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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Defense Of Big Box Stores

I'm all for a good boycott and I really want to shop at smaller privately owned businesses. I get it. But the big box stores make it very difficult and I don't feel like the little guys are doing all they can to get my business.

Case in point, plants from Home Depot (or Lowes) versus plants from J&P. Last summer I purchased 26 Simplicity Hedge Roses from J&P and was very pleased with them. They arrived in good condition, and all 26 bloomed profusely all summer long. See below.But 3 of them did not make it through the winter. J&P says I can only return them within 60 days and that they can't be responsible for harsh weather or neglect, so I'm stuck with these 3 dead roses. Is it reasonable that I selectively neglected 3 of the roses in the middle of the 26? Or that the weather was harsher on those 3 than the other 23? Doubtful. My problem is that, had I purchased these from my evil neighborhood big box store, I could simply yank them out of the ground and return them for a refund, or exchange them for 3 new ones. But unfortunately I do not have that option.

As a consumer, how can I justify buying from this company in the future? Must I rely solely on my willingness to take a bigger risk for these non-big box stores. Shouldn't these companies meet me half way on the sacrifice? I'm even willing to pay higher prices and travel further to shop but when I don't get a quality product and the return policy doesn't even allow me an exchange, I struggle to justify it.

I don't expect smaller companies to be able to offer competitive pricing but I do expect them to have the best quality plants and buffing up their return policies so that they match the big box bullies seems like the least they could do. And if they are not willing to do that, then I'm not sure I'm willing to make the sacrifice.

Am I wrong about this? Somebody, please, help me see the light.


  1. Yeah, I am a big store shopper as well - for the exact same reasons you posted about. I have a new yard - i.e. empty yard - we need all kinds of plants and I need them to live. We are on a budget the way it is - so I can't be spending so much money on plants that can't be replaced if they die. Lowes has that 1yr guarantee on many of their shrubs and things - and it has come in handy a few times already. Plus they have a clearance section that many small stores don't - and that is how my yard is so plentiful now - because of that clearance table at Lowes. :) Maybe one day when my yard is full and I can be more selective about the kind of plants I buy will I be more into the small stores and sell things you can't find at Lowes - but until then - I will hanging out at the big box stores for awhile.

  2. Heather's GardenMay 28, 2008 at 8:59 PM

    It's a simple equation for me. Home Depot gave me a credit card with a rather large limit. My local nursery wouldn't even give me a discount when I proposed to buy $160 of potting soil from them. "We don't even offer the landscapers discounts and your purchase is rather small." Yeah, way to make me want to shop with you. Whereas HD gave me a 10% discount once because I had to wait 45 minutes for something. You'd think the better customer service would come from the smaller, local supplier, but nope, totally the opposite.

  3. J&P aren't one of the "little guys." They're a very large company (though not as big as Home Depot). My favorite local nursery (which is independently owned & has only 1 location) offers a 1 year guarantee & the plants are much better cared for than at the big box.

  4. Im a non-selective shopper, however I always give the local guy a try first. I'm willing to pay a couple extra bucks, even if they don't have the best return policy. They almost always have the best service.

    As for plants, I guess I have a different philosophy. Plant's are living things, and they die for any of a number of good reasons. Most of them having to do with my actions. If only a couple died, that's pretty good in my book and I wouldn't even pull them out to take them back to HD. In fact I've probably killed $20 worth of plants already this year and all of them went into the compost pile instead of back to the store. I figure HD is trying their best to give me a good product and I tried my best to keep them alive, but stuff happens and it's unfair to expect them to take the loss.

    Different strokes for different folks I guess :) I know some of my family members will take an instore item that is scratched item up to the counter and ask for a discount when there is nothing wrong with the item and it will get scratched as soon as they put it in the car. Unfair if you ask me.

    One thing I will not tolerate from a local shop though is the complaining about being put out of business by the big guys. That's a bunch of hog wash in 99% of cases. What really happened is they refused to change their business and died, like anybody else who has done that.

    Case in point...when I lived in KY there was a local hardware store. I tried at least 15 times to purchase items from them, but their hours were 8am to 4pm M-F. That's nearly impossible for anyone but contractors. And where do you think contractors shop? The discount stores...duh. They then complained in the newspaper about how the big box stores were putting a 100 year old hardware store out of business. Total crap. Had they changed their hours to cover weekends and evenings and stocked retail items instead of commercial they could have stayed in business. But they refused. And they died. No loss in my opinion.

  5. I totally agree with Tyler, I rarely return a plant that has died. I have returned plants that I have bought, like roots or bulbs, if they never sprout, but that is about it. Good subject matter, I may have to write a post on the subject.

  6. Hey I represent that remark : ) I work for the OTHER guy. Have you seen the HD plants at the end of the season? Have you ever asked for help or info at HD or seen anything special there ?

    The big box stores buy in such huge quantities that they can afford to just neglect and then throw away any plants that die.

    We have many customers that bring in dead plants before the warranty is up and they get a full credit. We try to educate our customers about plant care.

    Sure I can understand how low prices and bargains appeal to the average consumer but if a plant is neglected for a long period of time it is probably already on its way out. So better get to the big box stores early in the season.

    I have a 75 year old woman as a client and she cracked me up when she told me that if she died at HD they wouldn't discover her body for 3 weeks .

  7. suzyq - I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like, as a gardener, we shop at the big box stores until we "graduate" to the smaller ones.

    heather - im surprised by the customer service thing, too. maybe we are just shopping at the WRONG smaller places?

    MMD - good points. Thanks.

    T - I love the hardware store story. I know what you mean about plants dying of natural causes and normally I'd agree but for some reason this whole 3 out of 26 roses just pisses me off and I want new ones, dammit! lol

    vonlafin - I look forward to reading your post on the subject.

    carolyn - to your point, I did buy those weigela from HD on clearance last year and even though they look really healthy compared to the mostly dead charlie brown shrubs from the other place, neither of them survived and I ended up buying new ones from the smaller guys at full price.