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Horticulture Zombieconomy

Mr. Umair Haque

Mr. Umair Haque

There has been a quiet but growing sound  of discomfort over something a gentleman you have probably not heard of said about the state of the response of American business to the economic situation. His characterization was about the Zombieconomy, and those comments were subject of a Harvard Business Publishing Ideacast.

Mr. Umair Haque may eventually be recorded in history with the likes of W. Edwards Deming, the man who America sent to Japan to help their industry, and specifically their auto industry and Toyota aided by its customers bring down the still misguided and arrogant US auto industry. Actually I think Umair will be much bigger. More importantly, he may do it better than Demming and wake us up before it’s too late.

I’ve followed responses to my new friend Umair’s polite rants for the past couple of weeks and have decided it is time you meet him here in hopes he will rattle your cage better than I can. The deal is that we need to explore innovation and the type of change necessary to fundamentally change what he calls the “unnovation” patterns of avoiding meaningful innovation that American industries (including ours) are stuck in. You probably agree to some degree, so let’s get on with it.

Why do I like what Umair says so much? Because he is a pragmatic strategist – perhaps the most insightful one to comeHummer around in a while. He’ begins with a politically incorrect hard stab at what has been going wrong before redirecting people to what could be right. Take Mr. Haque’s view of how the auto industry did themselves and many of us in with the SUV.

Add to that his open letter to 20th Century business. You could substitute his example of what’s wrong with the music industry with what’s going wrong in horticulture and it would be pretty close – establishing a brand-band just because someone else proved it could work, then extending the crap out of it until it doesn’t make sense to the consumer.

Okay Horti-Zombies, can someone please just come up with one thing better than a new plant brand or collection and expanding the market through the chain stores without the lip service and the long-term expense of killing our independents? I realize that statement puts a bigger target on my back than some people already see. At least I may draw some fire for Ravin’ Traven. But I am serious here. We’ve got a funk to get out of folks, and it is not just a problem with the independent garden centers.

Funk Up the Funk

A couple of years back when working with several of the unique and different – funky if you will – garden centers I love to have as clients we came up with the idea that what we need to do is take what is truly different about our businesses that makes them stand out from the competition and run that flag all the way up the darned flag pole. Now I need to clarify what I mean by funky because there is a dual meaning of the term. I mean it in strictly the positive way which is defined here. This is easier said than accomlished due to unnovation, but still the right thing to do.

Before you funky guys get excited I have to say that it is just as hard to get the little funky garden centers to change as it is the bigger ones. They often take too much pride in their funkiness and allow it to grow stale. And they resist doing some very important other things that make pure business sense such as getting shopping carts, and widening the aisles so customers can actually get through them to buy the product.

Not every garden center should be a quirky funky one, however they should all have some level of distinctness and personality that their customers identify with and relate to. All of my hope now is that either before, or later when the backs are against the wall we can actually get some folks to stand up and Über-Differentiate, or as I have been known to say, Funkify!

And what about you?


5 Responses

  1. Having to pay 20% of sales back to the bank in interest and principle payments kinda limits how high up the flag pole you can go. The fact that we have accomplished it for so long is amazing in itself.

    The only garden center within 50 miles with: free events, unique loyalty program, fund raising program, multiple pricing, and a seperate flowering container department. Most master gardeners on staff and most Proven Winners trained associates. Largest web site and only e-newsletter.

    I am not sure how much different we need to be than other places that sell plants.

  2. Ed, Thank you for commenting. You are correct that restricting debt limits the height of the flag pole. Having just visited your place briefly last month I know you have made as many customer-perceptible improvements as you can with the severely limited funding. Living within reasonable means (debt load) is necessary. The things you are doing are good, however, are really barely more than yet another SUV. Bigger does not mean better. You, Carol, and your associates are as dedicated to your collective success and that of your customers as any garden center I know. I hope you will be able to find a way to restructure the debts, be less encumbered, and do other amazing things your customers will notice and benefit from.

  3. Sid, we are pretty funky at phantom, but what really sets us apart is our focus on organics and responsible land stewardship. We have doubled our vegie and herb sales this year because of whats going on in the world and because people know we are the pace to come for advice, organic products and wonderful organic vegie starts. We don’t sell plants that are listed as invasive and try and sell fair trade and properly sourced gift items as much as possible. I’ve never sold chemical fertilizers and pest control because I believe many are too toxic for homeowners to use. Our industry ‘the green industry’ has had its head in the sand by following along with the big corporations who push poison to sell product. Any one who has spent time dealing with joe public knows most are not qualified to put weed and feed on their lawns let alone randomly spray roundup. Just as people continued to buy gas guzzling suvs because detroit was pushing them they continue to spread poison on their lawns because scotts pushes it. Anyway, this may or not relate to what you are talking about but I do feel that one of the ways we can set our industry apart is by education and by trying to lead the way to a green future. What is greener than planting a tree?Thanks again sid norbert

  4. It definitely relates Norbert. Get a higher flag pole! Sid

  5. […] Hulbut suggests they will become Zombie Stores and Zombie Departments. This falls in line with my previous post on the Horticulture Zombieconomy, but takes it straight to the sales […]

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