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Retail forum: Independent garden center futures shaky

Independent garden center owners and managers were told by retail specialists that unless they change they probably will go out of business. “The future of many independent retail garden centers is an economic improbability,” was the glum prediction of Sid Raisch at a two-day forum Jan. 30-31 in Nashville, TN, sponsored by OFA, an association of horticultural professionals.

Mr. Raisch pointed out that the average sale per customer at North American independent garden centers is lower than those in nations with fully developed garden center industries and that the number of independent garden centers is decreasing in the United States. They may, he warned, go the way of independent bookstores. With the economy emerging from a recession, he urged, according to an OFA news release, now is the time to set a new direction.

“This is a challenge and an opportunity,” Mr. Raisch was quoted as saying in the news release, noting that the business model for garden centers must change or they will not survive. He said “me-too” garden centers will not last beyond 2020, and more “niche” businesses will develop. Mr. Raisch did not speculate if supermarket floral departments would pick up business from departing garden centers.

The presentation in Nashville at the first OFA New Vision Forum was titled, “What Will the Future Bring for Retail?” Mr. Raisch and retail consultant John Stanley challenged attendees understand the consumer, as well as the hyper-competitive “bricks to clicks” nature of worldwide retail in which a company integrates both an offline and online presence. Consumers will go to companies that “out-teach” rather than “out-sell” the competition, Mr. Stanley said.

“We may be seeing an increase in retired baby boomers in the next decade, but they are planning to stay forever young and that is a huge opportunity for the garden sector,” Mr. Stanley observed. “At the same time the Gen Ys will be buying homes and developing gardens, yet they are confused by the existing retail model. New retail models will need to be developed for both these sectors.”

Participants were encouraged to focus plans on not just survival as the “last man standing in the garden center business,” but on mastering the possibilities in a new and globalized economy.

OFA intends to offer retailers a second New Vision Forum later this year.