"Thanks David. ... And to answer your question, the Lowe's agreement is not pay-by-scan."
A comment from another independent seller, Justin Scheiteman, echoes Mills.
"It does worry me quite a bit that the box stores are getting the same product we have at independents. But on the independent garden center end, we need to make sure we can differentiate ourselves with better service, product and shopability. Recently I went to a few other independents and some box stores. The box stores were organized a lot better, product looked nicer, and the staff was much friendlier. If I was a plant grower, I would want my plants where they are going to be showcased the best and I will sell more. Our challenge as independents is to go into these box stores and honestly compare ourselves to them. Then go out and beat the pants off of them in service and quality!" he said.
Kevin Wilson wasn't very positive about the Monrovia-Lowe's deal.
"Monrovia has decided to partner with the box stores at the expense of the independent garden center customers who built them. As they find that more independent garden centers drop them, they will be more and more tied to the big-box pricing structure. Eventually quality will suffer and Monrovia having placed too many eggs in the big-box basket will die off with a whimper. RIP Monrovia," he said.
"Kevin, for 16 years we have had all of our eggs in the independent garden center basket and were hoping for many more years in the future. The eggs are getting less and less, we all need to diversify or die. Most consumers do not walk into a store asking for a brand, they purchase it when they see the brand on the shelf and relate it towards a good thing. Monrovia has been a strong partner for our industry for 87 years to show consumers that plants are special and different. Many garden centers still carry Scotts, Proven Winners and Endless Summer because these brands sell, and at the end of the day we all want empty shelves!"
Independent Jim Schroer said, "Unless Monrovia has some hands-on control of how their product is taken care of, this will tarnish their reputation with the consumer and cheapen their brand to the independent garden center."
In response, Barthel said, "I went to the Apple store to buy my iPad for the experience at their great retail store. I still love Apple, even though I could have bought the iPad at Best Buy or Walmart. Endless Summer Hydrangea is everywhere; people buy it from the places they like the most."
Finally, several independents believe this move to sell at Lowe's will be the end of Monrovia.
"Once a brand hits the chain stores, it's the beginning of the decline of the brand," said Jack Crawford. "Look at Martha Stewart, Proven Winners, etc. Independent garden centers have to work harder at creating their own branding in the future."
"Bottom line, though, is that the Monrovia name will be in the discounters," said Curtis Jones, "thus diminishing the uniqueness of the independent garden center."
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com.