One of the pain points for customers at any retail establishment is waiting in line. It’s also their final impression of your store, so considerations for improving the checkout process are important, and should be factored in as part of the overall experience.
For the past several years, mobile point-of-sale systems have been used primarily for line busting and moving customers through checkout more efficiently. Customers get tickets for some items, say heavy trees or shrubs out in the nursery yard, and bring the receipt to the register instead of lugging the large plants through the garden center to the checkout area.
Mobile systems are still being used for that purpose, but with new capabilities and technology, there is much more they can offer. Mobile devices can be a large investment, however, so whether these systems are right for you and when is a good time to invest are important considerations when deciding.
Evolution of mobile devices and point-of-sale systems
Independent garden centers generally use mobile devices for a few primary purposes: line busting; to start or complete a transaction in an area other than the checkout center; to sell outside of the store, for example, a farmers market; and to manage inventory, deliveries and other back-office tasks, says Andy Smith, business development manager for Rapid Garden POS.
In the past, separate devices were required to manage individual processes, like credit card payments and product scanning, but new point-of-sale capabilities can merge these functions.
“For Microsoft Windows-based systems, you can now run the exact in-store point-of-sale on a Windows tablet — it can have all the features and functionality as if you are sitting in front of the register, and there’s no learning curve because they are all the same screens,” Smith says. When these tablets first came out, they were cumbersome and bulky, but newer models are lighter and more user-friendly, he says.
The hardware required to operate these systems is also more affordable than the in past, says Sam Kirkland, strategic relationship manager for Epicor Software.
“We had a RF (radio frequency) gun that could scan the product and print an invoice to take to checkout. The focus was to speed up the existing physical checkout lane to move people quicker. The hardware itself really priced the small retailer out, so it really wasn’t a solution,” Kirkland says. “It’s really transitioned from that RF gun, that had limited functionality, to a mobile tablet where I have a fully functioning point-of-sale.”
Benefits of mobile options
With newer systems, instead of giving customers tickets to take to the register, staff can search product information or process transactions wherever customers are in the store, all while updating inventory systems and accounting for rewards programs and coupons. Some systems can handle all of those capabilities on one device, but others require add-ons or separate devices, Smith says.
Whether garden centers use tablets to handle transactions outside of the physical register, tablets linked to the store’s inventory can help staff better assist customers, especially if that system is tied with the store’s overall inventory management interface.
“The nice thing about the surface tablet is in a garden center environment, I can zoom in on a product the same way I can on a register, and help [customers] look up items. It makes it easier to work, it’s familiar for [staff] and helps them help the customer better,” Smith says.
Some point-of-sale systems also come with docking stations, so the devices can be used as stationary registers in the regular checkout area or as mobile point-of-sale devices, Kirkland says.
“An existing point-of-sale station can become multipurpose with a tablet, and if I so choose, I can grab that tablet out of my designated point of sale station and walk around with the customer,” he says.
Determining if mobile point-of-sale is right for you
Smith asks IGC owners and managers a few questions to determine if mobile devices would be a fit at their stores.
“When I talk to a store that’s looking to change their technology, I typically ask, ‘would mobile devices be helpful for you? Do you have certain times when you are selling outside of the store? Are there certain times of the year when adding that extra capacity to ring someone up elsewhere in the store would be helpful? Would it be helpful to have a mobile device to receive inventory, generate purchase orders or make inventory adjustments?’” Smith says. He also asks how often the IGC needs that capability — whether they want to use the technology year-round or only need it during the busiest weeks within key seasons.
“I also ask, ‘are there any specific hardware requirements or conditions that should be considered?’” Smith adds. This helps determine if retailers prefer “a tablet versus something more ruggedized that can get wet and get dropped.”
Kirkland says that determining the exact ROI of mobile systems is difficult, so he also asks a few questions before offering advice to his customers on whether to invest in mobile technology.
“What is the vision of the business? If part of the vision is ensuring customers have a pleasurable experience in the store and a quicker check out, mobile devices can help. Is the business looking at improving the number of customer visits per year, or line items per transaction? If those are their goals, going mobile can help achieve that,” Kirkland says. “We’re in a great era where hardware costs are going down. [As an independent garden center owner,] if I only have one Saturday a year when I need help, I may not go that direction, but next time I buy a PC, I might ask, ‘should I buy a tablet instead of a PC?’ As I start upgrading technology, I need to understand what will advance my business in the industry. PC and laptop sales are declining in retail businesses and tablets are increasing, so the adoption of the technology is growing year over year.”
