Why are your plants so expensive?

brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)August 10, 2004

So, the young couple approached me in the nursery and asked why my plants were so expensive. "This same plant at Home Depot is only $10, and you have it priced at $25!"

So, I responded with my usual comeback, said in a humorous tone, "Well, if you go talk to the nursery manager at Home Depot in mid-summer, you'll probably find him working in the tire department. We are a full service garden center, we're here every month of the year to help you. I have 30 years experience in the business, so when you buy one of my plants, you get a little bit of me with each one."

So, they said, "But how can you justify your higher prices?"

So, I thought about explaining how retail prices work, and how we're doing pretty good to get 7 cents profit from each dollar of sales (altho sometimes it is only 3 or 5 cents), and I could have shown them the half dozen letters on my desk from various growers regretfully informing me of additional fuel surcharges on deliveries, and boy, would their eyes bug out if they saw our gas and water bills! And I thought about the really gorgeous annual and perennial crops we have grown this year, really superior plants, and the lovely Korean hornbeam I have in the nursery, next to the cute little three-flower maple, just waiting for that special customer to find and cherish and take home...I can think about a lot of things in a very short space of time!

But, I just said, "If price is your only consideration, I encourage you to shop at Home Depot..." And I walked away...

Mostly, tho, it has been a really wonderful year in the nursery, with the most wonderful happy customers imaginable. I hope all you folks in the trade have had a good year as well...


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Because Home Depot takes them out of the truck, hands them to you and is rid of them in a matter of days. These are watered everyday. They are fertilized. They are contantly inspected for insects and disease. They are treated accordingly. Every day.

It would be like buying a pet and expecting to be able to come and pick it up when you feel like it at no additional charge.

Is there a benefit to having to pay for all that care? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But the fact is that you can not sell the plants without covering your costs no matter how much you would like to.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 7:01PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Brian, I think perhaps you should have explained why your prices are higher as you thought about doing. Maybe they genuinely wanted to know. But maybe they are only interested in the common things that Home Depot sells. Sometimes people don't understand that high quality equals higher price. DH does quality woodworking and there are people who value custom made, real wood, high quality furniture, for example and there are people who are happy with something made from chipboard from Walmart. Or maybe they value the real wood but can only afford chipboard. but my personal opinion is if you are not desperatly in need of furniture and can wait, save your money and get the real wood. The same could apply to plants as well.

We have a small daylily farm and we've only had a couple of customers complain about our prices (which are very reasonable, by the way!) In fact, one lady told me "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but your prices are too high! Nobody will pay $9.00 for a daylily!" Well, I have new for her....they sure will and more than that too:-) Actually our average price comes out to be about $6.50 for a double fan, some higher and some lower.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 8:33PM
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I see lots of cheaply produced seed started annuals at mass merchandisers in pots with substantial price tags on them. Actually more expensive than many one could find at an independant garden center. Low prices at mass merhandisers are often just a mind set those establishments would like to see perpetuated.

I don't get the expense question often, because I don't do that much retail. But once a lady was scoping out a bench of nearly perfectly grown pelargoniums. She was almost drooling and I quoted her a very fair price for including a quantity discount. She balked and reminded me they were cheaper at *mart. I smiles and says, gosh why don't you go there and get them? She countered with the ones she had seen were ugly. rofl. "hard decision, huh?" I asks. Mostly I think they were trolling for a haggle and maybe to get lucky. It comes with the territory when you own your own business since you are empowered to change prices.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 8:42PM
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calisto(z9 CA)

This whole thing about price bugs me. I'm a "shopper" with the best of them. I'll spend weeks or more researching who has what at what price but when it comes to purchasing, it's more about what I get "with" my purchase than it is about price out the door.

When I was in the automotive industry customers would call and inform me that my quote for changing a water pump on their XXX was too expensive and that aftermarket shop' was 25% cheaper. I always took heart that the person was really calling me because deep down, they really wanted a dealer to do the work but needed to be convinced that they were not being taken advantage of. In that regard, I agree with vegangirl that customers need to be educated. The shopper didnÂt just buy the water pump at my dealership, she bought me. She bought ten master technicians that were factory trained. She bought a facility and $1million worth of specialized tools. She bought me, the techs, the warranty, the 18 years of training, and the confidence that if her diagnosis was wrong, weÂd tell her so, do a proper diagnosis and repair, and she drive away in a sound vehicle. This applies to all similar fields.

And so it is with Brian. She buys you Brian. She buys the plant once and after being educated by you, plants it in the correct location, learns how to care for it properly, and can call you anytime she has a question. I believe education is the field we are in. ItÂs up to us to educate our customers to understand and appreciate the difference between a super store plant isle and a nursery  1% of the floor space versus 100% of the acreage.

Yes, itÂs up to us to tell them the difference between the two businesses. Otherwise they will never understand the difference between purchasing a plant sold from a super storeÂs untrained staff - who doesnÂt see you until you yell at them - and purchasing a plant from a nursery whose acreage is devoted to a variety of healthy well propagated inventory and staffed with lots of walking kiosks of knowledge.

Customers buy relationships and until we train them to understand the "value" they will continue to crank about cost.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 9:43PM
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plantman314(z5-6 StL, MO)

I used to manage a garden center, and most people that are open to more than money can figure out why a garden centers prices are higher. It's the people that complain about price, b/c money is priority one in their life, that will never allow themselves to consider that items can have a value other than money.

I agree with Brian let them shop for low cost if that is their poragative, and save your time and energy for the customers that appreciate your product and services.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 10:54PM
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Maybe the simplest answer (beyond the fact that you don't have the volume or buying power of Home Depot, and the plants are better cared for with you), is that in return for paying somewhat higher prices on more common items, they get a chance to shop at a place that carries the plants and services that Home Depot can't. They have to decide if the tradeoff is worthwhile.

Speaking of haggling, what is your general reaction when, late in the season, a customer inquires about buying a cutting of a seasonal item? I once got a contemptuous turndown when asking this about a large, expensive tubbed coleus that would have had only a few weeks growth left before frost.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2004 at 8:19AM
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Our Home Depot has two qualified horticultuarlists running the Garden Center. The staff is very knowledgeable.

I buy plants at HD often and through the season bump into a lot of professionals buying plants. Even some of the smaller garden centers buy filler stock at the box stores. I like to buy dozens of flats of inexpensive perennials and let them grow (usually increasing pot size) and sell them back to my clients until gardening season ends. A 1.50 4 inch plant becomes a gallon 12 dollar plant. An extra 10 dollars in my pocket. This especially works well for low growing groundcovers, alpines, etc.

So my plants WILL cost more than at Home Depot but usually because I'm selling plants not readily available come August into the Fall. Sure, it might be cheaper at Home Depot 'next' spring.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2004 at 1:56PM
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I am the "bottom-rung" employee at a famous nursery, known for its hard to find collector plants. Just the water-boy (I prefer Rain God), and most of my friends and associates are low income workers also and they don't hesitate to ask me why the prices are so high when the same plant is available at such-n-such store. I explain it a million different ways, it costs us more to be in business than it does them, workers are better paid here, some of these plants are difficult to propagate or manage... it doesn't matter, they have developed into the mindset that only feels good about spending money if they are getting a deal.

I've seen people complain about free plants at a swap!!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 5:26PM
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Jack7b_ny(7b NY)

HD qualified horticulturists are qualified by taking a 11/2 hr. lecture/video presentation prepared by HD.
Not too impressive. Pricewise they are below wholesale on many plant items. Knowledgewise they are not even approaching adequate.(In general, exceptions of course can be found.)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 6:23PM
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In Saskatoon our Home Depot staff are very good at their job. They are semi-retired gardeners who know a lot more than the seasonally-hired workers at the garden centers. I don't see any difference in the quality of plants but a big difference in price. Having said this, I do visit all the small nurseries for specialty items and encourage my clients to do the same.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 8:20PM
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I have to also say that the Home Depot does quite a good job in taking care of their plants. Obviously it isn't top-notch, but it's still quite good.

I also have another way of explaining price differences. Let's say the following blocks represent the size of your business compared to Home Depot:



Home Depot:


Simply because they're bigger, they can survive on a much smaller earnings-per-dollar ratio. You might have to earn 7 cents per dollar, they can survive off of 1-2 cents. (Figures not exact).

Strength in numbers, I guess.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 9:19AM
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bambooo(6 CT USA)

All customers are whores
If you are just a commodity then the guy down the road who is a nickel cheaper will get their business.
If you manage to add some value to the product then the playing field changes a bit.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 9:45AM
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The plants are always going to be cheaper at the box stores and mass merchandizers. They are loss leaders - they make their margins on the big ticket items and their stock in trade, not the disposables, like plant material. Nurseries and garden centers that deal ONLY in plants or plant related items simply cannot stay in business if they offer similar pricing. They don't have the income source from other items to offset.

And as has been pointed out already, there IS a difference in what one is buying from a place that specializes in plants only - selection (the boxes carry only the most basic), quality (there are indeed different grades of plants available from the big wholesale growers and there are quality growers who never deal with the box stores or discounters), aftercare (minimal at the boxes) and knowledge (also minimal). I have no compunction about directing bargain-only shoppers to the box stores if they complain about prices - they are NOT getting the same thing even though it might be a similar plant. And they are not the type of customers that will ever develop any business loyalty, so I'm not really losing out on anything.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 10:05AM
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"All customers are whores"

Not mine. My customers are intelligent people who expect value for their dollar. I'd say they are quite smart to buy a petunia or geranium at a box store at a $1.50 instead of a garden center for $3.00

As for not the same plant: having worked wholesale I know that often they are EXACTLY the same plants. In fact, many suppliers will treat Home Depot with kid gloves because they are such a huge part of their market. The posting above from 'bonsai audge' is correct. Who is going to get top service and the first return phone call? Home Depot who buys 500 thousand dollars worth of plants from a greenhouse...or a garden center that buys 5 thousand?

Also, the bag of mulch, manure, ferilizer is also exactly the same but 40% cheaper. I don't go to the corner store to buy a box of cereal for 6.99 when I can walk into Walmart and get the same box for 2.99.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 5:40PM
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froggy(z4/5 WI)

i think this is a major question that every place has to answer. i agree with much of what is said (tho i dont know if i would call my clients whores :).

its a matter of economics and the more u understand that, the longer u will stay in business.

as a side note; i would LOVE to be located right next to a walmart or home depot.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 6:34PM
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Greenstar, I don't know about the box stores in your area, but my major suppliers DO not sell to them. First, most support independent nurseries (as are they) and they dislike having their plants with their name tags sold in less than ideal condition and receiving very poor care. They recognize it's not very good business. But then many of the retail nurseries in this area are pretty big operations and would easily give the HD's a run for their plant purchasing money.

