“Junk sets the price, quality sells!”

Article written for www.patch.com

Junk sets the price, quality sells! If that doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will. These are not my words, but rather those from a grower in the Pacific Northwest. Bob Heitzman, an industry leader and friend from the Michell’s Company, shared these words with me back in September when we were talking about the industry. We were discussing the shift in tide of what ours as an industry has gone through. Perhaps a sign of the times for all industries that people are searching for bargains. But what about quality and service? Maybe it’s just me, but I was taught that it is cheaper to do it right the first time.

Having been in retail for the past 20+ years I have a fair understanding of how customers would like to be treated. Offering quality products, fair pricing and great service help independent garden centers set themselves apart from box stores. The notion that I can buy something cheap doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good to do so. Don’t misunderstand me that I’m against sales. I enjoy getting something at a good price as much as the next person. What I’m talking about is the perception that hugely discounted plant material is a good buy. Chlorotic plant material that is root bound, sitting in muck in displays that have not been thoughtfully changed out as the seasons go on is a disservice to the customer as well as the retailer. Stressed plant material can be given new life through the efforts of TLC (tender loving care), by the right person, but not without considerable effort and some expense. Simply installing a stressed plant into the ground is not enough. Soil amendments, fertilizers and enhancing root development are all parts of the equation. Those dollars spent and time doing so should be given consideration as to the dollar cost ratio. And what happens if the plant dies?

The argument of guaranteeing life, in this case trees and shrubs, has always been a topic of intense conversation in the industry. Why do we guarantee living things in our industry? Do doctors guarantee the health of your newborn baby? Does eating right and leading a healthy lifestyle ensure that you will be free of disease? Guarantees vary from garden center to garden center. Some provide no warranty other than the plant is true to name and others go so far as to guarantee it for a year or more. Our own experience is that if you educate the customer both in the vernacular as well as a physical demonstration you can eliminate most problems. Couple that with teaching good watering habits and the return of plant material is infinitesimal.

With an increasing demand for premium plant material and the realization that ours is an industry dealing with perishable commodities, at the mercy of Mother Nature, it’s no wonder the cost of producing such a product has increased. I have suggested to many growers that they should include a born on date, the same as beer companies have done, not to suggest freshness but rather educate the consumer as to how old the plant is that they are buying. There should be an understanding of the research and science, to some degree, that goes into premium nursery stock. It’s no accident that a rhododendron grown by one company is different than that grown by another. Our expectations are that a rhododendron should have a nice, full appearance, free of any blemishes, broken branches and have a deep green color. This does not happen by accident! Soils, amendments, advanced fertilizers, pruning, chemical and biological controls, spacing, patents, research and development, propagating techniques, grafting, organic