Tales from The Trenches: “Price First, Then We’ll Talk About Everything Else” – Consumer 2013
Recently I was walking a garden center, looking at selection, pricing, silent selling, etc. to get a feel for their market position when a price stopped me in my tracks. I had an earlier “uh oh” feeling on seeing a basic 2 gallon ‘Knock Out’ Rose at $29.99 … and then a smallish 1 gallon Juniper ‘Blue Rug’ at $14.99 gave me the “oh dear” reflex. This was NOT a one-off, more I’d say the continuing default setting of most Local Garden Centers (LGCs).
After 5 years of recession, with every national retailer in the country using prices to drive traffic; with mobile smartphones able to access comparison websites on all manner of goods and services, why do so many owners still not get the message about selective mark-ups and pricing? The 1990’s position of “we need to make 50+% on every item” is being painfully exposed by this grinding recession.
Why do buyers persist in thinking that their store is a “special case” to the consumer, who will continue to pay more (often a lot more) for a known product because they are local and offer superior service?
When are owners (this has to be driven down from the top) going to connect the 12 years of declining customer count in the LGC channel with the public’s perceived image of “beautiful, knowledgeable but EXPENSIVE”?
When the economic tide was coming in from 1995 to 2007 and all boats were rising, few noticed the steady decline in customer count. Most companies more than made up for it with a rise in consumer average spend, and some owners were actually relieved that price-driven shoppers stayed away.
That was then and this is now
Price-driven shopping has become the norm. People at all levels of affluence boast about going to Costco. Social networks buzz with deals and offers. We have consumers of all earnings levels looking for bargains and, critically, judging an entire company’s image on the prices of the relatively few “Known Value” (KV) lines – like a ‘Knock Out’ rose.
The known value (KV) effect has been around for years, yet LGC owners and teams still apply department or category-wide mark ups to achieve the high Gross Margin they think they must get on everything. That makes a few things (the KV lines) way over-priced to the shopper while leaving dollars on the table with other less known or unique lines. Selective, volume-based, seasonally sensitive mark-ups have been the norm for years in grocery stores; when did you ever see all apples the same price, or a year-round price on Coke?
LGC owners’ peers in the family-owned local hardware store business have long since figured out how to compete on price-perception with the big box home centers. Think about it: everything the hardware stores carry such as paint, electrical and plumbing – not just lawn and garden – is in a home center!
These hardware stores use competitively priced national brands to drive traffic, unlike many LGCs who shun them. Hardware stores might lower Gross Margin to 20% on a few carefully selected KV lines and get 60% on specialty, unique and local lines. Some hardware stores use 72 hour prices to further promote their competitiveness; others choose just one size of a certain product to get down and dirty with. Some use their marketing budget to “subsidize” the lost margin dollars on a deep price offer for a weekend special. And guess what? The hardware channel has (comparatively) had a very good recession – if there is such a thing!
Time for Action
So, as we hear about another large multi-generation LGC closing down, I think it is time for leaders in the LGC industry to wake up and smell the POS reports. Identify 20-40 Known Value SKUs (out of 5,000 to 45,000!) that create a price-perception to the consumer, reduce prices, budget for it and shout about it – loud! After 50 years of being seen as “pricey” this change in strategy might take several years to pay off, but now is the time to start showing your market that you are sensitive to their budget struggles.
My mantra is “get it where you can and give it back where you have to.”
I firmly believe that local garden centers have a great future as a resource for a consumer that is garden-success challenged. However, as the number of LGCs falls monthly, consumers are frightened away by a few KV prices before the company even gets a chance to show their relevance. So it’s time to copy our cousins in the hardware industry: get customers in the door with prices and retain them with service and success!
Americans are very generous to local causes and charities, but pretty unsupportive to the plight of a local retailer. Unless you can achieve cult status (like Apple), it’s time to embrace and promote a KV strategy – or register as a non-profit!