And the mulches and composts, potting soils and amendments are NOT the same here. Different brands, different qualities. Sure, if the cereal you want is generic corn flakes, get it anywhere at the cheapest price, but if you want Silver Palate Blueberry-Vanilla Granola, you go to the specialty store that carries it.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2004 at 1:54AM
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Propaganda Garden Design

One of the most insidious things about the box stores is that once they drive all the other stores out of business they will raise the prices to make more of a profit for themselves. Your 2.99 box of cereal will be 6.99 and you won't have a choice to go anywhere else.

This is what happened with the bookstores in my area. I worked for Barnes & Noble back in the 90s and each year the discount would be less and less as the competition disappeared. They got rid of the discounts slowly so their would be less public outcry. It was really dispicable. Now they only offer discounts on the best sellers (which they always did) and you can *buy* a discount card.

I will NEVER buy a plant from a big box store when I can support a little store (or even a small chain store)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2004 at 10:53AM
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gensparkie(9 CA)

Around here we have a wholesale nursery called Color Spot, whose plants have died on me enough times to not buy them anymore. They are about half the price of Monrovia or other large wholesaler's plants, but they die so quickly and get diseased (in my personal experience) that I feel much better buying the more expensive plants.

The more expensive one are grown more slowly, are not usually overfertilized, and generally can support the growth they have. The Color Spot ones are sold at KMart and Ace and all the bigger places, and I think quite apart from the service factor at dedicated plant nurseries, which is important to me, there is the fact that many of these cheapies are just lower quality since they are grown more quickly in some cases.

I don't think that the plant quality issue is understood, and when I worked at a nursery and tried to explain to people about the Color Spot brand and why they should buy a sturdier plant, I don't think people understood what a dramatic difference it makes in the long run to start with a healthy plant. Even in the short run, if you have ever had an annual get mildew before the season was over, you can see it makes sense to buy the highest quality plants you can.

I don't have a Home Depot here so this is more a general on-topic post. I have no idea if Home Depot gets lower quality plant, but I know the non-garden centers in this area do get the lower quality plants.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2004 at 4:17PM
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susieluv2grow(6 WA)

I grow from seed and put out about 10,000 plants a season. I have customers comming back every year. I have the time to spend on the plants I sell. I agree with the the difference in quality of plants comming from my greenhouse and one comming from Wm. or HD. I have seen my plants in this heat and the plants from the hd. Mine look so much healthier and alive than the others. i am not kidding! I loveit! It does cost to take care of them, But the customers like their plants to live the season. I think the constant pumping of fertalizer and constand blooming and growing in such a fast way, then taking them home, has something to do with the plants not lasting so long. They are mass produced to perform so quick and so hard they are spent. Like us using too much sugar and caffeen to Quick Fix to go go go...... My plants have to work for a few months to gain strength. Sounds kind of rediculous but...it works for me. Customers are not whores. They put food on our table. Customers support our love for growing. They just are not as educated about plants as we are and need to be tought how wounderful it is. We need them to understnd so they will come back!!!!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 1:31AM
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Gardengal: "..if you want Silver Palate Blueberry-Vanilla Granola, you go to the specialty store that carries it."

99% of people don't want your 'Silver Palate Blueberry-Vanilla Granola'. They don't want to pay extra for a box of Raisin Bran.

This is why I'd urge most small nurseries to specialize in plants and service. Carve out a niche and pursue the customer who wants 'Silver Palate Blueberry-Vanilla Granola'. Get to know your customers by name and give them a call when you have a new plant come in that might interest them. Make up sheets on plant information. Add some concrete value (not just cost) for the customer.

Our Home Depot, Walmart, Canadian Tire, Ronna, etc. are not going to go away. As for not being the 'same' product in the bags. A bag of shredded cedar at Canadian Tire at 3.50 sure looks the same as the same bag at my favorite garden center for 4.99. They even come from the same mill in British Columbia.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 11:54AM
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alpiner, you're making a pretty broad generalization. Not everyone DOES want the fancy-schmancy granola, but enough do to make a difference. And it is going to very different in different areas of the continent. I live in an area that has a pretty sophisticated gardening public - most of them are definitely looking for granola, which is why there are many large, full-service garden centers and specialty nurseries located here (and the fact that is an ideal growing climate). Sure, there is some duplication of plants with the non-nursery retailers, but I carry over 1000 species and cultivars of perennials, grasses and groundcovers - the HD's simply cannot compete with me on selection. Are my prices higher? You bet, but that doesn't seem to faze my customer base. They come and return because I can offer one the best selections around and those hot new plants they see in the mags will be found at my nursery, not HD. And they come because my staff can suggest the best plants for their specific situation, will tell them exactly how hardy the plant is, what kind of growing conditions it prefers and what sort of problems, if any one is likely to encounter with it. And they very likely can see it in context in the ground in one of our display beds cimbined with other, complimentalry plants. They're not gonna see that at HD.

Nor are they going to find the selection of organic fertilizers and the array of soil amendments. Yes, cedar mulch may be cedar mulch, but there is whole world of mulches and various sources of compost that are not carried by the box stores. By the same token that a lot of my plant vendors will not sell to the these mass merchandizers, there are a lot of smaller suppliers of specialty ferts, composts and amendments that sell only to retail garden centers. They are targeting a different type customer - the granola buyers, if you will. And there are enough of them out there to keep these guys (and us) in business.

Do it with selection, do it with quality, do it with style and do it with knowledge and you've got all the justification you need to charge higher prices.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 11:09PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

I am a granola buyer. This last saturday I was at GardenGal's nursery (not sure if I am allowed to say that it is Emery's in Lynnwood) and my wife and I loaded a large cart with a great variety of plants that you will not find at HD. If I was looking for a basic rudbeckia I would go to HD, but when I'm looking for something different I hit the smaller retailers.

We found some great plants, they have an excellent selection. The staff was knowledgeable and we asked many questions about culture and hardiness. We are very happy with what we bought, but I must admit I experienced a bit of sticker shock when the total was over $300.00. It's not that I think the prices were too high. My wife and I do this mursery binging farily often and the end tab is ususally around $150.00. I just wasn't ready for that number and I did enquire if there was a mistake. There wasn't. We just didn't pay close attnetion to price as we loaded the cart.

We recovered quickly as we loaded the plants into the truck because we knew we were getting well cared for, healthy plants that wold not be found in a mass merchandising outlets. And we will be back, but not until after we pay off the credit card bill.;)


    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 11:50AM
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patrick3852(z5 MI)

Box stores have their pricing advantages for patio stones and cheap hoses, even pine bark sometimes. But I rarely buy any plants from them. I prefer to support my local garden centers, and hardware stores. If I don't, they will disappear, and I will have to travel farther to find the plants I want. What plants have I bought from a box store this year? A ten foot tall River Birch clump that was on sale for 50% of its original price, a steal at $37.50. I couldn't find a clump that was formed the way I wanted and then I found this one, while I was buying some bags of bark. It was just right, and home it came with me. But I have spent $5,000.00 plus this Spring/Summer at local nurseries on trees and shrubs, varieties that I would never see at a box store, like a larger specimen of Sassafrase, a hybrid Acer (griseum x maximowiczianum), Pines strobus 'Fastigiata'. Pinus bungeana, Pinus parviflora, several cultivars of Hamamelis Intermedia, and a 15 foot Gingko biloba, plus Hypericum, Cimicifuga, odd forms of Ligularia, Rogersia, and more. Box stores don't offer that kind of selection...

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 2:05PM
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Box stores don't offer the selection. That's not debatable. What they do offer is value for the vast majority of the public who wants an attractive hanging basket, a common rose, or some bedding out plants. Those are many of my customers and I give them every bit as good a service as those who want specialized plants.

It's not the role of customers to show loyalty to stores...small or large. It's the role of the store to earn the business of the customer. When a garden center can draw in a customer because of wider selection, etc. then good for them and it's free enterprise at work.

Gardengal: as for 'broad generalizations'. The broad generalization was that box stores don't offer quality plants for good prices. Ours do. Others indicate that their's do. They serve the needs of most customers. That's why they have multi-billions of dollars in sales every year. I can sell some customers specialty plants that I raise but most are very content with a Lilac and Tulip...the most common varieties.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 4:41PM
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alpiner, as I said, things may be very different in different parts of this continent. They are even quite different within the same general geographical location. With my previous nursery, close by but in a much more urban setting and even more upscale than my current one, I couldn't keep plants on the shelves that now linger because they are unknown to much of my current customer base, which tends to be younger and predominately first-time homeowners. Still, they are not plants offered by any of the mass merchandizers in the area, who carry the basics only. If that's what the majority of your customers want, that's great, but it is not the same everywhere.

I am perfectly willing to admit that retail garden centers in my area may not be representative of many areas of the country. First, they tend to be pretty big - usually multiple acres - which obviously increases the variety of plants able to be offered. Second they operate 12 months a year - while even HD runs its garden shop through the winter months, they only offer a few broadleaved evergreens and conifers. We offer a full selection of plants and even many evergreen perennials and seasonal annuals. And we are very lucky to have a pretty knowledgeable and astute gardening public that demands granola. Sure, there are plenty of corn flakes folks out there too, but its the granola folks that keep all us multimillion $$ independent nursery operations going:-))

JB, glad you came by and emptied your wallet!! Hope you got a bunch of good stuff and sorry I missed meeting you - Saturday is my day off. Come back again!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 10:53PM
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Main separator continues to be selection. Wilted, scorched stock here not peculiar to big boxes, although they do seem to make a specialty of it. And local giants buy from some of the same local suppliers as independents. One also had grower representatives on hand to help customers this spring, possibly an additional sign that they are, in fact, gunning for the independents.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 3:32PM
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Hap_E(z9 Berkeley CA)

Just thought I should add my two cents,

today I had a return customer show up on my closed "Work" day, caught me building new planters in the drive so the closed sign didn't chase him off. He asked about a real nice speciman Sago I had that he had drooled over... but decided was too expensive a few weeks ago. He told me that he had kept thinking about it and had gone looking at the "cheap, beat up ones at Home Depot" only to decide he wanted the nice one from me. He left with the plant happy and says he will be back for more this weekend. Asked me to hold a ten foot tall blooming Oputia sublata speciman until Saturday. (Would love to sell it, but the idea of delivering that beast with it's three inch spines is enough to take out a lot of the joy...)

Quality can pay and now and then customers do understand what they are paying for when they buy the quality and knowledge from us little local guys.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 12:44AM
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It isn't always quality and knowledge, but I agree that is a big part. I think the ultimate difference between "most" mass merchandisers and an independant is service plain and simple.

I'd much rather spend an hour at a modest cafe where the waitperson is attentive, the order is correct and the atmosphere is pleasant than in a large and impersonal chain where you must wait an hour to have an order taken, have the food arrive cold or not what you'd ordered and be treated like a number. Even if the cafe had mediocre food.

There was a pleasant old codger who used to run a few ramshackle looking hoophouses behind his house. He is retired now, but he had a large and faithful following. His plants were decent, but not exceptional and people still talk about him. I think primarily because his customers felt special, were remembered, and he tried. Go get that in a box store and good luck.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 9:32AM
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veronicastrum(z5 IL)

I stopped at a Super W in another town last month and while I was there I cruised through the garden center just for grins.

