huge following and gotten people excited about their plants. Monrovia, using the same technology, has not. Annie’s used to wholesale and in fact that’s mostly how I’ve bought from them. The point is: you can build a following of dedicated gardeners who are fanatical about your plants, and mobilize them to get into stores to buy your products. Annie’s disproves the notion that you can’t get people excited about a plant “brand.”

    And again, just because Monrovia is a wholesaler does not mean they can’t reach consumers directly. All the examples I’ve given–from Coca-Cola to Hendricks Gin to Algonquin Books–are “wholesalers.” Not retailers. They get people excited about their products and drive them into retail stores to buy them.

  38. Michelle D says:

    Amy, let’s beat it a little more. Because you’re missing my point.
    A wholesale nursery and a retail nursery have completely different consumers . They market differently , they sell their product differently and they deliver differently.
    Monrovia does not sell directly to the public, unless you are a high end landscape D+B company with a C-27 that does “large” volume.
    Monrovia as well as other wholesale only nurseries does not let or want the public into into the nursery. It is not set up to offer retail assistance .
    Retail nurseries that may sell a few flats less 25% ( which is not wholesale ) IS geared to the public. They market to the public, they need the public to love and Identify with them. They use tweeter twits and facebook. Whatever it takes to get them into the nursery.
    A wholesale nursery does not want joe the gardener in their nursery who is going to but a couple hundred dollars worth of plants. A wholesale nursery is designed to service large landscape construction firm and nurseries who buy a truck load of plants.
    For the fun of it , call Monrovia or any other large scale wholesale nursery and ask if you can go shopping for plants for your front garden. They are going to ask you for your C-27 or nursery license and then they will tell you that they have a minimum order of 1000. – 1500.00
    Monrovia is going a pretty good job , better than most in regards to name recognition.
    You don’t often here the name Suncrest, Monterey Bay, Bardelo , Native Sons , Ogarwa, but these are the other moderate sized wholesalers who sell only to IGC and high volume C-27.
    Apples and Elephants.

  39. Amy Stewart says:

    Michelle, you can’t show up at Coca-Cola’s bottling plant and buy a six-pack, either. Yet they market directly to consumers. You can’t show up at Algonquin Books’ office and buy the books they publish, but they market directly to consumers (and have almost 50,000 Twitter followers). You can’t show up at the Twinkie factory and buy Twinkies. Etc Etc.

    If Annie’s was still selling their plants at garden centers, I bet they would still be reaching gardeners directly and encouraging those gardeners to buy their plants at garden centers. I bought their plants at my garden center specifically because of Annie’s marketing efforts (those cute signs) and not because of anything the garden center was doing.

    Lots of companies market directly to consumers even though they don’t directly sell their products. I’m not suggesting that Monrovia’s marketing efforts should be geared towards Monrovia selling plants directly.

    I’m suggesting that, like Coca-Cola and Hendricks Gin and Nike and Colgate and every other maker of a product with a brand name on it, they can effectively reach consumers and drive them into retail stores to buy their product instead of someone else’s product. Happens all the time. I just think Monrovia could do a better job of it, and should. Now that they’ve asked IGCs to order all these extra plants, they should be able to back that up by driving gardeners into the garden center to buy those plants, just the way Nike drives people into shoe stores.

  40. Michelle D says:

    Ok, so it comes down to more advertising from Monrovia to the general public just like Coke, Colgate.
    I’ll be watching for that next $uper bowl commercial.
    But what happens when they don’t have that kind of advertising dollar power ?
    Is social media such as Facebook, Twitter the answer ? It could help but I doubt that the market share of consumers are waiting to be bombarded with advertising on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
    Monrovia and Proven Winners are the only two high profile wholesale nurseries that have actual built in store kiosks. These do a pretty good job but obviously they could be doing more.
    And then at what point does the Independent nursery owner have to make the decision not to have a dozen or so individual grower kiosks taking up valuable real estate in the nursery?
    Monrovia advertises directly to us large volume buyers via our brokers. They also advertise in garden magazines, on garden television and regularly speak at garden clubs such as Cal Hort .
    It seems like they have a pretty healthy marketing budget but in this economy, how much is too much or too little.
    Monrovias situation is being shared by thousands of businesses.
    I suppose the tweeter and facebook markets could help but I think it is a much bigger problem than a few tweeters.

