Horticulture Magazine now a part of "Living Ready"

If there was any doubt in your mind about peoples interests in self-sufficiency or survival subjects this is for you. “Horticulture, The Art and Science of Smart Gardening” magazine is becoming a part of “Living Ready”.  Here is what Living Ready say’s they are all about.

"You will love being a member of LIVING READY if you are honing, or want to begin honing, life skills such as: • growing your own food, and canning & preserving that food • hunting for food, and then preparing and storing the catch • using herbal remedies to save a trip to the doctor's office • creating non-toxic cleaners for your home • raising small animals such as chickens, rabbits, pygmy goats • beekeeping • bartering and networking to meet the needs of yourself and your family • training to be suitably armed to survive threats against you and your"

According to Living Ready Community Leader Patty Craft Dunning, " Horticulture: The Art & Science of Smart Gardening will continue to be published in print just as it always has. Nothing has changed there, and Living Ready 's magazine and website will be able to share similar info as what you read in Horticulture (for example, edible gardening topics like what Peter Garnham writes for Hort, understanding pest management, how to plan and plant edibles for canning, etc.)" Patty adds, "our parent company, @F+W Media, also publishes Gun Digest. And, yes, there will plenty of info in Living Ready about how to be suitably armed to hunt-and-gather food as well as how to protect yourself and your family in threatening situations."

Smart move on this companies part. The interest in these subjects will only grow as we continue to see the poor response of our government when it comes to situations like Hurricane Sandy, and other natural and man made disasters. It’s seems only wise to be prepared where ever you live.

In addition, people are just interested in learning some of the skills that we have forgotten over the last couple of generations. Growing your own food, protecting your family, and being able to deal with the various natural and man made disasters that pop up. This interest is especially strong with the younger demographic like Generation Y, who we in the horticulture trades want to attract. For some there is a "doomsday" type feel to this, but for most people it's just exciting to be able to take charge, and see if you can do it. It's about living better, and closer to the land.

Interesting times in the horticulture field these days. If you have followed this blog you know I encourage garden centers to become the local source of information and tools to help people reach those goals. It’s one way for smaller independent locally owned garden centers to stay relevant. Become indispensable to your community by providing them the tools and services they are most interested in. It would appear being prepared, and self-sufficiency are two of them.

We can grow that!

Back on September 4th I wrote a post titled, “You Can’t Grow That”. It concerned Scotts/Miracle Gro, and its trade marking the phrase, “You can gro that!” The problem was it was a phrase thought up by CL Fornari, nursery women and author. I wrote, “According to her website, garden writer CL Fornari decided last October to start a campaign titled, ‘You Can Grow That’. Once a week any garden writer who wished to participate would write an article under that heading… Long story short, Scotts/Miracle Gro applied for a trademark on “You Can Gro That!”, after she had broached the idea on The Internet.” Actually, the idea was first broached by C.L. in a "closed" garden center/nursery trade group on Facebook, and not just put out for anyone to see on The Internet.

The good news today is Scotts/Miracle Gro has backed off from the trade marking, leaving CL with her phrase to do as she pleases. Here is the story. It’s quite a turn around and something I wouldn’t have expected from the company. Something tells me it was social media and the avalanche of bad PR Scotts has received over the last year. Whatever the reason it’s nice to see Scotts/Miracle Gro do the right thing. It’s also fun to be a part of something that is changing for the better how we do business in the world of horticulture.

Organizing by not organizing

I read in the latest edition of “Today’s Garden Center” magazine an article titled “Slow Down”. Written by Sid Raisch of The Garden Center Group, it’s an interesting read concerning the changing garden retail landscape. What caught my eye was this. “Slow Retail Is Not Organized. There is no single controlling organization to the Slow movement. Its momentum is created worldwide by individuals who endorse and spread their passion that the Slow way is the better way.” This is the way it’s going to be going forward. Groups of like minded people connecting via The Internet and creating the change necessary to achieve their goals. Often the groups form without any real motivation or goals, but rather a shared interest. Soon themes may emerge that strike the groups fancy, and the group takes on a more proactive role. I see this in our trade group, Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries. Started as a place to just “talk shop”, it has morphed into a dynamic, action oriented group that is literally changing how business is being done in the horticultural world.

