After working on and with garden retailers through at least 7 Presidents and several Popes I feel as qualified as the next man to weigh in on the current branding issue. Do I think garden retailers should be their own brand? Yes. Do I agree that they should not carry brands consumers can find elsewhere. No. Do you think independent garden retailers should carry their own brands? Yes and No. Huh?
First you have to define what goes into the brand memory of a consumer or their reaction to brand exposure. Branding is way more than a slogan or logo, service experience or after-sale reputation. It is all those things and more. Branding is the effort to create and hold a positive, value-based image in the consumer’s mind. So it encompasses any and all contacts with the product, the company, even the message itself. A measure of brand value is the retained impression. So EVERYTHING impacts the brand value, from the employee’s body piercings to the amount of tomatoes produced by that “heaviest cropper”.
Brand Value for Independent Garden Retailers
The brand value for most independent garden retailers is the shopping experience and the after-sale success with the product or service. Sure the retailer can go to private label in hard goods and/or annuals but if that complicates the shopping experience or reduces the end result, the brand gets a negative score in the consumer’s mind – period.
Independents are proud of their reputation, experience and information for good reason. But the end result is what matters to the consumer and they trust the retailer to be on their side in that quest. If that means carrying brands the consumer is familiar with and have confidence in, then so be it. To not carry a national brand seen on TV that morning confuses even the best customer who might think “If it’s the only name in gardening I know, why don’t they carry it?”
National Brands Can Make the Shopping Experience Better for Some
I had a spirited discussion with a manager a couple of years ago when I asked why he didn’t carry ‘Round Up’. He explained that they had an independent-only brand with the same ingredients and gave a higher Gross Margin percent, adding that they serve all their customers and tell them it is the same as Round Up only better.
To me, this makes as much sense as a grocery store not carrying Coke or Pepsi. How much more business could they do if they switched that employee from justifying their short-sighted policy, to selling to those consumers who genuinely needed help to spend real money? Way more dollars on the bottom line than they’d lose on a few bottles of herbicide.
National brands can be self-service: making the shopping experience better for those get-in-and-out-quickly customers, as well as for those too nervous to engage in conversation and go somewhere that they know carries the brand. (And there are indications that younger generations, having done their research on-line before they arrive in the store, don’t want to be “served” anyway.)
The Bottom Line
So, do I think retailers should have their own brands where feasible? Yes, but a 2 (not 3, 4, or 5!) brand strategy covers all the bases; the confidence and self-service of known names plus the differentiation of your own “image”. But remember that the memory of the shopping experience and after-sales success IS the brand image for most retailers. The experience and end-result is the lasting value, not the name on the label.
(photo credit: mr_write)