First off, the place was packed with fall mums in bud and bloom on July 25th. You know, you can put out Easter candy in February and Halloween candy in August, but those fall mums will be well past their prime by September 1st. Wonder if they will be more expensive when folks go to re-purchase them in September?

Second, there were three employees in the otherwise-empty garden center when we walked in. All three were near the entrance, engaged in conversation with each other. Not one acknowledged that customers were entering the area.

As we walked towards the far end of the garden center, I was shocked to see an entire bench of perennials wilting from a lack of water. The hose was on the ground less than ten feet away from the bench. I was sorely tempted to grab the hose and water the plants myself.

We spent several minutes in the garden center (My DD convinced me that she had to "rescue" a split leaf philodendron from its obvious fate.) Not once did any of the employees approach us to offer any assitance. In fact, they didn't even answer the store page until it was repeated for the third time.

Contrast this experience with an independent garden center I visited last summer. I paused in front of the scented geraniums and started checking the different scents. An older man came over, asked if I liked scented geraniums, told me I had to have 'Mabel Grey,' and told me a little of its history. He wasn't pushy, just enthusiastic, and his enthusiasm sold me on the plant.

I try to avoid the boxes as much as possible, but they're so dominant it's almost impossible to totally boycott them. Of course, at the rate I'm going I will probably be a recluse in a few more years; you know, the crazy lady with the wild gardens who still gardens in that tshirt she bought at the 1995 PPA meeting. ;)


    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 11:04AM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

I have t-shirts older than my 12 year old daughter that I garden in. I call it recycling! Of course, people are already calling me the crazy garden lady too.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 11:18AM
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Jim_Andrews(z5 VT)

Having been in retail for 25+ years - all kinds including small garden centers - I can appreciate all of the above regarding pricing. I think it all boils down to service, quality, selection, and more service. I used to love when clients would claim a far cheaper price at a Big Box Retailer or a grocery store. I always encouraged them to go grab (fill in the blank) while they still have some, that's a great price! Invariably, they would buy from me since I would take the time to explain things or give them info that they couldn't get from a Big Box - and it helps when they are right there. And those same people were back over and over. I do think that part of it is a desire to strike a bargain - it's sort of like winning for them.

I remember a man I used to work for years ago at a retail florist - he got so tired of hearing all the 'why are yours so expensive' in regards to Easter lilies that he went out and bought a $4.99 lily from some mass marketer and put it on display with one of our own home-grown lilies for $25.00. The MM lily came with 4 blooms and was in a shiny plastic pot cover. Ours was a 10 bloom and it came in a glazed terra cotta in pastel colors with a real satin bow and moss covering the soil. The signs on them said 'Theirs' and 'Ours' and nothing further. We never heard another comment about price ever. You get what you pay for. That was so successful that he did it for all the holidays - Christmas poinsettias, Mother's Day roses, azaleas, and hydrangeas, Easter plants, Thanksgiving chrysanthemums, et al. One of the best - and most effective - marketing gimmicks I had seen in years.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 3:48PM
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I'm with Brian on his response to the customers who complained. It doesn't pay to get into detailed discusions with clients over the price. If your product is priced right in terms of the 'package' you are offering then the quality clients will buy from you (and those are the one you want to come back). If price is the only factor, they will ALWAYS buy from the box shifters, and then probably complain some more. Don't waste your time arguing, they won't be back anyhow.

When I used to sell VERY expensive pieces of scientific equipment for a living, I learnt NEVER to justify the price in terms of the cost of the constituent components. Imagine trying to do that with computer software, where the customer spends 100's of dollars for a shiny plastic disk in a very chunky, but otherwise empty box!! What the customer is actually buying is the COMPLETE PACKAGE.

I believe the most important part of the package that small nurserymen and independent garden centres offers is CUSTOMER SERVICE AND ADVICE. After that it's GOOD QUALITY PLANTS, and price comes further down the list.

Trying to compete on price with the boxshifters as a small independent business is the commercial equivalent of suicide.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2004 at 1:16PM
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thecaretaker(z7b S. Cobb,GA)

For many plants, I buy from whomever has the best labelling. I'll pay a premium to avoid wasting my time on the wrong plant!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 5:26PM
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newjerseybt(5b NE PA)

I have seen both ends of the spectrum.

I have paid big bucks for trees at the local mom and pop nursery with a long history But.... when one of the trees starts to die within the VERBAL warranty period of 60 days, (despite following their transplant instructions to the letter) they take the 5th, don't return my calls etc. (Got my help from Botanical Garden in NY.though)

Home Depot takes back ANYTHING with a receipt.

Not all transplanted trees survive, but PLEASE provide a LITTLE service.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 9:00PM
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Sure, there are jerks everywhere. But at least with a small operation you have some chance of addressing your concerns directly to the person making the decisions.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 9:11PM
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I agree about labelling. I bought a load of plants from a high profile nursery as stock plants, only to discover that about 50% of them were incorrectly labelled!!!

As a policy I label every pot, as soon as the plant is potted up. Customers move stock around, so labelling blocks of plants isn't good enough.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2004 at 10:21AM
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landman41(z5 Colo)

To the gentleman that said "all custumers are whores".....do you never purchase anything in your life?

We are all consumers and as such we all make purchases. That makes me a "whore"? No, it means we seek to find the best value for our money. Sometimes we are ina position to buy that higher brand-name coffee or go to the high-end restaurant. Other times we are forced through circunstances that exist to settle for Folgers and Wendys. I picture a "whore" as that individual that will settle for anything or (anyonme) with no thought about the consequences or thought of quality". Sorry BAmboo...the people here and in the market place arent "whores", their individuals wanting and needing to practice "caviet emptor".

My 2 cents

    Bookmark   August 29, 2004 at 8:36AM
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I'm a biologist, so my repeat customers come for information as well as plants. I carry native plants that they can't find elsewhere. My nursery is definitely a niche business, but the down side is that the customer base is fairly small. The funny thing is - one of them actually told me I needed to raise my prices! She was right; I was charging the same thing as ten years ago when someone commented that my prices were too high. This forum is pretty interesting for me because my economic skills are my weakest area.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2004 at 7:35AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Perhaps he meant, "All customers are johns." That would make some sense... ;)

    Bookmark   September 1, 2004 at 10:18AM
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I can just imagine standing out in the heat of summer, dripping with sweat and covered in mud, and getting asked this question. I'd say, "Obviously I'm getting rich, rich, rich!!! so I can afford this life of luxury you see!" That should scare them away. :)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 1:57PM
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Simple question:

You can drive to a supplier fill your truck with plants and sell them off the tailgate in two days at your box store. Or can you can unload them, water them, care for them, throw away the ones that don't last, ...for three months as you sell them at your local nursery.

The question is: Can you sell them at a lower price and still make more money at your box store?

It is not a leader item. It is not dumber staff.

It is less time and money invested. The product is the same. The consumer does not get a lesser product. He just gets a product that cost less to deliver because these stores move product so fast. It is that simple.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 9:36PM
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Propaganda Garden Design

To the people that got so upset over the whores remark I say: LIGHTEN UP.

It is likely the poster was just being flip and didn't mean to crush your delicate sensibilities.

You may continue your bargain hunting without guilt, try to have a sense of humor, and shrug off remarks you don't agree with.

For me personally...some things are worth the extra bucks. And some are not. I shop accordingly.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 10:54PM
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brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)

I appreciate the life of this thread, and speckuldtrout's remarks pretty much made my day!

It's fall, my regular customers are coming back in to see me, new customers have found us and like what they see, and it looks like a good fall season.

Hope everyone else is having some fun and good times in this crazy business!


    Bookmark   September 3, 2004 at 6:49PM
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bambooo(6 CT USA)

Folks enjoy jumping to conclusions ( it's a modern form of exercise) and taking things out of context.

So now I'll put the rest of the post without the whores comment and see if that also recieves comment.

If you are just a commodity then the guy down the road who is a nickel cheaper will get their business.
If you manage to add some value to the product then the playing field changes a bit.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2004 at 9:45AM
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I think one can answer that question fairly easily and with one word :
after care

if the customer continues to whine you can then explain :

service - that stuff they get after the plants arrive from the wholesale nursery - aftercare -
quality - the plants are cared for once delivered to the retail nursery - aftercare -
knowledgable sales people- they answer your question so you can provide good aftercare

The cost of aftercare is all inclusive , it entails running the business as well as maintaining the health and vigor of the stock .

Aftercare is time consuming and expensive.
The cost of aftercare is passed onto the consumer.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2004 at 11:34AM
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Big boxes, grocery stores, hardware stores and others in my area who are not nurseries most certainly do not sell all their plants before they have a chance to wilt and become worth less than those offered by nurseries. And even within the nurseries there is a definite split between those that are growers and those that are just resellers, with the growers being much more vigilant about keeping up with the plants' needs. Kinda ironic, isn't it: the growers can't let the upkeep slip because the retailers won't buy their stock if it's not top quality, but after the retailers get ahold of them it's apparently often thought to be acceptable to fall behind on watering, withhold fertilizer, leave something in the same pot for years, and so on. You'd think the retailers would be looking for stock of a certain standard because they felt they couldn't sell it themselves if it wasn't that good.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2004 at 12:30AM
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Dieter2NC(z7b NC)

Every business must have it's niche. If, as a small gardern center you think your customer is the same one as the big box store, perhaps you should reconsider your business plan and/or your marketing plan. You are not selling the same thing they are, any more than a BMW dealer is selling the same thing as a Hyundai dealer, despite the fact that both sell cars. Perhaps a good book such as "Selling the invisible" would help.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2004 at 8:04PM
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Well said, Dieter.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 6:41AM
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In my part of the country there is an upscale grocery chain called WholeFoods (formerly FreshFields). I go there weekly and produce/deli/bakery etc is exceptional.
They have hundreds of mums in 8" pots marked 4@ $10. Every time I go there the plants are bone dry and noone seems to notice. Their people handling the plants have no idea what they are.
Herein lies the salvation of the "Mom & Pop". The genuine grower takes care of the stock and can give you an accurate answer. It is worth paying more just for that alone.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 8:43PM
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Makes me want to add balogna and sardines to my offerings each spring. LOL. And yes, how the retailer handles merchandise makes a big difference. I have actually stopped selling to a few of my old sales outlets because they have mishandled my product. I didn't want my name associated with how they made the plants look. Not all merchandisers turn their product over before it looks like lleh. Ever go into a box store when they are trying to sell week old potted tulip? OMG. They're a hard one to maintain even under the best of circumstances. I've seen row on row of four foot etoliated stem with one or two petals attached. How can people NOT cringe when they walk past? How can they seriously even consider walking past THAT and buying something else? They do.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 11:12PM
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>How can people NOT cringe when they walk past? How can they seriously even consider walking past THAT and buying something else?This week I saw a woman hurriedly filling her cart with several flats of discounted, yellowish, blighted flopping annuals (Cosmos horizontalis and so forth) at a seasonal nursery, while her husband waited in the van. When she got to the checkout she asked if they would overwinter, after being told the sad news she bought them anyway.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2004 at 2:44PM
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Because the Home Depot buys assortments.
Meaning the grower gets to decide what to bring to the box store.
Which means the grower gets to sell out what is grown.
Cooperative, both make money.