So rather than try and come up with a “plan of action”, such as the trade’s current fixation on creating "campaigns", use the “slow down” idea. Using “slow movement” thinking themes and ideas emerge through collaboration that can help the individual nurseries and garden centers who take part. Help the individual nursery do a better job, the customers will follow, and the “trade” will benefit. Actionable ideas that have a direct impact on the business, rather than a campaign which will have little or no effect on individual business. Guess I am just getting a bit tired of campaigns. So often it’s a forced movement that has no real underlying passion.

“Slow Gardening”, that’s something I can relate to. Our customers might ask, “I am already hungry for change in my life; show me how the garden can help. Help me slow down, and reconnect with the natural world. “ We ought to show the customers the benefit of doing business with us. That will really do something for our businesses.

If you’re an owner or employee of a independent garden center or nursery and want to join us go here.

To join our other trade group for nurseries, vendors, and garden media. Go here.

Honest dialogue

One of the goals with starting our Facebook page for retail garden centers, their vendors, and media was to foster open dialogue. So often it seems that the trade news we hear is a bit watered down. You don't get the feeling that your hearing what people really think. Much of the time it seems that traditional media has to walk a fine line between open dialogue, and their advertisers. Not at our Facebook page. When you wake up and check out the site you just never know who will be involved, and what is going to transpire. Today is one of those days. If you a garden center owner, employee, vendor, or garden media (this includes garden blogger's) you can join.  You will need a Facebook account. It is changing the trade as we know it. Don't miss out. Go here to join, and make a difference, and don't forget to make sure that somewhere on your Facebook page it indicates how you are involved in the gardening trade.

You can't grow that!

Here is a story that shows just how quickly the horticultural industry in diverging into two different types of business. On the one hand we have smaller, independent garden professionals and on the other hand we have the larger concerns who seem terrified of what the smaller concerns are up to. How else does one explain Scotts/Miracle Gro's recent actions? According to her website, garden writer CL Fornari decided last October to start a campaign titled, “You Can Grow That”. Once a week any garden writer who wished to participate would write an article under that heading. You can read about it here. Long story short, Scotts/Miracle Gro applied for a trademark on “You Can Gro That!”, after she had broached the idea on The Internet.

What’s up with Scotts? At a recent shareholders meeting in January 2012, Chairman and CEO Jim Hagedorn said, "We are making a step change in fiscal 2012 and setting a new benchmark for our advertising investment," Hagedorn told shareholders. "Both our Scotts and Miracle-Gro brands will be supported by completely new campaigns. While we will continue to support individual products in each commercial, we will do so with a consistent approach and message that creates a halo effect for the brands. I believe this is some of the best creative work we have done in years and I am confident it will impact our business – not just in 2012 – but over the longer-term as well."

Then last August Scotts reported, “During today's conference call to discuss its third quarter results, the Company said it expects adjusted earnings for fiscal 2012 to be approximately $2.00 per share and mistakenly stated an expected loss in the fourth quarter of about 40 cents. To clarify, the Company anticipates an operating loss in the fourth quarter which will translate into an adjusted loss per share closer to 60 cents. The Company still expects adjusted earnings per share of about $2.00 for the year.”

Like all of us, Scotts is trying to figure out its place in the changing gardening scene. Its reputation has taken a beating these last few years, and people just don’t seem to want to garden in a way that helped build the company in the past. Garden centers no longer feel it necessary to carry their products, as there are better alternatives now available. Lawns are slowly loosing favor with the gardening public, and lawn care is where Scotts ruled. Finally, through actions like trade marking a phrase, “You can grow that” it shows a certain un-becoming characteristic. It seems destined to alienate itself even further from the very people it would normally count on for support, garden writers and their readers.

Building the virtual trade show

While it would be nice if everyone could attend trade shows like The IGC Show in Chicago, the fact is not everyone can. To help those who cannot make some of these trade shows we developed a Facebook page, IGC Marketplace for vendors and buyers to connect. Have  a service or product you would like to see sold at Independent Garden Centers? Are you a nursery person looking for ideas and products that will differentiate your store from the rest? Our page might just be the answer. The future of independent garden centers is being built in forums and pages just like this.  The IGC Marketplace is the only member run marketplace for the garden trade in the world. Why not give it a try? Go here to check it out. Kind of like a virtual trade show. Plus, we have that really cool logo.

