One of my favorite blogs is Trey Pitsenberger's "The Blogging Nurseryman". Pitsenberger, owner of the Golden Gecko Nursery in Garden Valley, California, waxes rhapsodic on the ups and downs of owning a small nursery in an out of the way location (Garden Valley, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, is about halfway between Georgetown and Lotus...as if that is of any help to you who are not familiar with the area!). About an hour's drive away from Sacramento, along curving, steep roads, Golden Gecko Nursery serves a rural population whose closest shopping areas would include Placerville and Auburn.
In his blog of last week, Pitsenberger wrote about the increase in business for his nursery this spring, thanks to the renaissance of the backyard vegetable garden and his emphasis on organic fertilizers and pesticides. And the biggest favorable variable of all: the weather. Here in Northern California, it has been a fantastic spring. Not too hot, not too stormy, with mild nights, perfect for getting plants growing...and perfect for attracting customers to nurseries.
Gardeners will always want to "kick the tires" when it comes to plant selection. They want to see, touch, smell and admire any vegetable transplant, annual, perennial, shrub or tree before they buy it.
But when it comes to garden hard goods, especially pest control products and tools, more and more gardeners, especially rural gardeners, are shopping for price...and shopping online.
That's why I think it was a smart move on Pitsenberger's part to mention in his blog that his nursery's price for Sluggo Plus is the same as online retailing behomoth Amazon.com: $11.99.
More nurseries should consider posting their prices for garden goods when they can meet or beat Amazon's. And that might be easier than you think, if you dig a little deeper into their pricing structure.
Amazon has the advantage of not charging sales tax. By shipping from their Nevada warehouse and not setting up shop in California, Amazon does not legally have to charge sales tax at this time (that could change...soon, here in budget-busted California). And, although Amazon (and a few other online retailers) may offer free shipping for some of their product lines, it pays for nurseries to dig a little deeper into Amazon's garden offerings...because the hidden shipping fees that Amazon's partners might charge may be the tipping point to the favor of the small nursery.
For example, consider that $11.99 price point for Sluggo Plus that Golden Gecko and Amazon are charging. It is actually one of Amazon's vendor/partners, GreenSense, that is offering that one pound box of Sluggo Plus for $11.95 (as of 6/22/09). Go a little further into the online ordering process, and you find that there is a $5.89 charge for shipping! So, Pitsenberger is actually BEATING the Amazon price, even with the addition of California's 8.25% sales tax in El Dorado County.
Also consider the shipping delays when ordering online: three to five days before the product might ship (at the lowest rate). Shopping at a nursery, the customer gets instant gratification. Those snails and earwigs can do a lot of damage in a week while the online shopper is waiting for the Sluggo!
So often, small nurseries turn their wrath towards the big box stores. But their biggest competitor might be sitting on a desk in every gardener's home...the personal computer. But by picking out those products where they can beat their online competition on price...including shipping charges...and trumpeting those bargains in their store, nurseries can make gardeners think twice before ordering online, and bring them back into the nursery.