Jul 28, 2012 6 Comments

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)

  1. Keith Miner
    Aug 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Ian,

    It seems as though all nurseries are branding themselves whether they like it not, for better or for worse, with the quality of nursery that they operate. If you are giving the customers what they want and are fulfilling their needs, then they will remember that as ‘Your Brand”, give unsatisfactory fulfillment, that that will be “Your Brand”.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Aug 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      Keith, thanks, good input. Knowing that you know the local industry so well, how do you suppose the Monrovia brand is fairing after the Lowe’s announcement last week?


  2. Rick Holberg
    Aug 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Very well put, Ian…

    You know my mantra… for any GC to truly control their “brand” in the marketplace – the impression that stays with a customer after they leave – they must control everything that a customer experiences. If that means giving them a national brand product they’re familiar with then so be it. They want a specific national brand because they’ve been told it works and it’s the best one to use… and they’ve heard that over and over again in advertising. They believe it and trust it because they have been repeatedly exposed to it. (It takes about 7 impressions until a consumer begins to “trust”) Will they discard all that trust they’ve built because a single salesperson says “Use this one instead.”? They’ll potentially remember more that you didn’t have what they wanted. And thus begins brand dissolve…

  3. Ian Baldwin
    Aug 18, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Rick, back atchya ..”well put” yourself! I like the term “Brand dissolve”, it might be a good exercise for retailers (or consultants) to take a long look at the ways their brand might become “dissolved” and what a company should do about it eh? With the downturn in the sales of trees and shrubs, some growers need to look at their brand position right now.

    I think we just invented another role!

    Cheers Rick

  4. David Ruf
    Sep 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    It appears that a branded dry good item which will work day in and day out in most soils and with average watering will be easier to have positive brand trust built in just a few trials as where plants do not seem to work everywhere as well as we in the industry would like. I feel that branded plants will have some impact on customers purchases but not with the same positive reinforcement as a chemical, fertilizer or other product in the nursery industry. Maybe I’m on a defferent side because of our beautiful climate and soil that we have here in the mountain desert.

  5. Deb Foisy
    Apr 2, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Branding. It always comes up. Consumers are trained to pay less for the store brand. Everywhere you go, the store brand is the cheaper product. Don’t brand your pots, carry the plants of leading brands in the appropriate packaging if that is what you’re consumer is looking for.

    Ian I run a Greenhouse Marketing Forum on Google Groups. Look us up and if you like it, join.

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