Success by thinking small

Finding businesses and people who have become successful by thinking and staying small is a pleasure of mine. "Small is cool" is about people and business who have found success by traveling  a different path. The competition in the nursery trade is fierce, with the box stores bringing in the very suppliers that at one time we're exclusive to the independent channel. Trying to compete on their scale is impossible for most  smaller garden shops, so we need to find a different way. I see examples of different businesses who have achieved some success, however they define it, by staying true to their beliefs and staying small. Today in SFGate an article titled, "Wine shops find success in thinking small"caught my eye. Wine merchants have many of the same concerns as garden centers might have. We read that, "of course, great wine boutiques have been here all along. But in recent years, those who deliberately chose the small path have seen customer loyalty survive even when the recession pushed a $60 splurge down to $20." It continues with, "supermarkets and large retailers like BevMo have always offered ease of shopping - although at times it feels like I'm staring at a long row of wines that came from the same big spigot. But buying wine is becoming more intimate. Customers are willing to pay for expert curation."

So while the big suppliers like BevMo and Costco will always have a market, these wine merchants in the SFGate article have found a way to survive and thrive by, "...downsizing. Similar to what happened on Bay Area wine lists, buyers decided they didn't have to be all things to all people. Stores could be smaller, which meant lower rents and the chance to do one thing really well."  Some garden centers are starting to see this, and are headed in that direction. Should you?

Monrovia branded plants to be sold in Lowe's stores

According to Today's Garden Center Magazine, "Monrovia will begin selling its branded plants in Lowe’s stores in 2013. As a result of an exclusive agreement with Lowe’s, Monrovia plants, currently sold in Home Depot in plain pots, will pull out of Home Depot." In the article David Kirby, the new vice-president of sales say's , "that Lowe’s agreeing to maintain the premium brand image, partly through pricing, was key to Monrovia making the agreement. Until 2010, Monrovia had sold exclusively to independent garden centers." Not sure what "premium brand" image they are talking about? It's the one independent garden centers worked many years to help Monrovia build. Oh well...

We have covered Monrovia at this blog over the years, and there is a lot of background info here. I always thought they would end up at the box stores even after they asked their independent customers to buy more, or else. I even met with Monrovia executives in 2011 who told me they would never let their branded plants go to the boxes.

They might do o.k with the Lowe's deal. Really, what other choice do they have? Many independents have stopped buying from them as they have begun their move into the box stores. In addition, many of Monrovia's independent customers have closed, or gone out of business. The only place that offers any growth for them in the short term is the box stores and chains. Even there, it's likely to be muted as the consolidation of the horticultural businesses continues and economics work against some of the larger wholesale operations, like Monrovia.

Capitol Nursery in Sacramento closing it's flagship store

Capitol Nursery in Sacramento will be closing it's original retail outlet on Freeport Blvd. this Labor Day. According to The Sacramento Bee, "The chain's longtime owner, Chuck Armstrong, whose father and uncle founded the company in 1936, will retire at the end of August." Capitol Nursery has two other locations which will remain open.Over 40 part and full time employees will lose their jobs. Capitol Nurseries problems can be traced to a couple of obvious reasons. As Farmer Fred Hoffman said in The Bee Article, "It's the economy,...with the foreclosures, all those empty homes don't need landscaping." Also important, when gardening changed Capitol didn't change with it. According to owner Chuck Armstrong, "the closure of his flagship location indicates a disappointing culture change. Gardening no longer holds the old-fashioned allure that it did in the past. He said, "Years ago, on just about any block on a spring day, you would see dozens of people out in their yards, gardening. You just don't see that anymore."

This is why I feel staying small and nimble is the best bet for garden centers at this time. The changes come faster and faster these days, and large operations like Capitol have a difficult time turning the ship of commerce when necessary. When we went from selling mostly ornamental plants to selling vegetables there we're just too many gardening places still in business for the need. According to The Bee, "Since the start of the recession, nurseries around the country – including a half-dozen in the Sacramento region – have closed." There are plenty more to come.

What many people don't see are the suppliers who get hurt when this happens. Klupenger's Nursery, which has been supplying garden centers for 60 years just announced the closure of their Aurora, Oregon business. Between Capitol and Klupenger's there is 100 years of nursery experience being lost. While it's easy to say this or that is the reason these places are closing, it's a shame to see so many good nursery people out of work. Best of luck to them all.

I received this press release from Capitol Nursery after this post was written. Thanks to Keith Miner for forwarding this to me.