Another consideration that both Smith and Kirkland emphasize is whether the garden center needs to conduct business somewhere other than its physical store. This could be at farmers markets, charitable events, community flower sales or in customers’ yards if the garden center offers landscaping or consulting services.
Good customer service is also another key component this movable technology can provide, Smith says.
“[Customers] want to have a very hands-on, concierge-type of experience where people are walking with you to help you choose things for your garden or for your landscape,” Smith says. “[It’s beneficial] to be able to walk around with that customer and have that information in real-time,” especially in garden centers that offer consulting and landscaping.
If you do determine that mobile payment devices and point-of-sale systems are right for your garden center, implement them before the busy season, Smith says.
“Always do your training and [test] the capabilities of your mobile devices before your busy season,” Smith says. “You don’t want to realize you have a glitch and that this isn’t working properly in the middle of one of your busiest weekends.”
Before implementing any technology, it’s also important to consider the IGC’s specific customer base and their preferences, he adds.
“Know your customers. If your customer base doesn’t like email receipts and wants printed receipts, you need to make those available in the store on a printer that can connect to those mobile devices. Think through the right configuration for your environment,” Smith says.
Especially if you are using mobile devices to check out customers, they need to carry the same capabilities as your register or stationary point-of-sale, Smith says. Customers should be able to accrue and redeem loyalty points.
Protecting the customer data these mobile systems process should also be top of mind, Kirkland says.
“If we’re conducting credit card activity on mobile devices, it needs to be secure. This should be part of the point-of-sale system, and, since some software vendors don’t offer hardware or network security support, retailers must verify if adequate measures are being taken by their software provider,” he says. “Security needs to be a focus and a high priority for each retailer — large or small.”
Taking time to properly train staff may seem obvious, but it’s a challenge businesses have faced. Employees can become nervous using the technology for the first time in front of customers, so it’s important that they are comfortable with the system before a busy day. And, have a system in place so that employees are accountable for the hardware and are deterred from losing it.
Another important aspect of employee training is making sure the devices are charged at all times and that staff understand both the capabilities and limitations of them, Smith says.
“When you’re assessing what’s right for your store, understand that each mobile device has its own way of updating and synchronizing with the data in your store,” Smith says. “In some mobile devices, there are some capabilities you can perform offline until you are back in your network. Offline functions can be helpful for doing inventory adjustments in the far reaches of your greenhouses. But it will not help an IGC who is looking to ring up transactions in real time.”
Even if your garden center determines mobile point-of-sale options are not feasible now, Kirkland says it’s important to keep them in mind for the future.
“Laptops and desktops are going away, and it’s all going to the cloud,” he says. “This technology is rapidly being used … Customers don’t have to find some little area where there’s a cash register where they may not know where it is. People can choose where they shop. They are going to choose to shop where it’s fun and they feel that they are taken care of.”
Whether or not you’re paying attention to your garden center’s online reputation, your customers certainly are. According to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of consumers consult online reviews before making a purchase. In another survey by Podium, 93 percent of respondents said online reviews impacted their shopping decisions.
“The way people find businesses today is by searching Google and reading reviews,” says Garrett Sussman, content marketing manager for Grade.us, which produces review management software. “It’s important for garden centers to cultivate online reviews because not only do they impact the visibility of your business online, but they also add credibility. People are much more likely to purchase from a store that has a good reputation.”
Luke Hansford learned this the hard way when he started Pink and Green Lawn Care and Landscape with his wife, Lana, in 2008. After acquiring their first few customers by going door-to-door in their Florida neighborhood, they needed to reach more people to grow their business.
“We noticed that most people didn’t trust us because they didn’t know anything about us,” Hansford says. “We started looking into the review process more seriously, because reviews are a great way to build a reputation and let people feel like they know you and trust you before they even meet you.”
Since then, Pink and Green has amassed nearly 750 reviews on Angie’s List and 100 on Google, where it averages a 4.8-star rating. These votes of confidence helped the company grow 23 percent last year, achieving about $4 million in revenue.
If you’re wondering how to grow your garden center’s reputation, follow these five steps to harness the power of online reviews.
1. Claim your space
The first step to taking control of your reputation is understanding how your brand appears online.