  41. VG says:

    I’ve learned a lot from reading these posts. Although I am an avid gardener I didn’t know Monrovia only sold to IGCs. I also didn’t know that Dan Hinkley worked with them. If he wrote in their media sites, you bet I would follow him. Like many gardeners, I would rather spend my time gardening, than trying to glean useful information from social media. But for Dan I would drop the trowel and pay attention. My social aspect of gardening consists of the garden club, plant exchanges and garden tours.

  42. trey says:

    Annies still sells to independents. They also are open for retail 7 days a week. So they are in essence a retail/wholesale nursery. The reason they have a following is their customers can visit the nursery, unlike Monrovia. That’s part of the fun. I would have to agree with Michelle that wholesale only nurseries are a different breed than retail/wholesale places. Amy’s point about Hendricks Gin, Coke, etc. applies to the dry goods (non plant) products we sell. There are huge followings for specialty fertilizers, and soil mixes. Amy could tell you about Foxfarm, and we get people asking for Humboldt Nutrients, Botanicare, Black Gold, etc.

    Wholesale only nurseries should work at promoting and branding the retail outlets that sell their plants, not themselves. For more on this line of thinking see this post “Does plant branding work?” from earlier today. http://thegoldengecko.com/blog/?p=953

  43. Monrovia has nice plants and I hate to see them go down the tubes, but, my sympathy gets worn thin when I get to the part in their terms where it states ‘We don’t ship to Alaska.’

    We have a thriving gardening community here and we don’t live in bloody igloos! It’s irritating that so many wholesale possibilities are off limits to small independent nurseries in Alaska.

    Sure, the shipping is killer, but, it does help us broaden our offerings to plant hungry gardeners. We do muffle our carbon footprint by growing our own perennials and collecting seeds. But, imports help us get started early and expand our season.

    I try to find sustainable wholesalers, but, if they won’t ship to us they won’t get our business. Maybe Monrovia ought to see who their competition sells to. I get terrific service from NJ,MI,OR,Canada and seeds from Europe. What’s Monrovia’s beef?

    Brooke Heppinstall
    WoolWood Studio & Gardens
    http://www.woolwood.com
    Palmer, AK

  44. Genevieve says:

    Well, the offer from my local nursery to sell me cheap plants come spring if only I’d tell them what on the Monrovia list I want to use certainly mobilized me. I can sell plants to clients much easier if they are at a much-discounted rate. Monrovia gets a cut, my local IGC gets a cut, and I get a cut – and the client still gets a cheap, good plant. Why don’t they always run this way? Are their numbers generally inflated so much?

  45. Chris Grant says:

    Just another case of not responding to market conditions fast enough. Monrovia’s wholesale price for product is often times as high as my retail price on the same product. And the quality of my locally grown plants is just as good or better, and the plants are better suited for our climate than plants hauled in from California and Oregon. I don’t feel sorry for them.

    Is there any truth to the rumors that Monrovia has already hired someone from Hines who is experienced with the chains? Is there any truth to the rumor that a deal was already in place with Lowe’s before this letter ever went out to the independents?

  46. They hold a great expectation that their next generation will explore a full career potential and lead a more prosperous and successful life than their own

  47. Hey Amy,
    I do agree with Michelle D and Trey’s affirmation that Monrovia is essentially a “wholesale nursery” versus a “retail” outlet, or a store that consumers can buy from directly.

    That said, for being a “wholesale” company, I’ve seen very few plant companies invest as much money in advertising and marketing as Monrovia has. Monrovia has consistently reached out to their core customers- retailers and landscape businesses and done it well. In recent years, Monrovia has started to build mini-boutiques in garden centers, so yes, they have started to reach out to gardeners too.

    You can find the Monrovia ads in every major consumer garden magazine and they are one of the few plant brands that sponsor garden television shows. I’ve seen Monrovia at every major live garden event in the country! Monrovia plants even appear on the Today Show. Michelle D mentioned that Monrovia is supporting the landscape profession. It’s true. I’m a fan of theirs.

    Their business model has been primarily retail and landscape customers so I don’t fault them in their “slow to adopt” social media savvy campaigns. The velocity of change is simply too fast for most companies to keep up with unless they are a streamlined and a lightweight startup.