Whereas, the retail nursery wants to buy just this variety and that variety.
Cherry picking.
Leaving the grower with plenty of unsolds.

I have never ever heard of a retail nursery buying assortments.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2004 at 1:00PM
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I had a surprise a couple of months ago. DH had a project going and asked me to go pick up some items at HD. It was a Saturday, so I went soon after the store opened to try to beat the crowd. Though I generally purchase plants from local nurseries rather than the box stores, I can't go in any store that carries plants without at least looking, so I did a pass through of the garden center. A rep. of one of the growers (not an HD employee) was grooming and watering all of her employer's plants on display.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2004 at 2:05PM
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"A rep. of one of the growers (not an HD employee) was grooming and watering all of her employer's plants on display"

Large box stores are moving more and more towards suppliers purchasing shelf/floor space and maintaining that space with no inventory control for the box store. The only record of the merchandise is when the product is rung through the cash register. The store takes it's profit and the supplier gets his share.

This helps the big store in many ways:

They don't 'buy' stock
They don't maintain stock
They don't suffer any loss through damage or theft (shrinkage)

The supplier delivers, maintains, merchandizes, etc. his stock. He can do this as professionaly as he wants. If he does it poorly, the stores will not rent him shelf/floor space.

You will see this with the magazines, books, soda pop, cash register area sales, canned goods, etc. in a store like Walmart. In the bigger box stores in Canada this has extended to plants. 100 flats of mixed annuals are delivered. Superstore (a big box grocery store in Canada) doesn't have any record of them until sales are rung through the register. The suppliers, in some cases, pay a local to come in to water and 'pretty up' the plants.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2004 at 12:53PM
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I have not witnessed consignment-like arraingements.
Though that is the prevalent system in Italy.

Yes the vendors are making good will by having their people there consolidating the carts.
Besides checking out what other vendors are doing.

At a Home Depot near me, the owner of a large greenhouse business, employing over 100 seasonally, consolidates the carts.
Another vendor hires a person with some plants experience to gather intelligence, while supervising vendor-consolidator workers.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2004 at 3:32PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Many of the Home Depots here are moving the direction of having the wholesaler do all the merchandise displays and maintenance for the annuals. (I know cuz I tried to get the job!) I'm not sure how they handle the other garden center stuff though.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2004 at 12:55PM
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I have really enjoyed, and learned alot from this thread. I, myself just started in the business and have had the same questions thrown at me.
Please give me strength to keep calm!!! ;)

    Bookmark   October 21, 2004 at 9:36PM
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I've done consignment sales for years, with varying degrees of resonsibility in the set up and maitenance of the displays. Usually I leave it up to the store help, but visited them several times a week to restock, check their watering techniques and make suggestions as to sun exposure and give plant cultural information. Shelf worn material was rotated with fresh and it was a win/win with responsible retail outlets. During the busy sales season, it was almost a daily chore to restock, so that their shelves always looked full and they had a complete line available. Toward the end of the season, I'd recommend when to size down their inventory and then let them sell it off and they usually did when it got down to "their" cost. It was a win/win, and those outlets who did it this way had the benefits of being able to offer a larger line of goods without the risk. It was usually left to me to make the varietal choices as well, as I usually had a better finger on it than the stores. I asked high end wholesale costs, and because of the lower shrinkage usually got it. I never considered suppling a worker, and only considered what I did the kind of service one SHOULD give a customer. It's almost like a working partnership. The better they did, the more profit I made.

I had them check off the delivery and sign for the material when they took it, and then issued them credit memoes for any I took back. Basing their payment to you by giving you a certain register department is OK, but I have always liked to keep a tight finger on my sales, and this way I never had to face the issues of discrepancies in what I delivered as compared to what a store thinks it sold. I didn't do all my retailers this way, most I would only do outright, sales......but I had several accounts with good managers where we could keep the ordering dynamic and keep sales going strong.......and made it work for us.

I have directed the business to a different niche the last two years and no supply stores to any extent, but it is hardly a new idea.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2004 at 12:02AM
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tyshee(Z 3 & 4)

Having taught someone how to run a commercial greenhouse, having my own (just for me and my friends) greenhouse and having been a cusotmer I can see all sides. Example number 1: I ordered Morden Roses from a rose grower for 15.95 plus shipping. Most were mislabled and both my friend's and mine had some that failed to grow. My morden's from my cuttings bloomed the first year after I did them. I purchased six of them for 6.97 at Home Depot and they out performed the ones I ordered. They were up and much larger and healthy. Now where would you buy them? Example 2: Annuals purchased at Home Depot are not generally healthy in crowded pots, no air circulation and either over or under watered so you have to go home and nurse them to health. A waste of time and money. If I grow them myself they are healthy. If I buy them at a good nursery they are healthy. I pay top prices at expensive nurseries for perrenials that I cannot get the seed or cuttings from and it is worth it. Example 3: I collect lilies and there is no variety at Home Depot and the plants always look sick. The nurseries have little variety either so I purchase healthy stock from Growers who will replace them if they are not healthy. Working at the greenhouse I found people will and do pay for quality, unusual plants and variety. We have a nursery here who sells hanging baskets for $80.00 and they run out every year. People come from 150 miles away to buy them. They are the loveliest baskets you will ever find. No one minds forking out money for quality especially if all they want is a few really nicep plants. People also buy plants from them that have to fly or ferry back to where they live. This same greenhouse makes their own soil and it is $!2.95 a bag. They sell tons of it and it is the best for container plants. I buy some myself. Again people come from all over and some buy large quantities of it. They pay for quality. Yes we will buy peat, vermiculite and so forth as Home Depot and save ten dollars a bag. These items do not have to always be quality. We will also pay 150.00 for a bag of quality (magAmp) fertilizer at an expensive greenhouse. Nurseries and sometimes feed stores carry products one can never find at Home Depot. Mid priced greenhouses must also sell a good product at bargain price and they will have a lot of business. One greenhouse here offers 6 free tomato plants with every purchase. They have a lot of business and Home Depot is not affecting them. They have nicer plants and more variety. I advise you to grow unusual plants, have lots of variety and make sure yours are lush and healthy. You will still have us as your customers. I will still grow my own seedlings but I will buy the unusual and new variety of coral belles or sedum from you or a mail order source.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2004 at 2:13PM
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Gorfram(7b W Oregon)

As a customer, I do buy "horticultural junk food" at the grocery megastore (usually impulse buys of cheap blooming annuals that look good *right now*).
(BTW, I think I prefer "trick to "john" or "whore :)

But, if I'm going to put real money, care, and garden space into a plant I want to keep, I go to a locally owned nursery and (usually) pay more. That's because:

1) The megagrocery often doesn't *have* the plants I want.

2) If I find a salesperson at megagrocery and ask "Do you have any more Plant X beyond what's on the shelf?", they will almost always make me follow them out to where ever I found Plant X, look carefully at the shelf I searched thoroughly before I ever bothered them, and then say "No, we don't have anything more than this here".
I haven't strangled an MG salesperson yet, but it's been a near thing from time to time :)

3) If it dies, I want to be able to bring the dead plant back into the store and get an intelligent discourse on what killed it, as well as a refund or replacement.

I also suffer from from empathy, in that whenever I try to haggle with a business owner I'm handicapped by the idea that every dollar I save is a dollar he loses. Pretty soon I'm envisioning his kids sitting around an empty breakfast table, crying for milk and new shoes. This is a handicap in drivng a hard bargain :)

- Evelyn

[PS. There are lousy mom-&-pop shops, just like anything else. One specialty kitchen store co-owner here in town greeted me (at 5:22 pm) with the words "We Close At Five-Thirty!" I got my coffee filters (they were the only ones in town who carry that type), and was going to buy some coffee, but said co-owner knew nothing beyond the names and prices of the blends she was selling.
I've not darkened their door with my bothersome patronage since then, mail-ordering my coffee filters direct from the manufacturer. Recently I was quite uncharitably gladdened to notice that the store had gone out of business.]

    Bookmark   October 24, 2004 at 3:37PM
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I enjoyed reading the postings on this forum.
We are friends with a large greenhouse grower in Michigan who grows entirely for Home Depot in Illinois. He has a beautiful facility; and, his plants are beautiful, lush, and well taken care of before they leave his operation.
A couple of things I didn't see mentioned; and, perhaps people are not aware. Home Depot contracts with an independent company who has their own employees come to all the various Home Depots in that region to water and care for the plants daily. Another more fascinating point is: the grower is only paid for plants that actually go through the scanner at the check-out counter. This particular grower had to replace all bedding plant and hanging basket stock one week because these items had been left out in the high winds. This was at the grower's expense of course.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2004 at 10:39AM
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Jungle_Jim(zone 8 / WA)

Had to jump in on this one a bit. I'm definately a 'granola' shopper. However...one has to acknowledge the inevitable differance between a 4" ivy that will take 2 years to recover from abuse at $1.75 and one that continues to thrive after purchase at $3.00. Frugal is frugal but often times us 'granola' shoppers do, indeed, see through it all and still come out a winner. I never shop the box stores other than to compare their products. Sometimes you really find a terrific deal. Gardengal is so right about all the wonderful specialty nurseries we have in the PNW. And the majority do treat their customers with kid gloves. I received an email from my favorite nursery in Black Diamond. They were writing to advise me I had a credit holding for my next visit due to the wonderful word of mouth they heard I was giving about them. Pretty nice, huh? Jim

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 6:12AM
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sweetpea_path(Z8 WA maritime)

Independent nurseries can never compete on price -- and I reiterate NEVER. What they can compete on is customer service & educating the customer. At the highly successful *independently owned * nursery I used to work for in CA, we were coached at staff meetings to respond to the question, "Why does your one-gallon lavender cost $7.98, when I can get the same one-gallon variety of lavender at K**** for $3.98?", with, "Gee, that sounds like a really good price!" and just leave it at that. Then, continue to chat with that customer. Give them all the knowledge you have in your head about that plant, or even genus. Offer variety comparisons. Ask questions about their site, what size of lavender they're looking for, do they like pale lavender flowers like Sawyer's or deep, deep purple flowers like Hidcote. Is it a droughty spot with full sun, or do they actually have some shade in that spot. I guarantee you that whether they know it or not, that customer will walk away from your nursery with a better understanding of why our prices are higher than the Box Stores. They may walk away empty handed, but the next time they have questions/concerns about their garden, they will remember their good experience at your nursery. Never make that customer feel guilty about purchasing a lesser priced plant elsewhere. Customer loyalty is formed through that customer having good experiences. That doesn't necessarily mean that they will always buy something, but they will be back. And they will tell 10 friends about their good experiences, too.

