Archives for posts with tag: Big-box store

We’ve been out doing some comparison shopping over the past few days, part of an annual rite of summer in which we look at what the competition has in the marketplace. We’ve visited dozens of garden centers, craft stores and national chain outlets, and we’ve been blown away by the condition in which we’ve found some of the chain store pottery departments. This post will focus on “Standard” terra cotta pots, which many garden centers ignore as a commodity item, rather than considering them as yet another way to differentiate themselves from the big boxes.

Given the condition in which we found many of the big box pottery departments, it should be no problem for a typical garden center to offer a superior shopping experience. A couple of  examples:

This particular disaster is from a Wal*Mart outside of St. Louis, MO. It’s not really surprising that Wal*Mart is selling cruddy low-grade red clay (note the inconsistencies in the color of the pots and saucers – in standard red clay pottery, this is indicative of a producer isn’t firing all of its pots to the same temperature – taking shortcuts, essentially). I am surprised that they apparently assume that their customers will be excited enough to buy the pots even though the pots are covered in mold and dirt.

The second example was spotted on the shelves of a K-Mart store, and while the pots have been cleaned, they also demonstrate  the lack of quality found at the lower end of the red clay market. It’s easy to see the cracks in the pots on the right, and it’s inexcusable that a K-Mart employee hasn’t pulled these broken pots from the shelves – Again, they’re implying that they believe that their customers are dumb enough to pay $.79 for an already-broken saucer.

Also of note in this photo are the black spots on several of the saucers. This too indicates that shortcuts were taken during the manufacturing process, as the black is a chemical impurity in the clay which gradually leeches to the surface of the pot or saucer. A high-quality terra cotta pot would have been crafted from a clay that had these and other impurities removed, and would have a smooth, uniform finish. The  photo below shows another example of the black markings migrating to the surface of a K-Mart pot.

There are several points to take away from these photos:

  • First, Selling ugly red clay can undermine the credibility of the rest of your pottery department.
  • Second, be sure that you are carrying high-quality red clay – your customer will recognize the difference.
  • Third, if you insist on selling crappy red clay, at least show your customers the respect of cleaning your pots before you put them on the shelves, and for god’s sake, don’t put broken pots out at your full retail price.

Apple Computers famously used “Think Different” as their advertising slogan for several years. Adapting this concept as part of your pottery marketing strategy can help you expand your sales in the flower pot category.

Think Different

Every year, millions upon millions of flower pots are sold at retail, with better than 50% of them moving through the doors of a handful of “Big Box” chains. Your goal, as an independent retailer, should be to limit these big box sales as much a possible and to establish your store as a “pottery destination”. Independents who thrive in this category give their customers reasons to buy from them, and the easiest way to do that is to “think different” from the big boys.

You need to separate yourself from the idea of reacting to the big boxes and to develop your business by reacting instead to your customers’ desires and demands. Remember that pottery is a style-driven category, different from almost everything else in a typical garden center.

Your customers are looking for unique items, for beautiful items, and for items that offer a touch of personality to their yards and porches. When you find customers in your pottery department, take the time to ask them what they are looking for. You will find that many are trying to match a trendy paint color, while other are interested in brightening a dreary patio, some are looking for a perfect complement to the plant in their shopping cart, and still others will be looking for a pot like the one that they saw on TV last night. Your pottery customers are looking for something different – they already are thinking different.

It is important to note that even though the big boxes account for the majority of flower pot sales in the US,  the majority of these sales are the result of “convenience purchases” – the customer is buying a pot from the big box because it’s there and because they’re there, not because it’s something that they can’t live without.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Lowe’s and Wal*Mart have a special insight into the mind of the buying public that directs their product buying decisions – there are a wide range of factors that go into product acquisition in these big companies that just aren’t in play at the independent garden center level:

  • Mass-production – Wal*Mart needs to buy pots that can be produced in large enough quantities to fill 4,000+ stores, while you have the ability to select more complex, sophisticated pottery that better suits your customer profile.
  • Lead Times – Because they use so many pots, the big boxes all place their pottery orders with their vendors close to a year before the pots actually hit the shelves. It is impossible to remain current with market trends under these circumstances.
  • Inventory- Take a look at the glazed pottery department of any of the national big boxes and you’ll see the same few colors in the same basic sizes on a few different shapes. These stores are limited in the variety that they can offer in any given category by the need to maintain a uniform inventory. You should be packing as many different pots into your stores as possible, creating a “treasure hunt” mentality among your customers.
  • Price Points – The big boxes will typically look for pots that fit their target price points rather than establishing price points to fit their flower pots, causing them to make compromises in manufacturing that result in quality issues. Lots of factors weigh in a retailer consumer’s mind as she makes a style-based purchase, but small price differences aren’t among them. Don’t compromise on your quality and style requirements just to save a buck or two, and your customers will reward you.
  • Supply Chain – Several of the big boxes have dramatically cut their ceramic pottery departments because too many of their low-quality pots were breaking as they were moved from warehouse to warehouse before finally hitting the retail floor. You don’t need to have this concern – work with pottery distributors that offer high-quality products and easy processing of claims when breakage does occur.

Visit the big boxes in your area – look at the pottery department – and do the opposite. If Wal*Mart zigs, you need to zag. If Home Depot is pushing basic terra cotta, you need to focus on higher-end goods. If Lowe’s is pushing plastic and fiberglass pots because of their supply chain demands, focus on decorated clay pots. The best way to beat them is not to battle them head-on, but to outflank them, out think them – “think different” from them.