Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Pinterest Is A No-Brainer For Garden Centers

Pinterest is the social site that lets users keep track of their favorite photos and group them into categories, called boards. This is the ultimate lookbook - save images of everything that you like, from wedding plans to summer garden plans. Pinterest places more emphasis on images than text.

"What Tumblr was to 2011, Twitter was to 2007, and Facebook was to 2006, a site called Pinterest is to 2012," says the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle says that the site, launched in 2009, had 11 million visitors during one week in December of 2011, and estimates monthly users is around 40 million uniques by mid-January - 40% growth year over year.

How has it grown so quickly? From word of mouth. Pinterest has grown organically with a female-majority of users. Mashable reports 59% of users are female. I've seen many pin boards designated for weddings (and every category under wedding - wedding hair, wedding manicures, wedding cakes), new babies, home decor and, of course, gardens.

For what we do, there isn't a better idea out there right now, in my opinion. When we write about a flower or a design concept, I can use a million words to describe it, but there's nothing like seeing it. Show your customers how you interpret the trends, and how you can help them achieve the look at home.

How To Use Pinterest

1. Apply for an account invitation at Or ask someone you know on Pinterest for an invitation.

2. Once you receive your invitation, link your account to your Facebook account. It will let everyone on Facebook know that you've joined Pinterest. You can also link individual pins to Facebook and Twitter.

3. Create boards for garden, decor, holiday, pots, edibles, miniature gardening. Anything you'll be looking for content on and that you want to share with your readers.

4. Share images from articles from your local garden writers.

5. Start liking and repinning other users' pins and follow gardening boards. Get a feel for what real gardeners like. Join the community.

So with a female user base and a visual delivery, how can Pinterest go wrong? I follow Goebbert's Farm and Rice's Nursery on Pinterest. Take a look at what they're doing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Halloween Chic And Rock And Roll From Demdaco

This year at AmericasMart my favorite was the A Little Bit Of Boo line from Demdaco's Silvestri division.

The collection ranges from owl figurines (owls are in!) to creepy cool spider bracelets, goth headband veils for those who want to dress up for Halloween a little (or a lot) and yard stakes and door signs in classic, bold Halloween colors of orange, purple and green.

Also on display was the Lyricology line, which gives color and design to classic rock songs through canvas wall art. 

Click through here to see more photos of the two lines from Demdaco.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Combine Mums And Pumpkins And Get...Mumkins

Everybody loves this idea.... mumkins from Posey Peddler Flowers in Jonesboro, Ark. Take your old Halloween pumpkins and jazz them up with mums. Shared on Facebook by SAF.

What are you doing differently this holiday? New products? New displays? We want to see them. EMail them to me at

Bonnie Plants Puts Cabbage In The Classroom

Did you see the episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution where he quizzed kids on the foods that they eat (or should eat)? He held up a tomato and asked them what it was. A full class of schoolchildren couldn't identify it. Then he told them this is where ketchup comes from, and they all snapped to attention. 


So thank you to Bonnie Plants and its Third Grade Cabbage program. The program teaches kids not only where their food comes from and how to garden, but life lessons in responsibility, nurturing, patience and perseverance.  

Each year, Bonnie trucks more than 1 million free cabbage plants to third grade classrooms across the country. Teachers distribute plants with instructions, provided by Bonnie, to students to take home and grow. So the kids bring the parents to gardening. Brilliant!

At the end of the growing season, teachers select a class winner, based on cabbage size, appearance and maturity, and that submission is entered in a state scholarship drawing. The state winners are randomly selected by each state’s director of agriculture, and Bonnie Plants awards a $1,000 scholarship to one student in each state.

The program is free to any third grade classroom in the United States whose teacher signs up online at This year more than 1.5 million kids across the country participated.

In 2002, Bonnie Plants initiated the Third Grade Cabbage Program with a mission to inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people. Bonnie Plants has delivered nearly 11 million cabbage plants, nationwide, over the course of the past nine years, fostering an interest in gardening, healthy eating, and the environment. 

“The joy of gardening and the satisfaction of growing healthy food are gifts that kids never outgrow,” says Stan Cope, president and CEO of Bonnie Plants. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to share these gifts with the next generation of gardeners.” 

The cabbages used for the third grade program are OS Cross (Over-sized), which is known for producing giant, oversized heads, making the process even more exciting for kids. Some kids have grown cabbages weighing more than 50 pounds. Somebody call Jamie Oliver. These kids are going to need some help carrying those cabbages.

How Are You Thinking Differently This Holiday?

I want to see 'em -- all the things you've never tried before, the new decoration idea you're trying, the products you've never sold before, the displays you've never tried before. Giving painted poinsettias a shot? A new color scheme for Christmas? A new holiday plant? If it's new, I want to hear about it.

I saw this cool idea to steal in This Old House magazine -- DIY chalkboard planters. Spray the side of some wooden boxes with chalkboard paint and bundle with a few sticks of chalk. Plant your amaryllis and paperwhites, mark down the date you planted them. Or plant herbs and label them. It's part of the customization trend that can work for you.