My, guess I soapboxed that that question. Happiest of holidays to all!


    Bookmark   December 23, 2004 at 2:32PM
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To a wholesale grower , especially a little guy , Home Depot is like quicksand once you are in it is hard to get out ,especially with money in your pocket or at least not owing them.But then I could be wrong .You get what you pay for and if you haven,t figured that out yet,get out of the trade or out of the whorticultural whobby! N.N.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2004 at 5:00PM
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mcrean1(z8 GA)

Great answer Sweetpea path. Always, always have the customer walk away feeling good about you and your product. The good, long term loyal customer candidates usually return and stay. Ten cent Tammy and Joe Six pack will never look beyond price and you can't shake 'em from that course either. Probably the kind of problematic folks you want to send to Home Depot, anyway.

That said, the Lowes, Wal-Mart and Home depots have all but killed the small nursery business. They have the scale and mass to drive prices below anything an independent can offer, and every year I see more and more small independents going out of business as a result.

Plant quality and customer service definately matter to me, and where possible I shop the independents.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2004 at 10:36AM
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The small nursery business does charge too much.
I make a living selling to the box store because they buy unit truckfulls of assortments.
The same deal is available to the small retail nursery, but
the small independent retail nursery has never been known to buy assortments from a small wholesale nursery. Or even visit to see the operation. It is always cherry picking, giving you the feeling that adversarial is the spirit of the game.
The small retail nursery buys from the large wholesale nursery, not the small wholesale nursey.

Stop complaining about the box stores when your business model is incapable of adapting.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2005 at 8:33AM
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toyon(USDA 9b/Sunset 14 CA. (Sacram)

The small nursery business does charge too much.

In some cases, yes. $8.00 for a 1-gallon penstemon is absurd when another small nursery is able to sell the same item from the same grower for $6.00 and stay in business.

At the same time...

Bigbox retailers buy for much less and they are able to have a lower markup because the foot-traffic in those stores helps them sell a much larger quantity, so they are able to make money off the quantity sold.

Also, the increase in energy costs has been disproportionately passed on to the small nurseries. Bigbox retailers have contractual agreements with the companies they buy from that very much sets how much they pay for products in stone. Growers have to pass the increases in operating costs on through price increases to stay in business. Contractual agreements prohibit raising the price for their bigbox customers, therefore, subsequent price increases are passed on to smaller nurseries through higher wholesale prices, about $2.00 for 4-inch perennials, for example, and the addition of delivery surcharges to make up the increase in fuel costs. The bigbox retailers are buying from a grower that charges $1.25 with no delivery surcharges. They can get away with charging $2.49 for a 4-inch perennial and make a $1.24 profit. The small nursery would have to charge $3.24 to make the same per-item profit, but they don't have the volume of customers to make up the larger net profit needed to stay in business, so they may charge $3.99 for a 4-inch perennial.

Small nurseries cherry-pick because they don't want items they can't sell. They don't have the variety of impulse shoppers to ensure they can sell that assortment. Additionally, some nurseries are able to sell a whole lot of something that is a wast of time for another nursery.

Many small nurseries buy from small wholesale growers. You would be surprised how many will do it 'under the table' and buy from unlicensed backyard growers.

Sometimes small nurseries will cut back on their buying from small growers so they can get a large enough order from a large grower. This happens not because they don't want to buy from small growers, but because you do need to order things that small growers typically don't offer. Small growers usually fill a niche/specialty.

If you have the answers to working around these problems I'm sure the people that own small nurseries here would love to know how they can make money by matching prices with the bigbox retailers while only making 50¢ profit per item.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2005 at 5:05AM
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There seems to be a lot of blanket generalities being tossed around here, some from the wholesale growers and others from the small retailers. I think a lot of the misunderstanding can be attributed by the lack of firsthand knowledge regarding the fiscal operations of small retail nursery compared to that of the box or home improvement stores. The economics of the two are distinctly different and the result is that the box stores are able to sell plants for a lower price than that of the small retailer as they have a much broader base of products to spread the costs against and they are able to recognize economies of scale that smaller retailers are not.

Plant grade and quality aside, retail nursery operations are typically able to offer a much broader selection of plants than is a box store that has a limited space dedicated to plants, as well as superior customer service. They most certainly do buy from the smaller, local wholesalers as well from the larger, big name wholesalers, as many of the smaller outfits offer less common plants with higher wholesale prices than the box stores are inclined to offer. As an example, I currently (today, 1/2/05) offer 11 different species or hybrids of hellebores and 15 different heucheras, including several of the newest introductions from Terra Nova. My nursery also offers some 350 species and cultivars of conifers, including many that are considered collector plants. All of these come from smaller local growers. I challenge anyone to show me a box store that currently offers the same selection.

Does this justify higher prices? You bet! I won't go so far as to say this is standard throughout the country, but in my area small independent retail nurseries and garden centers offer a far wider selection of plants than does any of the box or home improvement stores as well as a staff educated in their growth and care and discerning consumers recognize that and are more than willing to pay for it.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2005 at 7:40AM
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The buyer at a retail nursery is typically a middle-aged female employee who is hired for her expertise in plants.
To buy assortments selected by the wholesale grower is to make all that supposed talent go underutilized.
I bet that the owner never hears about the assortment offering from his buyer.

At the box store, nobody anywhere in the system has any talent at plants. So they have to let the grower select them. It is a system that works quite by default.

The retail customer doesn't care whether you sink or swim.

Anyway you cut it, the marketplace is brutal.
And you have to be always smarter and better.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2005 at 10:46PM
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toyon(USDA 9b/Sunset 14 CA. (Sacram)

Okay, here we go again with the over-simplification.

The retail nursery business, like any other business, has many people with many different theories. I've seen those middle-aged women you speak of, and about half of them know nothing about plants. They figure out what sells and what doesn't sell, and if they are appointed as the manager (someone else actually owns the nursery) their job is to make money and not lose money, with the latter part having to do with not buying plants that don't sell and making sure plants don't die (minimize shrinkage). You have the ones that do a great job, ones that get by, and ones that order plants on impulse because they look pretty. This is not limited to women. Also, most small nurseries are run by middle-aged and retired folks. That is generally how it has always been and I don't think it is going to change.

Assortments: My experience with ordering assortments has generally been a 'do not do this again' experience. Why? The first reason is in many cases growers do 'assortments' so they can get rid of something they can't sell. The second reason is I got stuck with something that wouldn't sell. One place I worked at couldn't keep penstemonsin stock, but the apple coloured ones wouldn't sell...period. I ordered an assortment of 48 1-gal penstemons, and got received a lot of 'grape' coloured penstemons. It worked out. A year later when I was working at another nursery I ordered an assortment of penstemons from the same grower. Guess what? About 70% of them were 'grape' coloured. I didn't know it at the time, but the customers at this nursery wouldn't buy purple penstemons. Every nursery owner/manager can tell you similar stories of those normally very popular plants they just can't seem to sell for no particular reason. Assortments don't work everywhere. Every nursery is different. Cities with similar climates can be very different when it comes to what will sell and what will not. That is why they don't want assortments.

Also, I've worked at bigbox retailers. The growers don't select all the plants. The buyers in these chains know what sells and they contract the growers to grow 100,000 boxwoods specifically for them. If the grower realizes they have too much of a certain plant they contact the buyer and make a deal. Aside from that, I had the ability to order other items. Since I'm familiar with a lot more than the 10 most popular landscape plants, I quite often ordered a wide variety of plants.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2005 at 2:47AM
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mesquiteent(z6b WestTX)

I know this is an old post, but I was so glad to find it! I have never been to this forum, and found this thread by accident, when looking up plant information.

My husband and I own a greenhouse business specializing in native Texas and adaptable plants. This is our first year to be open at our actual place of business. We hear comments pretty often about how our plants are expensive and how they can go get a Texas sage at Walmart for $3. We try to explain that our plant is in a 1,2,or 5-gallon pot, and will have a better root system, compared to a four-inch pot at the other place. We explain that alot of the things we sell are relatively rare, and you aren't going to find winterfat at a box store. We try to explain why we can't sell at the same prices. They usually leave without buying, or, more recently, they try to get us to drop our prices for them, which is really insulting. We are relatively young, a new business, and independent, so I think they think they can try to take advantage of us. We have noticed that people who are REALLY into gardening don't bat an eye at our prices, and end up being repeat customers. Our attitude lately has become like that of the original poster, which is "if you want cheap, shop at walmart".

I like a bargain as much as the next person, and I do buy plants from just about any place that sells them. But I also have noticed that when I buy cheap things, I often get what I paid for.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this, and I bet I will end up being a regular on this forum. It's nice to have people you can relate to in these matters.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 4:46PM
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Thanks for your expereince.

One point however 'they try to get us to drop our prices for them, which is really insulting.' I wouldn't see it as insulting but just a normal human reaction. The fact that they are at your establishment and talking to you gives you the opportunity to explain the price and why they are getting a good product for a fair price.

People who shop at Walmart aren't cheap but smart. Maybe they don't need a particular special variety (as you offer). Yes they will get a common variety for 99 cents but that common variety is every bit as suitable to them as the specailty item at 9.99.

I buy wine at our corner liquor store for 4.99. I like it ever bit as much as the bottle in the Wine shops for 29.99. I'm not 'cheap' but satisfying my need.

Please keep growing a unique product. If I lived in your part of the country I'd be your best customer. Anything plant different is refreshing and I 'got to have it' (unlike wine).

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 9:21PM
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mesquiteent(z6b WestTX)

Alpiner, I can see your point about the prices and all. If I was going to buy pansies and dianthus (and I do), I would rather get it as cheap as possible, and usually do that.

I am insulted by them trying to get us to lower our prices because I bet they don't go to corporate-owned garden centers (not the box stores) and ask them to drop their prices. And WE certainly don't go to a nursery and ask them to do that! But you are right about it being a chance to explain the price and product. Of course, we do this, and they don't care and they don't listen, so I guess it doesn't really matter.

Thanks for your input:)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 11:21AM
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Big boxes here don't keep plants watered, so it doesn't matter what varieties they have or what price they want for it - which may not be esp. low, either. Cost of repeated visits, trying to hit them before the latest shipment has been abused, would eat up any price advantage there might be.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2005 at 4:04AM
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I understand your frustration with people who can't or don't appreciate high quality, BUT! Your response about Home Depot offends me besides it being not true.

I worked at Home Depot in the garden center and they required 3 yrs of horticulture experience to be hired on. I had 5 yrs at the time and I worked my tail off.

I helped people with landscape design and educating the consumer about the plants, growing problems, ect.

I wasn't allowed to work in another department because I wasn't qualified. I couldn't even work inside in the garden department because I didn't know enough about pesticides.

