Depot Changes Garden Center Brand By GPN Staff

Home Depot plans to implement a new branding strategy in its garden centers; the change is slated to occur by spring 2007. In a meeting held today, Home Depot informed its growers of the change. From initial accounts of this developing story, GPN has learned the new national plan will follow the “good, better, best” strategy already implemented in the rest of the store. VIVA!, the most prominent brand currently in Home Depot garden centers, will be positioned as the “best” brand along with Proven Winners. Home Depot’s own brand, Vigaro, will be offered as the “better” product, and the “good” brand will consist of grower brands and general offerings.

Currently, this information applies only to color production; Depot has made no decision regarding perennials. GPN will continue to deliver details of this change as they become available.

The entirety of the program is planned to go into effect nationwide by next spring. This transition comes on the heels of last year’s pay by scan implementation, with which many growers still struggle. The new program may challenge Depot growers: Those who have already put work into planning their VIVA! programs for the upcoming season will have to reevaluate based on the new format. Still others will have to adjust to and prepare for the new program with a target goal of having everything in place in less than a year’s time.

Perhaps the largest challenge growers will have to overcome is learning to manage four brands and four price points within each store. The footprint of Depot garden centers is not scheduled to change, which means the four brands and their distinct merchandising schemes must fit into one space. Additionally, growers will need to deal with new production logistics. Whereas Depot growers are accustomed to producing very large quantities of each crop, under the new scheme they will produce smaller amounts of each crop and allocate the same number of pots among the different brands to represent each category and price point.

The Good, Better, Best Method

Home Depot uses the good, better, best retail strategy in many of its other departments; its goal in bringing the method into the garden center is to make a statement, organize the different garden center brands and get behind Vigaro, the company’s own brand.

Positioned as one of the two “best” brands, VIVA! will focus on unique varieties that are almost (if not completely) exclusive to Home Depot. A good example of such a variety is VIVA! sun impatiens that were introduced this year exclusively through Home Depot. As part of the shift in positioning, the VIVA! program will eventually no longer include herb and vegetable offerings. Early reports indicate that growers will be able to use their current VIVA! pot and tag inventory; when the inventories are depleted, VIVA! vegetables and herbs will no longer exist.

Proven Winners varieties will also be positioned in the “best” category and represented at all Home Depots. It is not known at this time which Proven Winners varieties will be included in the Home Depot program or to what extent the POP program will be used.

The Vigaro brand will be offered nationally as the “better” brand. As a brand, Vigaro started at Depot with fertilizers and moved into potting soil and soil amendments. Now Depot is attempting a brand extension into plants using the Vigaro name. GPN sources said Vigaro pots were tested last year in a handful of locations in Chicago, Ill., and Minneapolis, Minn., though the tests proved inconclusive due to poor spring weather conditions.

The “good” brand, consisting of growers’ products, will round out Depot’s offerings with general merchandise such as basic bedding plants. It will be offered at the lowest of the three price points.

Depot’s goal is for consumers to become familiar with the brands over time so they are able to recognize the different plant types — ranging from new and unique to basic varieties — each offers. The challenge for Depot will be training novice-gardener consumers how to distinguish the qualities of the different brands.

A Quick Transition

Home Depot must overcome challenges in order to fully begin the new program in spring 2007, reported GPN’s sources. New containers, especially those for the Vigaro brand, must be printed and distributed to growers. A national UPC code for the Vigaro containers must also be developed. Individual discussions among growers and merchants to decide which varieties go into what pots need to take place as well.

In other rollouts of this kind, not necessarily Home Depot’s, Sunbelt growers – those in South Florida, Arizona and California – have largely gotten some exemptions in implementation because their season begins so much earlier than everyone else’s. This may be the route Depot chooses to go, said GPN sources, because it is unlikely the company will be able to make decisions and produce pots fast enough to cover the whole country at once and certainly not by the January/February dates needed by Sunbelt growers.

While the VIVA! brand will no longer supply perennials, herbs and vegetables to Home Depot, Bonnie Plant Farm, which also supplies vegetables to Depot, has renewed its contract for next year; however, the contract is not exclusive. Depot will also negotiate with individual merchants for vegetable production.

VIVA! has been the premier brand for Home Depot in the United States and Canada for the past few years. Altman Plants began the brand in 2003 with VIVA! Herbs and VIVA! Veggies and later added a full line of flowering plants. Under the current program, VIVA! plants are grown by a team of 75 growers.

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