Who's Driving Who

July 18, 2002 - 09:15

New ideas, mass merchandisers and the upcoming fall crop.

I was talking the other day with a client in the Southeast,
when the subject came up about growing pansies for a certain chain store. This
particular chain store wanted the grower to provide pansies starting in July
and continuing through the fall. My client had never provided them that early
or in that quantity before, so he was reluctant to agree. His ultimate decision
was not to provide pansies until early September. I told him that was a wise
move, if he could get the chain store to agree to it instead of going to
another grower.

After the meeting, I found myself wondering why our growers
are not working more closely with the big box stores to help them sell color
year-round that is appropriate for the season and market. Every year, the big
boxes want color starting in July and August, well before the weather says it
is fall. Growers are being forced to produce pansies during the worst possible
weather for that crop, put them in stores where they only get worse and create
customers not yet thinking about fall. The same situation is happening with
fall mums. Growers are having to black-cloth mums for sale in July and August,
when customers are not even thinking of mums yet. Even if the customer does buy
a mum that time of year, the flowers will only last a week or so.

This situation presents a no-win scenario for growers. On
one hand, you can grow pansies and mums early for the market by jumping through
all sorts of hoops to produce a half-decent crop, ship them to the stores and
watch them sit there for a week or longer until you get asked for credit. Under
these conditions, you lose! On the other hand, if you decide not to grow
pansies and mums for sale until closer to September, then the chain stores may
go to another grower; again you lose.

Taking the Wheel

I don't blame this situation on either the box stores
or the growers. It just illustrates the classic supply-and-demand curve, but
the question is with which products do you satisfy the demand. The box stores
want some color in July and August to get more people into the stores. Spring
sales are long over, and the fall season doesn't really start until late
September. Meanwhile, the stores sit empty. So the buyers want to get a jump on
fall by filling up the stores with fall color, not really realizing that the
weather doesn't allow quality plants to be produced or held, and
customers are not really interested in fall color yet.

Growers, however, are not really working with the box stores
to provide alternative crops that will tolerate the heat and humidity of this
time of year or in the larger container sizes that the stores can hold and that
the customer can quickly utilize.

Some growers are extending the spring season with 6- and
8-inch pots of annuals, some of them heat-tolerant. And many growers are
supplying the late market with combos and large hanging baskets. But these
programs are really not marketed as heat- and humidity-tolerant to the stores
or to the consumers. They just appear to be an extension of spring.

I would suggest to growers that they work with stores to
install a separate 'Beat The Heat' program from mid-June to late
August. This program could consist of 6- and 8-inch pots, combos and other
large containers (no flats, please!) filled with certain plants, some of which
were not really sold in spring. Crops could include Amaranthus, Cuphea, Coleus,
Evolvulus, Gomphrena, Melampodium, pentas, lantana, purslane, salvia coccinea
and verbena species, just to name a few.

I would suggest that growers in the hot parts of the United
States work with their stores to save pansies and mums for sale in early
September, even later if you can. Instead, promote a true summer program with
different colors, so the stores have something to attract customers. If you don't
want to be told to have pansies and mums ready in July, then provide a good
alternative for them. Otherwise, who's driving the car?

About The Author

Dr. Roger C. Styer is president of Styer's Horticultural Consulting Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208-0542 or E-mail at carleton@voyager.net.

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