So next time you give your pat answer, try telling the truth instead of offering exaggerations that not only offend the customer but also offends those that come by their experience HONESTLY.

And for your information, Home Depot doesn't sell tires, but I do know that the Plumbing dept. required 7 yrs of experience, ect. ect.

Maybe you need to get a job at Home Depot and learn some people skills, it's great for teaching you how to respond to customers that irk you.

Oh and yeah, all they do is have a truck pull into the parking lot and unload the plants! LOL Big joke.

Let's see, it's 90 degrees out and a semi pulls in with a truck load of trees in 5 or 10 gallon pots and everybody else is too busy to help so I am out there on that hot pavement in August unloading that semi trailer load by myself. That's a couple of hours of steady unloading and let me tell you, not all of the suppliers have pallet jacks built into their trucks to lift off the pallets.

Now, those trees will need care for several months or even up to a year. And some of them, come from growers who don't even know how to grow anything and take care of it because I have to treat it for bugs or some deficiency.

No difference between that and a nurseryman who buys liners and grows them out for a bit before selling them.

If you want to charge a higher price for an azalea bush that is well developed, full and lush and Home Depot wants to sell a scrawny little thing that has just been repotted that's what they should do. But if the only difference between what Home Depot sells and what you sell is the price then I would have to say there is something wrong.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 1:10PM
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brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)

Steph, I truly appreciate your comments, and apologize if I have upset you. I must say, I do believe my offhand comment may indeed be somewhat out of line, and certainly unfair to any and all capable, hardworking, knowledgable horticulturists working for any of the box stores. Mea culpa. My original post was made after a long hot day in August - sometimes I speak before I think things through....

Perusing this thread, and others that have developed into "us independents" vs. "soul-less big box". I see the unfairness of all generalizations. There are box stores that do indeed water their plants - there are independents that don't. There can be knowledgeable people working in either situation.

In the future, I will respond to such questions in a more appropriate fashion, stressing our service, quality, selection, and more service. Then I will go into my office and scream a lot...(just joking...a little...)

This thread should die pretty quickly as it is approaching 100 posts. Probably best to put a "Spike" in it...


    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 9:34PM
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Most of us try to block advertisements on our computers and find them obtrusive. However, the whole time I shop at the Home Depot garden center, I am subjected to perpetual audio broadcasts about how much Home depot cares and how low their prices are. At my better nurseries, I get an occassional garden relevant comment, specific advice about a plant or insight into when the next shipment of plants will arrive. I can get attentive assistance if I need it, but mostly I get what I need- time to peacefully reflect on the merchandise- a true garden environment. Not a brainwashing. That's worth something.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 9:49PM
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I have yet to encounter one of these quality big box plant departments that is described peridically on this site, on threads like this one. Where are they? Is it a regional thing, with some areas having a local overseer who makes sure they do a better job?

That the big boxes could even begin to kill off the independent garden centers must be a sad testimonial to the mindset and habits of the buying public. There is absolutely no comparison between the big box plant departments and those of the fully developed independent nurseries here.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 1:57AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Home Depot, Lowes, John Deere (Landscaping centers), even Walmart. There are other "big boxes" but those are the predominant ones in most US regions.

The inventory varies with the store, and especially with the state of part of the US. And, local units might make deals with local/state/area growers to supply less mainstream varieties of plants. Last year, I found hardy kiwi and a bunch of different ferns at the Home Depot in my town. Someone in California said that their Home Depot had bamboo and other less common items - from Monrovia. The prices are competitive with those of retail garden centers. In some cases, big box prices are way lower because they buy in such volume and have exclusive deals with growers.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 10:23AM
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Cady, I think you misunderstood Ron's question. We have the same big box stores here (with the possible exception of the John Deere outfits) but without fail they do not measure up to any independent garden center/nursery in both plant quality and selection. And I won't even address knowledgeable sales staff.

I do believe it must be a regional thing. Perhaps because there is a plethora of really excellent retail garden centers and specialty nurseries in this area, not to mention hundreds of wholesale growers that refuse to deal with the mass merchandizers, the box store garden departments around here tend to offer only the most common and basic plants, focusing most heavily on traditional annuals and seasonal stuff. Even the ones I've visited in California offer only the standards - nothing fancy, nothing choice. As Ron said, they offer no serious competition to independent nurseries at all.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 11:16AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

You're right, I misunderstood Ron's post. It's true that the majority of the big boxes are woefully inadequate in their maintenance of plants. However, individual big box stores do exist that appoint more knoweldgeable staff to the garden section, and are more vigilent in watering and maintaining plants. The local Home Depot here has some retirees who are gardeners and working part time as "advisors" in the garden dept. There may also be a department manager or supervisor who knows enough about the industry to negotiate with area growers for unusual plants. It depends on who is managing the particular store.

Overall, though, there's no way that these big, generalized chains can match the service and quality of an independently-owned garden center. The problem is that the "average homeowner" often substitutes price and convenience for knowledge and expertise. Pansies are pansies no matter where you get them, but they're cheaper at the big box. And if you go the day or week the shipment arrives, they will be fresh and healthy.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 11:35AM
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Recently, I overheard the guy watering plants at my Home Depot telling someone how Walmart and Lowes take care of their own plants. Later, he commented to me about some plant and then said "I'm from XYZ growers. That's why I know." XYZ was the name from the tags on the majority of the perennials being sold. Their quality IS probably a little better than the local Lowes or Walmart, however, they still don't have nearly enough of a selection to make me look that closely. I did pick up a gallon astilbe that jumped off the shelf due to its having some variegation in it. When I got to the counter, it was $7. Perhaps the extra care is built into the price because I didn't expect to pay that much at the big box and think I could have done just about as well at the pricier independants without being limited to just one or two not-so-choice varieties.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 12:50PM
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Well, let's try this again without getting knocked off line.

I can understand getting a little jaded by experiences with local stores. I also understand that sometimes, it is up to the individual employees to take care of the plants instead of waiting around for some manager to tell them what to do.

If I tell you where the store was I think that is considered advertising but it was in Orlando, FL. The Plant capital of the world, or at least used to be. Now they import most of their junk.

But, yes, I do believe it has more to do with the employees than with the stores themselves. Anybody that has worked with retail can understand that it is hard to get employees today that have integrity and a good work ethic. Also, as absurd as it sounds, try getting employees that can really read and write!


    Bookmark   April 21, 2005 at 6:05PM
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Employees? Everywhere it is (micro)-management that decides how things are done. The Home Depot I mentioned on a previous thread where I saw the prominently displayed, long-dead, specimen-sized weeping sequoias was also where I saw an non-uniformed, apparently casual employee being leaned over by a uniformed supervisory type and being told to keep the watering wand moving. He already was watering so fast it could hardly have been having much of an effect.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 3:42AM
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Good managers are even rarer than good employees.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 9:44AM
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And occassionally you find some real gems.

Last week while at the San Rafael California Home Cheapo I was standing in line with about 30 other people waiting patiently for my turn to check out.

The line wrapped all the way around the back of the store so if you didn't know what was going on , you might just walk up to the cash register and plop your stuff down oblivious to the line that trailed back a 1/8 of a mile.

A well coiffed woman in high heels carrying a couple plant trollies ( keeps pots elevated off of a deck + is on wheels ) cut infront of the line.

Both cashiers told her that this was not the front of the line and that she had to hike her high heeled butt back to the end of the line.

She balked and said she only had 2 or 3 items and that she should be able to slip infront of everybody.

The short petite Afro-American cashier told her once more to hike her 'butt back to the end of the line'.

The self important woman whined once again, simply astounded that she wasn't getting her way.

Then the cashier raised her voice, placed one hand on her hip and wagged her other hand and head infront of Ms. All Important and sternly said :
" Don't you make me take off my apron ! "

I died laughing ! The crowd clapped and Ms. All Important had a hissy fit and threw down her trollies and walked out.

I thought to myself..... now those were words that one will never hear at the local high end nursery that caters to such Ms. All Importants.

I could have kissed the cashier, but she didn't look like the kissy kissy type.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 11:56AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Priceless (with or without a MasterCard). Now THAT's the kind of staff every retail business needs for good customer relations.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 12:26PM
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Pink_Petunia(3a Cnd)

It's been very interesting reading everyone's experiences and opinions and that is what makes us all different in the gardening world:) As a first timer to this forum, I will enjoy reading everyone's advice and constructive criticism.

My experience is this...in the small town I live we have 3 small greenhouses. Yes, in comparison to the Walmart and Cnd Tire and Superstore they are overpriced. I try to support our local greenhouses with the exception of one, as well as drive an hour to the city to take advantage of the cheap prices, along with other shopping and relatives to visit. This is my method:

Greenhouse "A" -- offers a full refund after the first year on shrubs and trees - they have great assortments and better quality trees and shrubs than Greenhouse "B" or "C". Yet their annuals are overgrown and past their prime. I shop there for the trees and shrubs.

Greenhouse "B" -- The woman who owns it is a ***** so I wouldn't give her a penny of my money even if she were the only standing greenhouse on the planet. That takes care of that option.

Greenhouse "C" -- offers exceptional items that the other 2 do not carry like annual grasses for planters, while everyoone is planting dracena in the centres of their bit pots I'm planting wonderful fountain grasses that are oohed and awwed by neighbors and such. Yet, they don't want to pay the difference, their loss. They also carry a variety of fruit trees and shrubs that neither greenhouse carries, yet only offer 1/2 price return after the first full year. It's a toss up between these guys and Greenhouse "A" - depends on availability and who has the nicer stock, prices are about the same between the 2.

I go to the city to buy all my basket stuffers, petunias, snaps, etc (all the annual stuff) - I usually end up purchasing at Walmart b/c I seem to hit the timing (every year) of the truck having just been unloaded and I get the freshest and nicest stuff ever seen:)

While in the city, I go to a private owned greenhouse to buy my mature geraniums that are already in bloom, no where else do I find such gorgeous, good quality plants, pricey, yes, but quality, outstanding. They are the show for my front planters with the fountain grass I purchased locally and it makes all heads turn while driving past my house. As other's are struggling with .69 geraniums they bought in Feb. mine are in full bloom and do not get any setback once they are set out. They are a treat to myself.

As for perennials, I shop around and am willing to pay a few extra bucks for a better quality plant and return policy.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 4:09PM
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The only stores I ever casually shop in are garden related. I'll pull into a Walmart or Superstore just to browse around the plants and 'accoutrements'. Our vehicle automatically turns into garden centers. We'll buy something here, there and everywhere.

I don't think I'm much different from any other keen gardener or professional gardener. I bump into the same friends and fellow professionals at Home Depot and at the native plant greenhouse in town.