"Capital Nursery Freeport is Relocating All Operations to Elk Grove and Citrus Heights Stores. After 76 years, the Freeport Boulevard store is closing. The Elk Grove and Citrus Heights stores are under new management.

Capital Nursery, Northern California's premier choice for plants, landscape products, and garden services for more than three generations, is relocating its Freeport Boulevard operations to its Elk Grove and Citrus Heights stores at the end of this month. Under new management, the Elk Grove and Citrus Heights locations are ready to reclaim their long-held position as the number one trusted retail nursery in Northern California.

The Raley's supermarket chain, which for years has been interested in purchasing the nursery's Freeport property, recently made an offer that Capital Nursery could not turn down. A store closing sale will commence this weekend, offering a great opportunity for customers to stock up on gardening and landscaping needs. With the consolidation of operations into two locations, Capital Nursery is positioning itself to vigorously reestablish itself in the market, reconnect with longtime loyal customers, expand its customer base, and recreate the special quality garden center environment that Sacramento families have enjoyed visiting for decades.

About Capital Nursery

Founded in 1936 by the Armstrong brothers, Eugene and Charles, family-owned Capital Nursery has served multiple generations of Sacramento gardeners and homeowners. For decades, it had been the preeminent nursery in Northern California—with a reputation for the finest plant material and quality landscaping."

Sunset magazine, now a box store brand.

Sunset magazine seems intent on dragging itself into the box, and chain stores.  According to SFGate, "Sunset introduced a line of branded plants designed to thrive and shine in virtually every California garden. The introduction was timed to coincide with the release of the ninth edition of Sunset's influential Western Garden Book."  The article continues, "Sunset's Western Garden Collection is on nursery shelves in all 89 Orchard Supply Hardware stores and 40 Lowe's in California, and the company hopes to expand into selected small chains and independent garden centers."

The plants in the Sunset Western Garden Collection are not even new to the trade. They are in most cases already being sold, but will now be "branded" as "The Sunset Collection". Sunset say's, "The Sunset Western Garden Collection is the first live plant collection to focus exclusively on top performing plants for the Western gardener. The Sunset Western Garden Collection will debut this spring." What a bunch of crock! I, and other western independent garden centers have been selling plants that focus exclusively on the western gardener for many, many years. I guess our independent garden center brands don't count with Sunset.

When Sunset released the most recent edition of their "formally" influential Sunset Western Garden Book, many small garden retailers we're upset when the books showed up at Costco first. Topping  it off, they we're at  prices we small retailers would have to pay just to be able to sell them in our stores. Now Sunset disses the small locally owned garden centers that helped build the Sunset Brand over all those years, and heads straight to the box stores with their collection?

What's with all these branded plant collections? Does no one do anything original anymore? It's all cut and paste for these companies. Take existing plants or products, buy the rights, slap your name on them, tell people how original you are, and hope no one notices it's just more noise. Sunset magazine has managed in just a couple of attempts to alienate small locally owned garden centers across the west. Why would an independent garden center sell plants that are easily recognized as a "box store" brand with Sunsets name on them? I know we won't. Like other small western retailers we will concentrate on building our own brand. We have been "focusing exclusively on top performing plants for the Western gardener" long before this recent attempt to stay relevant from Sunset.

Will you be at The IGC Show in August?

In August the largest trade show for Independent Garden Centers takes place in Chicago. The Independent Garden Center Show website say's,  "...210,000 square feet of vendor exhibits stretch far out toward the stunning blue waters of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier, where more than 1,000 exhibitors meet face-to-face with thousands of IGC buyers – just like you – from all over the country and around the world. The flower-filled streets framing downtown Chicago’s stores, restaurants, attractions and sights, plus spectacular Navy Pier, lakeside Chicago’s No. 1 destination (and proud home to the IGC Show, its largest annual event), add to the excitement." Until last year I had not been to Chicago since the late 70's, passing through on the "old grey dog" (Greyhound). That was a epic trip! Last year I was quite taken with the beautiful shoreline, as well as downtown Chicago. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much fun walking around downtown Chicago can be. I look forward to returning in August. Our Facebook group, Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries receives special pricing for the workshops, as well as a discounted rate for attending the garden center tour. When your a member of our group you also get to hang with us in "the VIP balcony lounge" upstairs – along with a open free beer & wine bar. We'll enjoy the performance of Dennis DeYoung of STYX.


