Fighting commoditization. Who is your customer?

Here are some interesting comments from Sid Raisch, president of Horticultural Advantage. He list's six defining encounters during these defining times. The one that stood out for me is number 4, "Encounter suppliers". Sid say's, "On some level we are what we sell and must vigorously fight commoditization. Is it time to develop a new level of distribution partnership? Some smart breeders, young plant producers, and manufacturers should be creating more controlled distribution to protect their new products (and most deserving resellers) from becoming commodities." Visiting Home Depot the other day I say row upon row of clipped rosemary being sold for prices that an independent can't possibly match. Will they sell them all?  Who cares? They will just return them to the supplier and pay nothing! Who is growing these plants? That's what happened to the 15 gallon tree market in our area. Redwoods, Birch, Flowering Plums, etc. are now commodities being sold for $29.99 ea.

Who is to blame? I don't know if anyone is to blame. As a grower, in the past I would have been thrilled to get a account with Home Depot. Not any more.  I think these days partnering with the chains is going to be a loosing proposition, in the long run. They are constantly working the grower for lower prices, not paying until it sells at the cash register, and other practices that will continue to push profits down.

There seem to be two horticultural industries developing.  One side supplying the chains and boxes, the other the independents. I agree with Sid that we as independents need to partner with growers who want to work with us to preserve our distribution line. We as independents should refuse to buy from suppliers who charge one price to the chains, and one to the independents. We should be partnering with growers who don't fall for the pay by scan scam. I realize in some areas that these growers are the only game in town. As an independent you might be stuck using these growers. In the future that has to change!

It use to be fashionable in our trade to say that Home Depot, while undercutting the local independent at every corner, was at least exposing people to gardening. Once people we're exposed to the fun of gardening at the box stores they would head over to the independents as their interest in gardening increased. I wonder if that's still true?

No doubt we are in a defining time! The key is Sid's defining encounter #3, "Encounter the customer as a person, not just as a consumer." This is what will differentiate the independent from the box store. Box stores treat you as a consumer. Independents can treat the customer as a friend. We need to work with our customers. We need to find out more about their wants and needs. The best way to do that is truly get to know who it is walking into the store. Home Depot is trying. They jump out of all the corners now, asking if you are finding everything o.k. There must of been some memos sent down telling everyone to start paying attention. Something to do with falling stock prices.

The seeds of change are happening as we speak. I have noticed more and more blog posts from garden blogger's talking about this very issue. Who are garden blogger's? A very small, but very influential group of people. I have always thought that the internet, and it's ability to put like minded people together, would work better for the small business than the larger corporations. While garden bloggers are a small percentage of people who garden, they are very influential. As more and more people become internet savvy they will be exposed to these "experts" who are generally singing the prasies of worthy independents, or at least having an honest discussion about us. Let the chains spend all their money on large ad campaigns designed for the masses. It's through the internet, and other community building areas that we will see the fruit of our efforts realized.