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Mixed Up Magic
| Jennifer Duffield White
>> Published Date: 7/26/2012
In the wide world of retailing, generic products and branded products typically sit side by side. Carolyn Dixon, Burpee Home Gardens sales manager, calls it the “good, better, best” approach. In fact, most independents and hardware stores have used the strategy after seeing it at their big box rivals.
Left: This past spring, all 18 of Calloway’s garden centers featured this red barn façade as the backdrop in their edibles display area.
But for many garden centers, offering several branded lines, as well as generic edibles, is about more than a ranked tier of options. It’s also about sourcing as many varieties as possible, taking advantage of professional signage and POP materials, and capitalizing on brand name recognition.
At Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop & Garden Center in Lafayette, Colorado, blending generic and branded options on the sales floor is a strategy to live by. “It’s all about selection,” co-owner Brian Wheat says. They grow some of their own generic edibles in large quantities, but rely on several branded programs—both regional and national—to give their garden center an impressive collection of varieties that sets them apart.
For example, Brian grows two varieties of basil in large quantities, but he buys in a diverse selection from Herb Herbert’s. “I may grow 100 flats of sweet basil with a nice, generic tag. Next to that, I have a rack from Herb Herbert’s that has maybe 30 flats on it, with 10 different kinds of basil. My customers really want 12 different kinds of basil, but I only have to grow two,” says Brian.
At Martin Viette Nurseries on Long Island, New York, a comprehensive list of edibles from A to Z is the primary goal. “My purchasing choices honestly have little to do with branded versus unbranded unless I have a customer requesting a specific variety, such as Burpee Big Boy. My buying decisions are most often driven by what varieties my customers are asking for,” says Dave Wangner, Martin Viette’s annuals and houseplant manager.
Dave adds sourcing plant material from local growers is one of their goals, which means they end up with whatever lines their growers supply—including a large number of USDA Organic veggie starts, a number of Patio Partners and a lot of Burpee stock.
California-area Armstrong Garden Centers carries multiple lines of herbs and veggies to meet all the needs of their customer base, especially since it can’t all be grown on-site.
“We carry our Organik vegetable line to offer a product not found in box stores that meets customer needs regarding food safety, sustainability and social responsibility. We also grow and sell conventional gallon and pack vegetables,” says Heather Hydoski. “However, a percentage of our store associates and customers are not concerned with the organic movement and will purchase a conventional vegetable if it has a better appearance. We added Burpee to our vegetable line because of the unique offerings and hoping the name and marketing program would generate sales.”
It’s a different story, however, for Calloway’s 18 retail garden centers in Texas. In years past, it’s carried multiple branded lines of edibles, but this year, Calloway’s Nursery put all its energy into the Chef Jeff vegetable program. Sarah Martinez explains it was really about “creating a whole atmosphere around the program.” Every store used the same backdrop—a red barn—in the displays.
On the flip side, Werner Sperzel, creator of the Chef Jeff brand for independent garden centers, isn’t a fan of mixing it up with too many tags and programs. “The only benefit I see to more than one line is keeping your customers happy in having the varieties they are asking for,” he says. “Having more than one line never makes for a great high-impact display.” He recommends working with suppliers in advance to have them grow all the varieties you need.
“Brand awareness is key,” says Carolyn, advising that brands should have national power, offering something more to the consumer. Thus, programs such as Burpee Home Gardens and Bonnie Plants have a large marketing arm behind them, from which a garden center can benefit.
But also keep an eye out for more regional brands that folks may recognize. For instance, Brian praises the marketing efforts of nearby Welby Gardens, Denver, Colorado, whose Hardy Boy Plants brand is ingrained into his customers’ psyche. “They did such a good job that people just walk in and ask for Hardy Boys by name. I just tell them to look for the red four-pack.”
Pricing & Differentiation
If you’re going to carry both branded and generic lines, then it’s important to present the separate options—for brands, pricing and container size.
Schmidt Brothers Inc., Swanton, Ohio, started its own line of branded veggies, called Homegrown Gourmet, in 2005 and it’s grown to include 100 varieties. They sell finished product to retailers throughout the Midwest, and they now have a plug program available nationally as well. Marketing Manager Kathy Judge notes that all the retail customers who carry Homegrown Gourmet and mix it up with other offerings are careful to keep the displays separate.