The bottom line is I don't try to compete with the box stores. That's a recipe for failure. Bad mouthing them may make you feel better but doesn't increase sales. I grow a lot of unique plants and they fly out of our greenhouse and every year I wish I had grown more. Sure, I'll sell the common stock but I often pick them up at the box stores and just jack the prices up. That way the box stores can carry be my inventory. They'll have a special on petunias at .49 (CDN) and I'll sell it for . 99. They'll have a special on columbines for .99 and I'll resale them for 1.89. Meanwhile folks are coming to our greenhouse and pick up $200 of our own plants....and the sale of locally made hypertufa troughs, garden crafts, etc.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 7:41PM
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Recognizing a situation isn't necessarily "bad mouthing", anymore than your plants being "overpriced".

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 9:12PM
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That's a good point. I 'recognize' the box stores are here to stay and we've adapted quite well to their presence. I use them to my advantage.

We also get referrals from the staff of our local Home Depot and Superstore. People in the hort business should get to know the staff at the box stores. The more they know about your business the more they'll direct customers your way. It costs nothing to drop in and thank them every so often.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 10:18PM
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katwomn59(8b-Austin, TX)

I am not a professional, in fact I am a newbie gardener, but I just wanted to put in my 2 cents. There are 3 big box stores with garden centers within a 5 min drive from my house. I frequently cruise around them looking at their plants to see what I might want. But when the time comes to buy my plants, I drive to an organic nursery about 30 mins away (and I hate driving). Why? Because even to my inexperienced eye, the plants at the box stores do not look very well cared for and some of them look horrible. And I dont care if I can return a dead plant no questions asked. I want a plant that looks healthy and reasonably certain to live. And where the staff know and care about the plants. There are some things I will buy from the box stores (like pots and things like that) but I dont think I will ever buy plants from them. There will always be people who just want cheap. But there will also always be those of us who are willing to pay more for quality and service. Keep up the good work y'all!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 5:33PM
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Two more cents from another newbie in a new zone. Coming to 5b from zone 9 is hard enough. Wandering morosely through the box stores is enough to send anyone around the bend. (I mean, does anyone really need privet?) Dried out, nasty things in pots. Hardly a 'deal'. Seeing roses on pallets on shelves in SHADE? Then see those same things a month later, in blazing sun on 'sale for 2 bucks. I mean, some of those puppies were black and SLIMEY. Who cares about a return policy at that point.If a plant is dead, who is going to take it home? (Wait, don't answer that...)

Back 'home', I mostly frequented my local nurseries. I preferred it. Yes, sometimes I had to walk out because I literally couldn't afford the price...but I always appreciated the plant!

So a month or two ago, I went from nursery to nursery, looking for roses other than Knockout and Carpet Magic. (I mean, really) Finally, I spoke to one owner and asked why she didn't have anything else. She said "because no one wants to mess with spraying so I'm not selling them".

And looking for companion plants, same sort of thing. Couple of tiny pots and not much else. But if you want Stella d'oro daylillies, you can find what you need there.

And they had a few more roses, but not much. I ended up taking my wads o'cash and doing mail order from several places, one as far away as Canada. No joke. All of that cash could have gone to local business folks...

So in a weird way, my local nurseries are like the big box stores in the sense that their selection is the same as each other.

And I look around town and see landscapers planting trees all over the place. Same damn trees, too close together...and oftentimes in little lines like soliders and I feel like I've fallen down a rabbit hole.

I told my DH tonight in fact, that if we can get the money together to do what we want to in our yards, I'm going to have to shop like a dog for someone that has some...sense. He looked at me and said dryly "You're going to have to import someone".

So yeah, it's regional. I love having a local person that I can shmooze wtih about plants. Someone that can suggest something for a trouble spot. Fancy granola amendments for my rose babies. Heck yah...and do ya got something better than phlox? You DO! Wowza, sign me up! You've got fabulous compost? I'm there! Do you think that I really want to go to HD to buy Miracle Grow soil? Bag after bag after bag. I literally spoke aloud and said DO YOU FOLKS SELL REAL DIRT? They didn't get it. I didn't press the issue.

Give me a fabulous nursery and honey I want your blueberry granola. I want to talk plants. I'll take any suggestion that you have and will remember you as someone that is kind and willing to answer a newbie's question.

I know of a lot of loyal folks like me who feel the same way. Sure, if I need a six pack of something simple and it's fresh, I'll buy it at HD. But only if I'm already there buying something else.

Make a special trip? I'm going to the local nursery person. Need grass seed? Nursery person. Need something like a young tree? I'm not buying that at the HD. God forbid. Nursery person and I'll pay extra if you plant that baby for me.

My learning curve is steep, but as someone already said, a healthy plant is obvious. A beautiful plant can stop me in my tracks. If it smells good, omg...

Be friendly. Give decent customer service. You don't have to fawn, don't waste your time. If I'm in your store, I want to be there. "Nice" is enough. Informative? I'm all ears. Matter of fact, being clear about what I don't know, it's encouraging to be taught by someone who does. And if you tell me something that could keep me from killing that new baby, I'm downright grateful. Even if I walk out of your store without anything that day, I'll remember that you saved me from myself. You can't get that from a box store.

Sure, there are some in my neighborhood that are snotty and won't come back. Guess what? I may not look toity, but I love my yards and in the long run, my 30 dollar trips to your store will add up MORE than what that snot was going to drop in one visit.

I won't just buy for myself, I'll buy plant gifts from you. I'll get ideas about what else that I want to do, even if I wasn't planning on it. I'll spend more than I should.

Why? I'm not just an addict. A newbie wants a plant that is actually going to continue growing. One of two things happen to us. We either buy cheap, they die and we quit. Or we learn to discern what is a good product and what is not. If we can get a 'deal', of course we'll take it. But if spending a few more pennies means that we'll be successful, we'll do it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 11:34PM
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>We either buy cheap, they die and we quit.That's what I've been wondering lately, how many people who are lured in by the promise of plants being cheap and gardening being simple are soon disappointed and lose interest. Maybe how it works (for the seller) is that they still get alot more sales than if these one- or few-time purchasers didn't come in at all.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 3:01PM
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darkeyes(zone 5 & 11)

okay to be honest with you.. im new at gardening therefore, i can't tell u much about that ..

however i prefer my tiny little a&c suparmarket for groceries over large superstore like meijer or dominicks. because the prices are lot lower even meijers generic brand costs more than the supermarkets name brands item (i've been there). yes, the small stores have limited varity but if you make a request they usually get the product for you. also another way to save money is try out the ethnic stores. some are really cheap however you've probably guessed they usually carry ethnic stuff only.

now back to nurseries.. i've seen some nursery offering discounts too. for example if u buy a rose plant from jackson and perkins usually it takes about 15 dollars for that but if you get the same plant from your local nursery usually it's cheaper (i've been to franks and their jackson and perkins collection was cheaper like 8 dollars regular and on sale it was 50% off). then again im new in this..

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 7:56AM
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Returning to the selling plants war stories, yesterday I heard another volunteer at a benefit sale relate how after a tree priced at 22 dollars (half (or less) the price originally marked on it by the donating nursery) suddenly became 11 dollars (when it was announced that everything at the sale was now half price) the party he had been trying to talk into buying it snorted in disgust that they were "looking for deals".

I'm told that's one of the typical aspects of rummage/garage sales: there are two discernible groups who appear, the 'collectors' who show up early and gladly pay the original price, and the vultures who come later, looking for bargains. For this latter group no price is low enough.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2005 at 10:57PM
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jumpinjuniper(6A Nova Scotia)

If they are asking why plants are so expensive as opposed to going to Home Depot they're probably customers not worth having, unless your hard up. Most people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Those with discriminating taste and an appreciation for locally produced plants sold by knowledgable staff will continue to pay top dollar for top quality, no questions asked.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 9:43PM
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>Most people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.Ha!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 10:06PM
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What a great thread - Brian are you still reading?!

I think we all have to accept that different kinds of places are going to serve different kinds of gardeners. Just because somebody doesn't want to spend their waking free minutes reading about garden subjects doesn't decrease their worth as a human - well much anyway. So the big box stores are good enough for some people. I would never in a million years buy a perennial there when I've got Bluestone an hour away - it would be silly. I can buy excellent plants for a few dollars each and I love picking through the stuff thats not on their website.

But I bought - nay, I snapped up a new shipment of 3 gallon beautiful, full, large Buxus Green Mountain and Blue Princess hollies for $13 each at Costco. For crying out loud, they were beautiful plants, I'm hardly out much if they were to die, but we're talking boxwood and holly here - not so likely to die. They have thrived and done great along my driveway. I feel good about getting such nice shrubs for such a great price. On the other hand I went and paid $75 for a hamamelis cultivar I wanted, and $250 for nice well grown River birches with a guarantee. But thats not often because its not in my budget to do that.

Well the debate rages on....

    Bookmark   November 13, 2005 at 11:09PM
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weebus(Z8 Sunset 5 WA)

I read the other day on a website that they don't answer questions about what they don't sell. If you didn't buy from them, they don't offer free expertise. They say, (paraphrased) 'Go back to where you bought it from and ask them. If they can't/won't answer your questions, then you shouldn't have spent your money there.' The big box stores are making a mint by selling plants through untrained individuals, and then relying on the goodwill of surrounding nurseries to carry the education load. I agree 100%.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2005 at 11:33AM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

This thread is put to bed.

Good night,

    Bookmark   November 14, 2005 at 4:53PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

I'm not dead yet.


    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 1:00PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

No really, I'm not dead.

hmmmm. Thought threads were only supposed to go to 100, sometimes 101. Spooky. This thread won't die.


