Our StorySeveral years ago, our founder Don Eaton (of Eaton Farms) saw that his customers, Independent Garden Centers, were not doing well. Particularly, they were struggling with the very product that Don’s business was providing: Trees.
Tree sales were flat, or declining, and their market share was shrinking. He knew that as he passed along ownership of his production nursery to his kids, he had a responsibility to his family to help strengthen the nursery’s most important customer – the Independent Garden Center.
Independent Garden Centers were reeling. Property values were plummeting amidst the real estate bubble bursting, and homeowners were closing their purse strings. At the same time, big box stores began to establish themselves as ‘garden centers’ and positioned themselves as experts in the field. The pressure was rising.
Operating out of fear and necessity, garden center owners reduced inventory and cut prices. The problem was really evident in the tree business. Trees are expensive to buy, and expensive to care for, and simply represented too big of a risk for many independent garden centers. The inventory turns were low, and costs related to keeping them ready for sale were high. It had become a self perpetuating cycle of fear and doubt.
Lower inventory meant more lost sales and losing more market share. The big box stores put downward pressure on pricing. Combined with the high cost of inventorying trees, margins were cut to the bone. Low margins and high inventory risk lead to poor buying decisions, leftover inventory, and deep discounting. The changes were literally altering the American landscape.
No longer were garden center owners able to expertly guide customers to buy multi- generational, noble trees. They were selling and homeowners were planting whatever happened to be trendy, or whatever happened to be on sale. There was no sophisticated message, no unified voice in the industry, educating and inspiring homeowners. Home values, already trashed by the real estate bubble bursting, now had another negative influence – bad tree planting choices.
Don saw the future – as tough as the one-two punch of the mass merchants + real estate bubble was, the knockout punch was the one yet to come. Independent Garden Centers had not responded strategically to the first two threats, and there was good reason to believe that more garden centers would suffer from this threat – online shopping.
Bower & Branch was born out of the knowledge that if no one acted boldly, the industry we know and love would be changed forever. If we stand together, we can prevail.