So I want to see your photos. EMail them to me at and let's share some new ideas.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin Trees And The No-Man's Land of Autumn In The Garden Center

There used to be a commercial here in Cleveland around this time of year for Cedar Point amusement park. It was a push to get people to make one last visit to the park before the end of the season. The ad opened by showing the Corkscrew rollercoaster during the sunny summer with screaming riders tearing along the track. The shot then faded into the same twist of the coaster but this time covered in snow. I hated that commercial. It was so depressing and made me mourn the ending of my summer. No business should make its customers feel that way!

Seeing an empty garden center this time of year kind of gives me the same feeling. Is there anything sadder than empty benches in a garden center? If your store depresses me, I'm probably not going to be stopping by.

So what do you do this time of year? I'd like to hear more success stories from the "fall is for planting" mindset. Truthfully, here in Zone 5, I could probably have a fall season that's almost as long as summer. I could get a good two to three months out of a flat of pansies, and how about throwing in some other varieties, while we're at it? If I'm not into pansies and mums, does my gardening year have to be over?

I just noticed a container of nemesia in my backyard making a comeback now that our oppressively hot summer is over. If I'd known this was going to happen, I might have looked for more at a garden center to color up my front porch this fall. I've been trained that the end of my true gardening season is around the end of August. True or not true?

Fall Is For Gardening
I've seen a few things in the last week that have gotten me excited about fall.  Have you ever seen pumpkin trees as floral items? Me neither, until I heard from California-based Dos Gringos, which is growing pumpkin trees. You can check out this novelty on their website. One Halloween idea website,, says, "I’ve been seeing these for sale a lot recently at places like Trader Joe's, farmers markets, and a few grocery stores."

In fact, another blog reports that Trader Joe's has been carrying the floral department item for at least 12 years, but the vase life is a little short. Breeding opportunity!

The other thing that got my attention, of course, is Silver Vase's Halloween orchid, Lila Mystique. It's the third in the series after Blue Mystique and Indigo Mystique. Applause. Halloween needs a signature plant.  

“Studies show consumer spending on Halloween d├ęcor is second only to Christmas,” says Silver Vase CEO Andrew Barth. Get in on those sales! 

Do a Google Image Search on Halloween plants and look at all the great stuff that comes up -  the eyeball plant, Spilanthes oleracea; Chinese Lanterns with paper-lantern-like orange flowers; Venus flytrap.

As a gardener, I don't want to see all the life and color of spring and summer fade away into fall and winter. What do you have that might make me feel a little breeze of spring even as I'm pulling out my winter clothes?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Ideas Lowe’s Is Stealing From Independent Garden Centers

The headlines from last week’s Lowe’s second quarter earnings call were all about the numbers – seven stores closing, average ticket declining 0.9%. But in that call, Lowe’s also outlined some steps it will take to rebound from a rough quarter. And some of it may sound familiar to you.

Lowe’s Robert Gfeller, executive vice president of merchandising, reported during the call that Lowe’s will take the following steps to turn things around and present value to its customers.

1.    Product differentiation. Lowe’s says it’s looking for vendors of all sizes, especially those who provide high-tech products for the home improvement industry.

2.    Solutions-based merchandising. Gfeller says stores will bring the components of projects together in vignettes to help the customer visualize the end product (a modernized bathroom), not each step of the project (vanity, mirror, faucets, fixtures, etc.) Gfeller says this new display methodology is being tested in one store, and reallocating store space and making room for these presentations has paid off. Customers found it easier to find what they’re looking for and to understand product value.

3.    Going local, which Lowe’s is calling Integrated Planning and Execution. Gfeller said Lowe’s wants to ensure “the right product is in the right market in the right quantity,” and take a comprehensive view of customer needs.

Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. These are the same things garden centers have been talking about for years. If you’re already two steps ahead of Lowe’s on these points, good for you. Being agile, offering solutions rather than tools, unique products – these are all traditionally the purview of the IGC versus the box stores. If the box stores are going to take on your sweet spot, how will independent garden centers stay two steps ahead?

Now, here’s another thing Gfeller said: “Customers have learned to wait on the next big deal because they know that if they wait long enough, they can get a lower price than the Everyday Low Price.” Lowe’s will compete with other boxes on price by matching it - offer comparative pricing on commodity items. They call them “high-velocity” items.

Items 1, 2 and 3 above seem to involve a lot of time and cost to the retailer. How will they pay for it if they continue to lower prices?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It Doesn't Matter If You Like It

In this week's Benchrunner eNewsletter, we had a story about Silver Vase's new Indigo Mystique orchid, in the same family as the Blue Mystique orchid. It was the most clicked-on item in the eNewsletter, and we have two comments on the story so far. They are:
Fake is still fake no matter the color. As far as I can tell the consumer is not made aware of the deception. Sorry, thumbs down on orchids dyed wild unnatural colors. I don't much like it in food either.
 And, succinctly:
There is a parallel controversy going on over on the woody side with Proven Winners Color Choice's Bloomerang Purple, a lilac that blooms several times a year and has garden purists all up in arms

I love Proven Winners' response to the controversy:
And isn’t that the beauty having your own home garden? Since it is your garden, you can put in whatever plants you want – innovative and new, or traditional and old-fashioned.