“I recommend searching your business name on Google to see what comes up, because that’s what searchers will see,” Sussman says. “The second step is knowing if they’re going to find you over your competitors, so search ‘garden centers near me’ and see who appears.”
To show up more often in the search results, set up profiles on more business listing sites like Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp and Bing. Not only does this improve your search visibility, but it allows you to keep your information current, answer questions from customers and respond to reviews.
“The biggest mistake is not setting up and claiming your business profile on various review sites, because customers can still leave a review even if you don’t set up a listing,” Sussman says. “If it’s just out there unaddressed, people are going to come to their own conclusions. You want to control the narrative.”
2. Monitor your reputation
Read and digest what people say about your business online, whether good or bad, because it can provide valuable feedback from your customers.
Once you claim your business listings, most sites will send email notifications when you receive a new review. Sussman also recommends setting up Google Alerts for your business name to help track brand mentions. There are tools available that can help automate and aggregate these alerts.
3. Generate feedback
Just because you claim profiles on relevant sites, that doesn’t mean people will leave reviews. A study by Dimensional Research and Zendesk found that only 35 percent of consumers use review sites after a bad experience and 23 percent after a good one. But, according to SEO management firm BrightLocal, seven out of 10 customers will leave a review if asked.
“The best way to get reviews is by providing a great experience and then just asking. For the vast majority of review sites, asking for reviews is totally acceptable,” says Sussman, noting that Yelp is the exception because it forbids solicitation of reviews.
“The most effective way to ask is face-to-face, and the best time to ask is right after a transaction. So, have your employees ask for reviews when they have a positive interaction with a customer,” he says. “A big part of this is training employees to understand the importance of reviews to your business.”
Because garden centers are so visually appealing, Sussman suggests leveraging photo opportunities to promote reviews. When cashing out customers, ask if they snapped any pictures while shopping, then encourage them to post one with their review. You could even print and post their photos on a bulletin board near the register to showcase your customers’ perspectives.
“If you take pride in your garden center and the displays you’re putting together, and you know customers are taking pictures anyway, it’s an easy win to get them to showcase their photography and leave a review,” Sussman says.
To reinforce the face-to-face request, use other media to remind customers to share their feedback. In-store signage or receipts can show them which review sites to visit, but Sussman says the best approach is collecting customer contact information, like email addresses or phone numbers, so you can send automated messages asking for reviews.
4. Respond to reviews
According to the 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey, 53 percent of consumers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week — but 63 percent never received a follow-up.
“Any business that’s providing responses to reviews is already going to stand out,” Sussman says. “When you’re getting reviews, you’ve got to remember it’s a public channel, so as much as you’re helping that customer, other potential customers are looking at how you respond. That’s why it’s important to respond to both positive and negative reviews.”
For positive reviews, show your appreciation by thanking customers for leaving feedback — but avoid copying and pasting the same response every time. With negative reviews, the goal is to resolve the issue and redeem your reputation.
“When responding to negative reviews, it’s hard not to take it personally,” Sussman says. “But the worst thing you can do is respond emotionally. You always want to maintain a professional tone. Acknowledge their complaint, take responsibility where you can, and then give them a private communication channel where you can resolve it.”
The goal is not to make bad feedback disappear. In fact, according to eConsultancy, 68 percent of consumers trust a brand more when it has both negative and positive reviews, and conversion rates are 67 higher. If your business responds to a negative review, potential customers are 45 percent more likely to shop there.
5. Repeat and improve
The average consumer wants a business to have 34 reviews before they trust its rating, according to BrightLocal. Other studies show that brands with at least 50 reviews have a 4.6 percent higher conversion rate. But that doesn’t mean that once you hit a certain number, your online reputation is “done.”
“Online reviews are an ongoing process,” Sussman says, “and a recent review is much more valuable than a review left a year ago.”
In fact, 77 percent of customers think reviews older than three months aren’t relevant, according to BrightLocal, so it’s important to keep generating new reviews.
“It has to be a conscious, consistent effort,” Hansford of Pink and Green Lawn Care and Landscape says. “You have to have somebody dedicated to it, because it can really make or break you. If you’re not actively pursuing positive reviews from happy customers, then you will only get negative reviews from unhappy customers.”
Brooke is a freelance writer living in Cleveland and a frequent contributor to Garden Center.
