In the early 2000s, green industry wholesale and retail segments were rapidly growing as the housing market expanded, thereby fueling perceived strength and stability within the industry (Hall, 2010; Perez et al., 2016). However, the recession of 2007–08 caused many wholesale growers to decrease production or end their business entirely. In Georgia, between 2007 and 2012, green industry production levels and farm gate values decreased by 50% and 33%, respectively (Campbell et al., 2017a). However, the economy has experienced recovered growth; therefore, production and consumer spending have increased. Gardeners in the United States reported spending $47.8 billion in 2017 on lawn and garden supplies, which equates to ≈$503 per household (Garden Research, 2018). Spending per household has increased 26% since 2009, with ≈75% of households participating in gardening in 2016 (Garden Research, 2010, 2017).
As households either return to the market or increase their spending on lawn and garden supplies, retailers must become increasingly knowledgeable about how they are viewed by current and potential customers. Yue and Behe (2008) found that consumers purchasing foliage and garden plants were more likely to choose a “box store” because of their reputation for convenience and lower prices. Furthermore, they found that younger consumers were less likely to shop at box stores, as were higher-income consumers, for their retail floral needs. However, younger consumers were more likely to shop at direct-to-consumer floral retail outlets. In a study by Satterthwaite et al. (2006), convenience was the primary reason for shopping at independent garden centers (IGCs), followed by service, quality, and price. The primary reasons for shopping at chain outlets were convenience and price, with quality and service ranking lower on the list of consumer priorities.
Firms focusing solely on price or convenience may neglect other important issues that directly impact consumer views of retail outlets. Worker wages (Lutz, 2015; Meyersohn, 2018; Tuttle, 2016), pollinator-friendly issues (Campbell et al., 2017b; Rihn and Khachatryan, 2016), and product delivery (Chao, 2016; Danziger, 2018; Leaman, 2018; Manlapas, 2018) are some examples of new trends that are shaping consumer expectations when making retail purchase decisions regarding green industry and nongreen industry products. Understanding how IGCs compare with home improvement centers (HICs), such as Home Depot (Atlanta, GA) and Lowe’s (Moorseville, NC), and mass merchandisers (MMs), such as Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AR) and Target (Minneapolis, MN), is essential for retailers if they wish to make informed marketing and production decisions.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that consumers view IGCs as having higher prices and higher quality when compared with HICs and MMs (Curran, 2013). Safley and Wohlgenant (1995) performed one of the few studies of this topic. They found that quality plants, plant selection, location, and knowledgeable sales staff were the main reasons why consumers choose to make purchases at retail outlets. However, a gap in the literature exists regarding understanding plant buyer perceptions of varying production/business practices (e.g., paying workers a living wage, home delivery, and being a valuable member of the community), especially as they relate to different retail outlets (i.e., IGC, MM, and HIC) and across age cohorts. Understanding whether there are perception differences and, if so, how these perceptions relate across key consumer demographics can provide valuable information to green industry firms.
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