    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 3:05PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

It may be that iVillage has removed the 100 post limit. Now a thread can be immortal, for good or bad.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 4:53PM
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hgalindo(8B Houston)

It took me about 6 months as a serious gardener to realize that my favorite local nursery is WORTH twice the price for most things. They keep the plants healthy, nicely shaped, right sized pot, etc. If you need advice, they have it or will get it. Plants are ALL tagged with growing information (unlike big box which has the ubiquitous "Assorted Perennial" tag. Ugh!) They have seminars monthly, every organic amendment/treatment you could wish for, they help you load your car, they have unique things that thrill me... Man, I'll pay extra just about every time. They hardly even carry the cheap flats of annuals. Why? They know everyone goes to Lowe's or HD for those, so why bother the upkeep on them?
You probably have to work harder as a small nursery owner to maintain the kind of quality that brings people back and merits the higher prices, but believe me, there are LOTS of us out there who appreciate this.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 6:57PM
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I go to wholesale nurserys to buy for my costomers. At a minute notice I might have to fly over to home depot for a plant and pay whatever price. Many nurserys do charge to much because of their time involved with the plants. Mom and pops don't sell the quantity that HD does so have to get more. HD does buy from very credible mass growers that sell a quality product (or HD will buy from someone else) I worked at Disney for many years and we all do the same thing to save money. Plants not healthy will look not healthy. lack of watering will make plants look unhealthy and I do buy cheeper that way from HD. I'm ending this with, small retail places need to not charge so much and find a way to cut cost to do so. You have to be competitive in this world now if you want to stay in the business.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2006 at 4:44PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Chains lead in volume nationwide because they are chains, individual chain store nursery departments here I don't think sell at that much volume relative to large, long-established independents like this one.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 2:28AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

Something funny that happened to me. I had this older lady come in and tell me "Why are your hanging baskets so high?--I can get one for $7 at Walmart". I told her that I have expenses and I'm very comfortable that the price I'm charging for my baskets is a fair one, and if she wanted the one at Walmart, it's a 1/4 mile down the road.
She laughed, said "I appreciate your honesty", and she's been back twice....Go figure!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 6:33AM
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When this thread began I worked part time for a large nursery. Now I work weekends for myself selling plants and garden decor at the local (and large) flea market. The benefit to this arrangement is that I now can say to the customer whatever I feel like saying. My new and improved attitude in this situation is that when a person is standing at my display and complaining about the quality or the price - there is a customer standing behind them ready to hand me money without complaints. My job is to get customer "A" out of my way so that I can sell to customer "B". Sometimes my responses seem rude or harsh but I don't want customer "A" to come back anyway. I want to focus my time on lots and lots of customer "B's". I have the directions to the nearest Big Box retailers memorized in detail and I freely give them out to difficult customers - anything to get them as far away from me as possible. I don't need the aggravation. On the flip side I bend over backwards for honest to goodness real gardeners and I can see the effects at the cash register.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 9:30AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Molbak's is my favorite large, mom-and-pop nursery/garden center. And I live in New England! On several trips to the Seattle area (for other purposes), I made a point to go to Molbak's. I've brought plants and items home on the plane - the plants survive the carry-on x-ray fine, without visible mutation. ;)

Molbak's is a super example of a non-chain that has a formula that works. Also, they are a mature business, and have grown over the years through a combination of wise foresight, careful planning, and attention to market trends.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 1:03PM
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Campanula UK Z8

places like Walmart and in the UK, Tesco, are aggressive market capitalists - their aim is to annihilate all competition and they practice some horrible strategies. For example, if a store opens near a local bakers, the supermarket will deliberately sell bread at a ridiculous price until the smaller business inevitably folds - at which point, bread will stop being discounted. This is not a rare attitude but is the dominant from of big retail. Competition is a good thing for customers and retailers but the hideous tactics practiced by the likes of Tesco are deeply wrong. There are serious implications for farmers who sell to these outlets and ultimately we, the consumers, get the short straw. I see it as a moral responsibility to support independent stores, especially if their employment practices are more enlightened than the anti-union, minimum wage slave system of super retailers. As for diversity, there are also implications for us since we do not get offered the much advertised 'choice' but only the limited selection of poorly maintained goods. If we, the buying public, continue to put price cuts above all else, then we will get the retailers we deserve.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 4:01PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yep. An independent bakery here tried to get local supermarkets interested in their home-quality goods. All the store representatives that were approached wanted to know was how much they were asking.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2010 at 11:49PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Just posting to reiterate that campanula's concise, well-written post of Mar. 17 is


No pun intended (I've been to a Target store, seen what they have).

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 1:34PM
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Sherwood Botsford(3a)

Small growers can't compete with big box stores on price.

So don't. You have to offer what they don't offer.


If you sell bedding plants, sell unusual cultivars.

If you sell tomatoes, find the ones that ripen in YOUR climate (a problem for us northern gardeners with summer temps in the low 70's)

If you sell trees, offer them in sizes that the BBSs don't offer. (Right now about half my annual sales are to reclamation contractors. 1 liter 2 foot dogwood, and green alder, and willow; 2 gallon x 30" white spruce. Silver buffaloberry.)

Or offer things that they can't get elsewhere.

Look for a niche -- one I target is the DIY acreage owner. OMG I've got 3 acres of grass. I sell trees big enough to miss with the mower, small enough to not get on your chiropractors permanent Christmas card list.

Target very short term markets. E.g. I have to bring in liners for my own production anyway. This year I brought in 5000 1 year old liners -- and sold 2800 of them immediately, along with instructions on their care. The sales not only paid for all of my own liners, but netted a reasonable return on my time.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 9:00AM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

LYNNWOOD -- A bad economy, a poor summer growing season and changing gardening habits -- all contributed to the closing of Emery's Garden.

'It's just the perfect storm,' said Amy Tullis, garden center director for Emery's.

The Lynnwood nursery and retail store will close by mid-December at the latest. But, with a clearance sale under way, Emery's could close within a month, Tullis said.

'We've had good years and bad years,' she said.

But tough economic times have meant that more and more people are turning to big box stores for their gardening supplies. Gardeners shop at Costco, Lowe's or Fred Meyer for plants but then come to Emery's for advice on how to tend to the flowers, shrubs and vegetable starts they've bought elsewhere, Tullis said.

'Everyone wants something on sale,' she said.

The lack of warm summer weather this year didn't help matters. For nurseries, 'if you don't make all your money in the summer, you're in trouble,' Tullis said.

The store opened as Emery's Garden in 1997 after owner, Emery Rhodes, bought the nursery from the Uyeda family. The Uyedas, who had immigrated from Japan, started their garden shop, located at 2829 164th St. SW, in 1963 when 164th Street was still a gravel road.

Tullis doubts the location will remain a nursery when it's sold. She wouldn't be surprised if the land, which sits on a busy intersection across from Fred Meyer, will be turned into a strip mall or condos.

'It's just sad,' Tullis said. 'We felt we were good for the community.'

Barbara Chase of Edmonds, agreed that Emery's had been good for local gardeners, noting that she had taught classes there as a master gardener. On Wednesday, Chase had just returned from a master gardener meeting during which the closing of Emery's was lamented. 'People liked the nursery,' she said. 'We'll miss them.'

Fellow gardener Walter Thompson noted the personal attention that people would get while shopping at Emery's as compared to big box stores.

'They had stuff that you wouldn't find elsewhere,' he said.

When Chase landscaped her home 10 years ago, she followed Emery's hedge recommendations, which differed from other stores. She liked the results.

However, Emery's Tullis said that fewer and fewer people own property large enough that allows them to support landscaping and gardens. Tree sales at Emery's have been declining for years, she said.

And, while Thompson appreciated the variety of plants he found at Emery's, Tullis said that fewer people have been interested in harder-to-find plants. Instead, the most common question Tullis hears: 'what's on sale?'

About 12 full-time employees will lose their jobs with the closing of Emery's. During the spring and summer, Emery's also would hire another 12 to 15 seasonal employees.

'It's kind of upsetting to think that kind of store, that kind of local facility, is going to disappear,' Thompson said.

I am very sorry to read about this, Gardengal, and to see so many people lost their jobs. I've never bought any trees etc at HD and never will.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 3:28PM
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brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)

Well, eight years later and I'm still selling "expensive" plants. Not so many, of course, but no one is right now.

I suppose the reason we're still open is because we did some things right - went aggressively after niche marketing, like 85 selections of tomatoes and 60 of peppers; specimen conifers; pretty but pricey Japanese maples, etc. etc. Oh, and no one has had a raise for several years - but we still have jobs, so I guess that evens out...

This was a real interesting thread, I know I've learned a lot from it. For those of us still in the industry, I wish you the best for the upcoming spring.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 6:07PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

$30,000 remodel, $150 budgeted for plants.

From Lowe's.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 7:37PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Actual example.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 4:25PM
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snowdogmama(high mountain desert Zone 5)

It's not just plants that people buy as cheap as possible and then demand help from the specialist. I sell koi and goldfish. People buy low quality fish from the cheapest place possible, the fish are sick, they want me to spend hours on the phone telling them how to cure them, then its my fault that I couldn't cure their fish. sigh.........

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 2:33PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The other day I was at Home Despot buying potting soil for a friend who has no vehicle and saw an ad for a supposedly superior brand being on special there. The woman checking out ahead of me complained to the cashier that a nearby independent wanted


for pansies.

And there you have it. I was there because somebody thought they could get a quality product at a discount and somebody else thought two dollars for a flowering sized pansy was outrageous.

And they had them for less than two dollars. It's a wonder the grower was making a profit.

Maybe they weren't!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 11:45AM
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My rambling...

I first tried gardening (on a very narrow balcony) a few years ago and was delighted to find that I lived dangerously close to the city's oldest nursery. It was great--a huge place with a good variety of well-tended plants, their own branded fertilizers, and so on. Well, about a year later, they closed, and I'm still mourning it, especially as I've recently been working on my balcony again (after I left it largely ungardened during that time). I can still picture that store...sigh.

So I've been stuck with the big boxes, our garden-only equivalent of a big box (even bigger than the independent that closed but a chain), and a small independent that had very little but at least had the plants I wanted (but wasn't otherwise overwhelming, even though the owner was friendly)...I'm not sure what else is good yet.

My trouble is that I want certain specific plants, and the big boxes are hopeless for things like that (well, unless I actually want what they sell). I don't want to drive all over. I definitely think it's good if independents specialize, so if I want a [genus] [species], I know I can go to the store that sells all of that genus. I will absolutely pay the price for that, too. I mean, of course, I'm not going to blow $100 on something I may very well kill, but I'm not a "$2/4-pack or GTFO" sort of person, either.

One of my big boxes (I forget which is which, as they're basically the same store in most respects) has a knowledgeable employee. I've not spoken to her myself, but I've overheard her answering people's questions, and I think when people overhear her, they come over to ask her things themselves. They both seem to use consignments, too--one of the representatives was actually greeting customers the other day when he passed them--and while they occasionally have iffy plants, most of the stock is fine. It's just that again, when you're wanting [genus] [species], unless it's a common petunia or what-have-you, no dice.

The big boxes aren't always cheap, by the way. That big chain center has no-name plumerias for a show-stopping $90. Admittedly, they're about 6 feet and pink, where a no-name potted plumeria will often be 3 or 4 feet and white or yellow, but still...$90?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 2:11AM
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I am a consumer and I would like to say that if a customer is asking you why your plants are more expensive; then it is likely that price is NOT their only consideration. If it was, then that customer would just leave. A customer asks you 'why are your prices higher'...you should interpret that as 'please educate me on what I am not understanding here....all I see is the final price...I don't really understand what else I should be considering when I decide where to purchase.'

If a customer already knew this information, they wouldn't ask you about your prices. And if all they cared about was price, then they wouldn't bother asking you to educate them.

I asked the same question of a farmer selling organic meat. His meat was $6 and walmart's is $2 a pound. He explained to me about raising cattle and such. I didn't buy meat from him that day, but I went home and researched what he said. I now only buy organic beef and whenever I go to that market, I always buy meat from him just bc he took the time to explain it to me.

I wasn't trying to be cheap when I asked him...I just wanted to know what made his meat worth more than Walmarts....now, I know! If you can't explain it, then your plants probably aren't worth more.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 10:43AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

That depends on them knowing what plants the other place being compared to has. They could be a different grade, or from a different supplier, or the same exact item from the same supplier - who gave the chain a lower per unit price than the independent.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 12:19PM
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