When Amazon representatives hit industry trade shows in 2016, rumblings about the e-commerce giant’s move into live plants swept the industry. Reactions ranged from warnings to welcomes. That ambivalence deepened with the recent launch of the Amazon Plants Store, adding a designated space for live plant sales to the company’s already extensive lawn and garden offerings.
Whatever your position on Amazon, understanding how this massive dotcom functions — and how online sales by manufacturers, growers, independent garden centers and other sellers fit in — can help you position your business for the new world ahead.
Putting Amazon in perspective
Amazon isn’t the only retailer affecting IGCs, but it’s hard to ignore its impact. In an annual shareholder letter released to media on April 18, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos reported the company’s 2017 revenue hit $178 billion, a 31 percent increase from 2016. E-commerce analytics provider One Click Retail translates that figure to 4 percent of all U.S. retail sales and 44 percent of all U.S. e-commerce sales.
Bezos also confirmed that paid Amazon Prime memberships passed the 100-million mark in 2017. For an annual $99 fee, Prime members enjoy perks such as free two-day shipping — even on live plants — and exclusive sales. However, on April 26, Amazon announced it was increasing the annual Prime membership fee to $119, effective May 11.
Along with Amazon’s general sales, the company’s lawn and garden sales are growing, from lawn equipment and grills to pruners, fertilizers and live plants. In an early 2018 whitepaper on Amazon’s effect in the category, One Click Retail noted that lawn and garden sales by first-party, brand-manufacturers on Amazon topped $2 billion in 2017, with a year-over-year 25 percent increase in gardening products leading the charge.
Amazon sales and sellers simplified
For starters, understand that Amazon is not the only company selling on Amazon.com. In addition to “sold and shipped by Amazon” items, consumers shop from 2 million sellers that comprise the Amazon Marketplace, which includes many live plant and hard goods sellers. Amazon’s platform seamlessly integrates Marketplace offerings with their own, but listings advise attentive shoppers which parties offer and ship items being sold.
Amazon.com spells out basic Marketplace selling fees in “Make Money with Us” links at the bottom of its pages. Professional marketplace sellers list unlimited products for $39.99 per month, plus “referral fees” on sales.
Fees for Home & Garden products (including pet supplies) are 15 percent as of April 2018. Amazon handles all credit card payments, deducts referral fees and deposits the remainder directly into seller accounts every two weeks.
Some Amazon Marketplace sellers handle their own shipping, known as Fulfillment By Merchant (FBM). Others ship product to Amazon warehouses and let Amazon do the work, called Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA).
FBA sellers pay additional fees based on warehouse space and other factors, but their items qualify for Amazon Prime, a proven selling advantage with Amazon shoppers. Amazon’s Marketplace sales have grown as more businesses capitalize on the retailer’s reach and close-to-perfect logistics.
As noted in Bezos’s letter, more than 300,000 small and medium U.S.-based businesses became Marketplace sellers in 2017. In a first, Marketplace sales accounted for half of all items sold on Amazon.com for the year.
Amazon plants from a Proven Winners’ grower perspective
Marketplace sellers have offered live plants for more than a decade, but the launch of the Amazon Plants Store signals a new era. Live plants from bonsai, succulents and houseplants to annuals, perennials and shrubs are now being sold directly by Amazon as well.
According to an Amazon spokesperson, all live plants are sold through the Amazon Plants store, which can be as many as 100,000 live plants or seed items, depending on the season.
Four Star Greenhouse, the No. 1 supplier of Proven Winners, serves as an Amazon fulfillment center for “sold and shipped by Amazon” stock, which is separate from the Marketplace sales.
For Tom Smith, founding member of Proven Winners and Four Star’s president, brand integrity and plant quality were major considerations in the decision to sell to Amazon. “We wanted to do the best we could for the brand,” Smith says. “When Amazon came to us to be a fulfillment center, we knew either we do it or someone else would.”
As a fulfillment center, the grower negotiated pricing for shipped product, but that doesn’t equal an exclusive. “It makes us nervous,” Smith says. “If they ship a poor-quality plant from another source, that wouldn’t represent the brand well. Your reputation can be based off a poor grower that just puts plants online.”
Four Star has no control over retail pricing, but Smith believes Amazon plants won’t compete with box stores on price, even with Amazon’s efficiencies. “I’m not even sure if they’re making money at their current prices, which are higher than the average garden center now,” he says. “[The appeal of] online is convenience; it’s not pricing.”