    Large companies with an existing infrastructure of traditional marketing adopt to new media a little slower. Monrovia was coming around though.

    Amy, I do agree with you on the point that direct engagement with the consumer would be a good practice for Monrovia to adopt to build a dedicated fan base. But it will take more than that.

    There is a HUGE difference between a company like Monrovia and a company like Annie’s Annuals, so the comparison is not appropriate. Here’s my point.

    The reason Annie’s could probably summon up the support of dedicated gardeners is because Annie’s is “ANNIE’S!”

    Annie’s has a PERSON or PERSONALITY behind the plants. A lovable, admirable person who gardeners can relate to. A gardener who consistently “shares” new plant varieties with them.

    Monrovia is a company of MANY dedicated gardeners, but I bet most people could not name one of them specifically. This is where Monrovia has been weak in their brand strategy.

    If I were Monrovia, I would have created a marketing campaign that builds the visibility of their wonderful garden leaders such as Nicholas Staddon and Dan Hinkley! As a matter of fact, I already produced a prototype for them in the form of a video series that I hope they will take a second look at.

    PUT A FACE ON THE BRAND!

    I don’t care how much of a gardening fanatic I am, I still fall for people more than plants. The weakness of our industry has been overlooking the importance of the “gardener as spokesperson!”

    It’s too bad because Monrovia already has these strong people on their team. I say, “dust them off” and put them out front where the gardeners are. Don’t be afraid to be “more personable.”

    These are hard times. Monrovia has been dedicated to my landscaping industry and are truly growers of excellent plants. They have my support.

    Shirley Bovshow

  48. Don Shor says:

    I have a small garden center. Monrovia doesn’t want to do business with the smallest independent garden centers.

    The small, family-owned wholesale nurseries I order from regularly have a minimum for delivery of $500. Minimum for delivery from Monrovia, whose facility is not much further away than some of those growers: $1250.

    I do a lot of special ordering; often 30 – 50% of an order is special orders. My growers have no minimum quantity. If I need one #1 Pittosporum tenuifolium Kirsti, they will send me one. Monrovia’s minimum quantities: 10 #1, 5 #5. That makes it impossible to do special-ordering with them.

    Finally, I don’t really want to have branded nursery stock in my garden center, and they are the leading plant branders in the business.

    I believe small family-owned garden centers should do business with small family-owned growers. Monrovia will be selling in box stores this year. There is no question about it. The letter you cite from IGC’s was not a commitment, and Monrovia management isn’t driving this decision. After many years in this industry, I can tell you that their decision will change their company irrevocably, and I can’t think of a single large grower who had gone into the box stores and avoided disastrous consequences. El Modeno, Bordiers, Hines — the list goes on.

  49. Great Comments so far. I have been to Annies on a tour and purchased plants. She also brands her plants. On a more serious note Annie’s goes much further in having unique and different plants in additon to the standard ones. Monrovia just does not have than many new plants that are that interesting when you compare them to Annies. Monrovia has great signage and displays in the garden center but does not have a brand name like Vera Bradly so it must explain why folks should spend up to 30% more for their plants. It plain and simple does not do a good enough job of explaining why its plants are better in its signage and marketing. 90% of the purchasers of nursery and other plant product are the people that pay the bills – could not tell a good plant from a bad one as long as it looks nice. Only about 10% of the gardening public are avid gardeners.

  50. lola says:

    regarding Michelle and wholesale nurseries . I believe this conversation was about wholesale nurseries that sell to IGCs and comparing Monrovia and large branded plant lines to smaller local growers . I don’t see where nurseries who sell wholesale to landscapers really comes into the equation . We are talking about IGC’s surviving corporate behavior- similar to what mom and pops experienced when Walmart moved to town . how do you prevail when the big guy is selling the same plants as you for 1/2 the price ?

  51. Cindy McNatt says:

    Corporate is over – indie is in. It’s not top down anymore, but from the bottom up.

    Garden Rant, Annie’s Annuals and Etsy are examples of how readers/shoppers/engagers are responding to what’s happening on the “street”, not in some corporate board room.

    If nurseries and growers want to survive, they need to have big sloppy conversations, badly punctuated, yet sincere, fun, honest with the audiences they want to attract.

    How they communicate now is the plant equivalent of those gaudy and boring color bowls they push at the front of their stores.

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