If your a owner, or employee of a independent garden center or nursery go here to join our group.

Disclosure: I am a guest of the IGC show, and and as such receive compensation for my attendance.

Saying one thing, doing another.

An interesting moment on Twitter today when a garden media personality got excited about seeing a certain plant brand in their local Lowe's, and decided to Tweet their excitement. A couple of independent garden centers decided to Tweet their displeasure to the personality. You see, they also carry that particular brand of plants, and are not too happy about being left out of the marketing.

You will see more of this as smaller, locally owned garden centers realize that they have the ability to answer back. It's also going to get a whole lot harder for "media" people and branding companies to claim they want to support independent, locally owned business all the while promoting the box stores instead.

The new IGC Marketplace

Want to join others who are changing the way business is done in horticulture? The new IGC Marketplace on Facebook is a closed group for vendors to share what they have, and IGC owners & staffers to ask for what they need. It's not mean to take away from the various trade shows available, but rather to enhance the possibilities for members. The rules are simple at The IGC Marketplace.

1. Products posted must be garden related (no iPods, shoes, etc.)

2. Don't post pricing. We don't want issues with price fixing. Haggle that part out via private message.

Well, that seems simple. It's a place to meet, see whats available, and make contacts. If your a vendor be sure to get on the vendor list so potential customers can learn more about you.

Since it's a closed group everyone taking part is identified, which makes it a brighter, friendlier place to do business. No spam, no anonymous posts, no pressure, and no travel.

To change the world, go here.

Exciting times in gardening

I have been remiss in cultivating this blog, and thank a long time reader for reminding me to do just that. We have been busy at the nursery with a spring not dominated by cold and rain, like last year. The weather has cooperated and people continue to buy edibles like there is no tomorrow. I enjoy the edible crowd as they have put a lot of effort into their garden, and they will do what's right to keep it productive. When you hear that generation x or y are not into gardening, check the source. No sign of that here. My customer base is at least 50% under 30 years of age. They are excited about growing the stuff they consume and want to patronize local business, if you have what they want. They don't want synthetics! Get your organic groove on, because they want to know how to do it all! I disagree with those who say we are not in the job of education. I think that's exactly what is needed, and what we should do. Teach a person how to garden...

Small is cool! After thirty years in this biz I can say, keep it small and keep your cool! It's so easy when everything is riding on your decisions to work yourself to exhaustion. If it feels like it's getting out of control, slow down. Take the time to focus on the person in front of you at the moment. That's what it's all about. Not saying we don't need to "make hay while the sun shines", but we can only do so much.

There is no better time for the smaller garden business. Being small means you can react to changes that come faster and faster every day. Being small means you can excel at your craft, and command the price for your work that you need to stay in business. The future of garden bio-diversity rests in the hands of gardeners, and small garden businesses.

How great it is to be alive when so much is changing. In the garden trades we get to help guide people in their efforts to live better.It's a trade that is perfectly suited for the world we live in. Did I say these we're exciting times?

Support your locally run garden businesses

LOGON Having been in the garden center business for 30 years, I have seen all sorts of changes. A very powerful and positive change is the ability of gardening businesses to communicate with one another via The Internet. Sure, we communicated before via trade meetings once a month, or phone calls to see what price their petunia six packs we're, but that was about it. Many of us lived in an isolation of sorts, always wondering what other gardening businesses we're thinking and doing.

That's changing, and in a very positive way for smaller garden businesses. With our Independent Garden Center Group we have garden center owners and employees  communicating about all sorts of subjects. It's a place where you can ask your peers if they have ever tried this idea or that one, and receive thoughtful responses quickly. The best part is many of the subjects and ideas worked out in the group are making a real difference to businesses bottom lines. The people in the group want to be there, and that makes all the difference. Look to our group to continue making a positive difference in the garden center trade.

To give our fans a place to show their support we created "LOGON to GROW". It stands for locally owned garden centers or nurseries. We want to spread the news that supporting locally owned, well run business is vital to the community. If you don't, then all we will be left with to buy our garden supplies is box stores, mega growers, and chemical companies. As more and more people dive into growing their own food a resource for information and goods is vital. We have lots of cool ideas to share with you and would like to have your opinion on how we can do a even better job. Come celebrate local, green, garden businesses at LOGON to GROW.