All the Proven Winners line will be represented on Amazon, though items will list as “not in stock” at times. “They don’t commit to any numbers. It’s a wild card on Amazon, so it’s basically what we have available,” he says, adding that availability is a challenge.
“You have to get people out there counting plants, pot by pot, because that’s what you’re selling now — not cases — and you better be dead-on right,” Smith explains. “This isn’t something you can do once a week. It’s a daily process. If you don’t deliver or you deliver bad quality, you’re gone.”
Four Star plants ship in packaging designed in-house to ensure plants arrive in the optimal condition.
IGC perspectives on Amazon and online sales
With three retail garden centers, Pennsylvania-based Esbenshade’s Garden Centers began selling on their own website in 2005. “We were looking at opening new stores or creating a new revenue stream, and we decided to start offering the products we sell in our stores to customers online,” says second-generation owner Terry Esbenshade.
The grower-retailer’s online business expanded to the Amazon.com Marketplace in 2013. They also sell on Walmart.com, eBay.com and Jet.com. Pricing strategies vary by selling platform. “Once you get into the marketplaces, the rules totally change,” Esbenshade says. “Typical retail profit margins go out the window.” Factors, fees and competition in each marketplace demand unique strategies and tools to track true margins and sell profitably.
Local customers use Esbenshades.com as a shopping tool, so prices there stay equal to in-store plus shipping. In support of local stores and customers, the website’s shoppers can view store-by-store inventory, buy online, order delivery or pick up in-store. These costly features aren’t readily available in out-of-the-box e-commerce shopping solutions, but Esbenshade finds that local customers increasingly pre-shop online.
Hard goods constitute most of Esbenshade’s online sales, though plants are a focus. One challenge is compliance with plant regulations in all 48 contiguous states — something Esbenshade feels many online sellers ignore. “We’re playing by the rules, and we’re up against competition that, at this point, is doing whatever they want,” he says. A search on Amazon supports those concerns.
Like Smith, Esbenshade emphasizes the stringent requirements tied to Amazon selling privileges, but business has been robust. The IGC plans to expand on Amazon and other online sales channels, including a new dotcom of their own by year end. “The goal is to continue growing our online presence through an omnichannel perspective. We don’t want all of our eggs to be in one basket,” Esbenshade says.
Online retailer Garden Crossings in Zeeland, Mich., started as an online mail-order business in 2002, focused on new and unusual plants not readily available in local garden centers.
Their brick-and-mortar retail garden center came later. In addition to its own thriving online business, Garden Crossings fulfills orders for several leading plant brands and independent retailers that operate online storefronts. They do not do business on Amazon.com or any other online marketplace.
Several factors influenced that decision, but concerns about quality and customer success keep the retailer focused on their current business. “One primary reason we don’t do business on Amazon is that you can’t take orders in winter for spring shipment,” says owner Heidi Grasman. “I’m not going to ship when it’s inappropriate for a zone. Amazon is ship-on-demand.
“Our main goal is we want the customer to have success in what they’re growing. If they don’t, it’s ultimately a reflection on us,” Grasman continues. “Quality and customer success are our No. 1 things, so we prefer to do it solely through our website and not to do business on Amazon at this time.”
Selling restrictions and independent-only promises
As online sales grow, concerns about brand integrity and exclusivity build among brand manufacturers and IGCs. “Brand manufacturers don’t know how to navigate it, and they’re extremely concerned with protecting brand integrity,” Esbenshade says. Many vendors now prohibit marketplace sales of their products. Policies change frequently, with little notice, sometimes leaving online retailers with product they can no longer sell online.
As a local store and online seller, Esbenshade is concerned about manufacturers that offer independent-only brands, which then end up sold directly by Amazon. “If we’re selling it, it’s always going to be cheaper in-store. But if Amazon is selling it, that’s different,” he says. “We kind of like Amazon, and we kind of feel like we don’t like Amazon. It’s a really weird relationship.
“The manufacturer can keep it out of Home Depot or Lowe’s, but what are they going to do about Amazon.com? I’m talking about products Amazon is able to obtain and directly sell themselves — not third-party sellers,” Esbenshade continues. “My question is, how is Amazon.com as a seller any different than Lowe’s and Home Depot? I think there’s going to be more manufacturers policing that, but it’s only going to happen when IGCs put pressure on them to do so.”