While I'm completely interested in hearing your thoughts on anything you want to talk about, I hope you realize as a grower that your opinions on a variety don't mean a whole lot compared to what consumers think.

Let's talk about why consumers like the Mystique orchid varieties -- color! That's what consumers are looking for in plants. The splash of color an electric blue orchid can provide for a room is a lot easier to obtain compared to painting walls or even adding slipcovers on couches.

The consumer chatter has already started over Indigo Mystique. Look at what consumers are saying about Indigo on the Blue Mystique Facebook page:
i want one i am in houston
I have one and I love it
Awesome!!!! Love it
While you're making your selections for next spring, ask yourself if you are putting more weight in your opinion over your customers. It's fine if you hate it, but are you willing to put that aside to give consumers what THEY want?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are You Willing To Try Something Crazy To Stay In Business?

The OFA Grower Town Hall -- it is a great time to get together and talk about all the revolutionary things we can do to change the industry. But are these changes being made? It seemed to me that some people in the room this year want to try new things, and some people want to keep on selling the same old products and using tired marketing.

I heard a lot of talk about what we have to get consumers to do -- come into our stores, appreciate perennial color and texture, connect with the earth, value the product this industry creates. Truthfully, those are some pretty tall orders to fill. You can be exactly the solution the consumer needs for cleaner air and a more peaceful life, but if they don't get the message, you don't make the sale. You, as a product provider, need to give the consumer something they want. So now we need to ask ourselves, "Are we offering a product that the consumer, the non-gardening consumer, wants?"

I find it interesting that as a woman, on the border of Gen X/Y and pretty tech savvy, no one in the industry has ever asked me what products and services I want. Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.

As someone said during the Town Hall, we are just one tweak away from going gangbusters, like that little kid who's dancing slightly off beat. I believe it, too. We may need just one little tweak to really rock it. How about these?

- Indoor plants, patio plants and balcony boxes and plants for these types of products. Consumers don't have the time or patience for gardening. Are we doing anything about it? Americans are moving to smaller apartments and condos, but we're offering a LOT of the same plants -- bedding plants. I'm still shocked at how garden centers offer bench after bench of bedding plants, and so little product for indoors. Can annuals and color be bred to grow indoors? Tell me you wouldn't have a pot of calibrachoa on your desk if you could. We need to offer a product for every consumer, whether they're indoor or outdoor gardeners.
- Gifts. This is the number one thing I don't get. I have to buy my mother a birthday gift every year. My co-workers. And I can't think of anything to buy them. Where is the grab-and-go potted plants that look like gifts? You know -- nice packaging. Several price points. While I may not want to spend on myself when times get bad, I'm going to buy my mother/brother/spouse a birthday gift every year.

- Get them to try it once. Do you remember the first time you grew a plant? Do you remember what it was like back in the beginning? That's what needs to be shared. We need new customers! I don't buy into the idea that we don't need to market to a generation until they're homeowners. If you aren't reaching out to a school to get kids into gardening, then you can't complain when they don't know how to garden as adults.

- Get into different stores. Garden centers and growers need to partner with other retailers. Everyone who comes to My Salon today for a haircut gets a 4-inch geranium. The Wreath Factory at Otter Creek did it. If I'm not a gardener, I have absolutely no reason to go to a garden center.

- Whoever you are, it's your responsibility. If you're a grower, you need to talk to the consumer. After the town hall, it's clearer than ever: This is all hands on deck. It's important for gardeners to connect to a person, in store and online. And I want to see that person. Where is the photo of the person?

Change is scary, no doubt. You want to talk about change, look at the publishing industry. We're going through it, too. And we have to adapt or die. Doing the same old thing is not an option. Our customers want something new. Offering the same old thing isn't an option. We have to try crazy things, which, when they're said and done, don't seem so crazy after all.

You know the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Art Parkerson of Lancaster Farms asked a great question over at Open Hort: Will there be a town meeting for you to skip in 10 years?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rethinking Store Receipts

The concept cars at the auto show are both cool and a drag. They show all kinds of awesome features that you can't get in your car. While it seems counterintuitive to show off these extras, they show the forward thinking nature of auto companies and I'm sure they get design engineers thinking about how they can practically incorporate things like automatic parallel parking.

So keep that thought in mind when I show you this -- a fun store receipt designed by the British firm Berg. It includes a piece of trivia, sales stats on the products you've purchased ("Ham & Cheese Baguette, which often sells out by 2pm"), the calorie counts of a few of your items and a request for email address that sounds more like a service to the customer than a reach to build an marketing list.

This receipt is definitely something you wouldn't just throw away, but you'd take it home to show your spouse. It's interesting. It's the next generation of "Won't you take our online survey for a chance to win $1,000?"

Why be just like everyone else? Can you incorporate any of these elements into your store receipts? Invoices? You want customers to hang on to your receipts. They're just another touchpoint that calls to mind the experience the customer had in your store.
Like the designer Matt Jones says in an article on the project on, “Not everyone can save the world every time," Jones says, "but you know, it’s quite good if you just make somebody smile for 15 seconds.”