“Good marketing is based on selection and a complete retail price strategy,” adds Carolyn. “The positioning should be complimentary and not designed to cannibalize existing items.”
At Armstrong Garden Centers, Organiks and Burpee have a premium price. A 3-in. Organik herb or veggie sells for $2.99, and 6-in. Burpee pots retail for $5.99. Meanwhile, regular generic gallons sell at $4.99.
“We stress that the Organik and Burpee programs offer more than a plant,” says Heather. “Customers also get the QR barcodes, the website, gardening assistance and ideas and the best offerings available.”
At Lafayette Florist, Brian keeps the same pricing strategy. “I don’t usually see customers balk on that,” he says, explaining that the packaging—nice pots, more colorful packaging—makes the plant look more expensive. “Customers get it. It’s a designer fashion.”
Brian also makes sure they never grow their generic offerings in the same size pots as the branded material. So, customers can buy a generic pepper in a 2.5-in. pot for $1.99, but the Herb Herbert’s branded pepper will be in a 4-in. pot, selling for $2 more.
“If you have an opportunity to have professional signage with humorous, or clever, eye-catching content, then go for it,” says Brian. The signage that comes with the brands he carries—such as Herb Herbert’s and Hort Couture—is one of the big advantages to branded plant material. “I think that it’s signage that the average garden center can’t make on their own.”
Kathy notes that signage is one of the big selling points for retailers who carry their branded line, both in terms of providing information and in terms of an attractive display. “Signage is important,” she says. “We are always asking, ‘What can we add to the mix each year?’” In 2013, they are adding a sign with 10 different combo gardens to help sell multiple plants at a time.
For Calloway’s Nursery, the choice to focus on just one brand meant they could use the Chef Jeff theme and create an atmosphere based on that one program.
For Homegrown Gourmet, Kathy says their retail garden center customers aren’t necessarily asking for new varieties; they just want more vegetables and herbs, period. However, the one thing consumers do seem to be requesting more of is heirlooms (see sidebar).
Brian Wheat has seen the same uptick in demand for edibles, but for his customers, “new” is a selling point. “People are starving for new varieties. If they see a Tumbling Tiger, something new, they are willing to try one,” he says.
Offering something new gives them credibility. “It’s good to let them know you’ve got something fresh and new, to have five or six new varieties from Hort Couture or Herb Herbert’s,” says Brian.
This past spring, Lafayette Florist picked up a new grafted tomato line called Mighty ‘Mato, which includes 12 heirloom and four hybrid varieties. With a few key blog posts and local media mentions, they had a frenzy for the Mighty ‘Mato.
Every retailer has to gauge what their customers want, what they need, and how to best encourage sales. Figure that out, and the right mix of branded and generic plant material will offer up variety, brand-name recognition, a great display and customer satisfaction. GP
Heirlooms: Rising Demand
They aren’t new. They aren’t always easy to grow or super prolific, but heirloom varieties get constant media attention as being tasty to eat. However, retailers also surmise that it’s about the nostalgia.
“Heirlooms are still by far the most often requested with regards to tomatoes,” says Dave Wangner at Martin Viette Nurseries. Brandywine, Green Zebra, Black Krim and Cherokee Purple are a few of the most-requested varieties.
Brian Wheat, Lafayette Florist, agrees. “Heirloom is a hot button word that everyone uses. It gives them some sort of nostalgia feeling.” He tries to buy in a wide selection as a branded product. Brandywine, Black Krim and Yellow Pear are among the favorites. Plus, the Mighty ‘Mato line, which sold at a fast and furious pace, includes a number of grafted heirloom varieties.
For Calloway’s Nursery, while there’s certainly a market for heirlooms, they don’t make an effort to play up heirlooms over other varieties. Sarah Martinez explains, “It’s old hat in Texas that the climate is really rough. Promoting varieties that are going to do well here, whether it’s an heirloom or a hybrid is what we focus on. [Buyer] Tim Runte does a good job doing that for our customers.”
Homegrown Gourmet recently added a number of heirloom vegetables to their branded program. Kathy Judge notes, “We heard from our retail garden centers that so many people want the heirlooms. They’re important, and they sell.” GP
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