So what does it mean for your IGC?
As Amazon advances in live plants and other categories, views about online sales as threats or opportunities for brick-and-mortar IGCs continue to differ. Smith hopes that Amazon listings with extensive, accurate plant information — covering hardiness, dormancy, container size, seasonal appearance and life cycle — serve as both shopping tools that generate local garden center sales and educational tools that reach non-gardeners where they shop.
“I’m optimistic,” Smith says. “I don’t see this as displacing independent garden centers at all. I see this as an opportunity to continue to grow with garden centers and build [a larger] consumer base. I’m hoping this is the kind of gateway that helps people become gardeners, especially Millennials and people always on their phone, and brings them into gardening and garden centers.”
Esbenshade tempers optimism with down-to-earth advice: “I believe the notion that Amazon will put IGCs out of business is false, although I think there’s some warning that should be heeded.” He says that product mix in stores will change as IGC customers turn to online sales for some categories. Online plants will grow and be a force to reckon with, but he believes avid gardeners won’t bypass IGCs.
“When you look at the core of IGCs in our spring season, there’s an element that Amazon is not going to be able to pick up,” he says. “Will it put pressure on us in other product categories? Absolutely. Is it for every IGC to get into? No.”
With 13 years of online experience, Esbenshade stresses that selling online is a totally different business than a retail store — one that takes significant time and capital to develop. “If you decide to go into online business, it doesn’t change what you have to do to keep your store relevant,” he says. “They’re two different businesses.”
Esbenshade offers this final tip: “If what you do well is run your garden center, you should probably really focus on that and the aspects that are going to keep you relevant in this changing marketplace. I would recommend IGC owners and operators figure out what you’re really good at — and stick with it.”
Jolene is a freelance writer, former hort professional, and frequent contributor to GIE Media publications. Reach her at email@example.com.
Pesticides, herbicides and other control products are an important aspect of managing a healthy garden, but many consumers lack the knowledge to be successful with these products, and often, control products are sequestered to the back of independent garden centers, with very few instructions and little signage. There are also misconceptions about control products that can be detrimental to gardens, discouraging homeowners who may be struggling with pest and disease issues.
“I’ve been a horticulture consultant here in our diagnostic lab for 16-plus years now, and pesticide use at the consumer level varies considerably,” says Alice Raimondo, horticulture consultant at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “There are many folks who can tolerate spots on leaves or some caterpillar injury and a few weeds in the lawn, as they avoid usage of all pesticides in their yard. Some folks will ask for the best, least toxic material to manage a pest, or how to mitigate the problem without applying anything. Some folks want a pristine yard and have zero tolerance of unwanted species.”
It’s important that garden centers serve the various needs of these many types of customers, who may otherwise become frustrated when their gardens are under attack and they don’t know how to defend their plants.
“Treating too late (or just taking one stab at treatment) can make gardeners feel like failures, because their plant doesn’t spring back to life for them,” says Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist specializing in ornamentals at Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center. “Gardeners who feel ineffective can quit trying, and walk away from the wonderful world of gardening to take up bowling.”
We checked in with Raimondo and Daughtrey about common misconceptions that consumers have, and discussed suggestions for teaching consumers how to use these products and merchandising them at garden centers.
Garden Center: How can retailers define “control products” in a way that consumers can understand and that emphasizes their importance?
Margery Daughtrey: A retailer might wish to refer to their “control products” area as a “Plant Protection Station” and stock it with “Plant Protection Materials.” Within this area, I would think they would want to have subsections for “Biocontrols for Plant Protection” and “Chemicals for Plant Protection”. There might even be a reason to have “Organic” as another heading for a section, because some homeowners will want that. The subject is bewildering to many gardeners, so more signs [indicating] “For disease control,” “For insect control” and “Keep deer away” will help.
Alice Raimondo: If you are talking about pesticides, I would prefer to stick with that terminology. Pesticides are important to protect edible crops from injury to improve [customers’] harvest, and are important to protect their investments in the plants. By investments, I mean their time and monetary investments, while hopefully improving the health of their landscapes. When used correctly, this can happen with minimal injury to the applicator, the plant or non-target species. The “used correctly” statement is the most important statement, as I believe the pesticide label needs to be better understood and actually read by both the consumer and the garden center who may be selling or recommending the products.
