Friday, May 18, 2001

George Mindling Column 5-18-2001


The True Price of Mulch


As Charlotte County's economy slowly but steadily grows to match. its surrounding neighbors, the old shops and stores slowly fall by the wayside. The new large superstores, from grocery markets to electronics and television retailers to drugstores and pharmacies, offer prices and savings most consumers cannot afford to ignore.

The exchange, unfortunately, is in service. Practically every business is affected by the large superstores, even our old favorites. Two of the landmark nurseries have closed in Charlotte County in .the last month or so. They aren't alone in the business community, but how the existing nurseries will survive will be an example of small business ingenuity.
Service is the key, of course. If you can't get what you need at a superstore, then it's back to the neighborhood store for the personal attention and knowledge you won't find at a store that pays its under-trained, and often rotated, employees only $6 an hour.

A recent trip to one of the local superstore garden centers in Venice found most of the plants wilted from lack of water. Not just a few, but all the plants in the entire center, There was one young man, working alone, obviously without enthusiasm or concern for any of the customers.

When asked about the poor conditions of the plants, he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't normally work in this department. The regular person hadn't come in that day. Usually, the plants are in better condition, but it was obvious that one person hadn't done that much damage to the inventory in only one day of neglect. The price of mulch at this center, however, was almost $1 a bag cheaper than at my local I nursery.

This is a consumer's quandary: It doesn't take someone who loves plants to sell mulch, but personal service and knowledge about plants is often only available at the local nurseries. The retail portion of most local nurseries is running absolutely lean, or even at a loss. By offering planning and landscape services, in-depth knowledge of the plants and trees, and bulk materials, several of the nurseries arc skirting the impact of the superstores.

Knowing exactly which insecticide can or cannot be used on which plant, how much water and what kind of fertilizer is required for a plant keeps customers coming back. Contracting out as landscapers, or as suppliers to commercial landscapers, has also softened the impact of a market that is changing as new superstores open to pull away the shopper looking for $10 worth of plants.

By doing everything from ponds and waterfalls. to planting large trees, the nurseries fight the battle that every mom-and-pop shop fights when faced by the competition of unmatchable pricing. The small shops simply can't buy their inventories in the volumes to compete with the big stores, so they must compete on quality instead. The consumer must know the value of the local shops for them to succeed. It has to be worth more than a-dollar-a-bag savings for mulch .

George Mindling © 2001

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