GC: What are some of the most common misconceptions consumers have about control products, or perhaps even the most detrimental?
MD: Probably one of the most common misconceptions would be that a one-time treatment will fix something for all time. Along with that one, there is the misconception that when a symptom is obvious, it is a good time to treat to prevent it. People sometimes fail to realize that if they were slow to recognize a problem, there may be absolutely no point to treating this year — next year they can watch for early signs of a problem and treat preventively. Or even anticipate a problem and treat beginning a few weeks earlier then when they noticed trouble this year.
AR: I believe that consumers fail to recognize the toxicity of some of the products they apply and may apply them without reading the label, which can potentially cause many issues.
GC: Why can that be a problem for consumers (and retailers), and how can garden centers provide information to prevent that misconception/misuse?
MD: A staff person acting as a “plant doctor” is an ideal way for a garden center to provide good counsel to gardeners who bring in samples (or photos) of their ailing plants.
AR: If labels aren’t read or understood, then [customers] potentially injure the very thing they are trying to protect or cure. Non-target species might be killed, not to mention injury to themselves or lack of pest or disease management if the application is not correct, such as wrong product for the problem, wrong application time, etc. Again, it goes back to [reading] the label.
GC: Although directions are available, consumers often use products incorrectly in terms of how much they apply, where, how often, and when. Is there something retailers can provide for some of these products through signage or staff training, or both?
MD: A little signage wouldn’t hurt, but it should be funny and helpful sounding rather than admonitory, with cartoons rather than just words: “More isn’t better. Follow the label!” or “Treat smart — Get a diagnosis of your plant problem at your cooperative extension office.” Or they could advertise weekend plant problem ID classes by their (trained) staff at their garden center.
Choosing the right product for your needs requires a lot of browsing and time, even for an experienced gardener. Retailers can help by providing good lighting, and how about a magnifying glass for reading the small print? And how about taking the top 10 garden problems, and making one sheet for each, listing the “solutions” your store carries under each of the problems? This could be in a notebook, and could really help the customer when there isn’t a staff person handy.
AR: A consumer looking for a product to manage a pest hopefully reads labels. If not, the garden center staff should help them by reading labels and perhaps have more conversations with consumers regarding the issue at hand to determine the best course of action. For instance, is a moss killer applied to a shady lawn really going to get rid of the moss in the long run? Maybe suggest the consumer contact their cooperative extension office for advice first to determine the actual problem if the garden center staff isn’t sure rather than being product oriented — test, don’t guess.
GC: “Organic” is top of mind for many consumers. How can garden centers cater to these customers with their product assortment and signage?
MD: They can put tools for organic gardening in one place. Bags of compost/mulch could be piled in this area, [as well as] books on how to garden organically, birdhouses, and pollinator-attracting plants.
AR: Organic is also a misunderstood term. Organic is related to or obtained from living things; [i.e.] carbon containing. I think people think of “organic” as “safe” and use these terms interchangeably, and organic pesticides [can] have greater toxicity to non-target species. Again, it comes down to the understanding of the label and the intended use. I also think that “organic,” to many consumers, means “pesticide-free,” which isn’t the case. There are organic pesticides that are allowed in organic farming or organic vegetable production. Maybe instead of stressing the word “organic,” a better term would be “less toxic?”
GC: Do you have suggestions when it comes to merchandising control products?
MD: They are often on shelves in the back, as if the business is ashamed to offer them. The back is okay, but a sign saying “Plant Protection Station” and some big photos showing tomato hornworms, leaf spots, potato beetles or such things would be a reminder of what the Plant Protection Station is all about. Having someone in that area to help the customers at least one day a week would be a good idea, too.
AR: Maybe they could be arranged according to category, [i.e.] weeds, disease, insects, deer, etc., similar to how a drugstore might have their over-the-counter medicines arranged by cold/flu, pain relievers, and antacids/gas.
I was also thinking maybe some products could be sold near the plants or seeds. This is pretty common with lawn seeds and fertilizers and lime being right next to lawn insecticides and fungicides, but why not have insecticidal soaps near the vegetable plants or annuals?
GC: Is there anything else I didn’t ask that is important to mention on this topic?
AR: Garden centers can help create better educated consumers by first reaching out to their local cooperative extension office to see if training for their staff is available. Better trained staff at the garden center will provide better advice to consumers, who ultimately make better decisions.