Over the past few weeks there have been a barrage of posts related to garden bloggers doing product reviews, endorsing products and placing ads on their blogs. The issue is complex and annoying but one part keeps resurfacing and, well, pissing me off. There seem to be a few owners of Independent Garden Centers (IGC) trying to insinuate that garden bloggers are somehow playing a part in the demise of their business. With all due respect, this is about as ludicrous as insinuating that garden bloggers are causing the global failure of print media. I mean I like the concept that we're so powerful and all but it's just not very believable. What's next? Garden bloggers responsible for the collapse of the American economy?
In one case an IGC owner and blogger posted on this same topic day after day after day, taking slightly different angles each day but usually coming back to the same conclusion. Big Box stores are bad. IGC's are good. Bloggers who do product reviews or giveaways and, God forbid, show up at a big box store *gasp* are bad too, or at least not credible to talk about gardening. Even if it's just gardening in their own backyards. That somehow my agreeing to work with Troy-Bilt, to learn about their company, give an honest review of a product and yes, show up at Lowe's to hang out at the Troy-bilt tent and answer gardening questions for a few hours, all for a fair price, means I have turned my back on the entire IGC world. The commenters on the first post went nuts, all of us calling each other out on various perceived ethical infractions, bloggers got caught in lies and put on blast by the blog owner. It was great fun and reminded me of a wrestling match that starts with a couple of people but gets completely out of hand as more wrestlers spill onto the ring, everybody whooping each others asses while the crowd screams and chants and eggs them on. The main fight breaks into sub-fights, each new wrestler entering the ring trying to decide which side to take, which wrestler to punch. Eventually the fight kind of dwindles and the wrestlers, eyeing their opponents, saunter back to the locker rooms, chests still puffed up in a don't fuck with me fashion.
In a more recent blog post on a whole different site that blogged about the same topic but from a different angle (bloggers are good! you should hire us!), another commenter who is also an IGC owner flat out said that garden bloggers using ads on their websites and developing business relationships with any product sold at Home Depot or Lowe's means the garden blogger is "promoting big box stores...and in turn widening the gap between bloggers and independent retailers." Really? What is this "gap" you speak of and why was I not informed about it before?! What about companies like Terracycle? A couple of college kids who started a business making woom poop fertilizer in recycled 2 liter plastic bottles. Terracycle is now sold at big box stores. Where do you stand on the owners? Should they be hanged by the neck until dead?
IGC's - hear this. Nothing alienates people more than to lecture them about how and where they should spend their money. And that's what you've done. I don't mean just garden bloggers, I mean anybody! I shop local and small businesses whenever I can, but the reality is that we're all trying to work an honest job and feed our families. I work a regular IT job all day then I write and garden for fun. I find it personally insulting that these IGC's are going around the Internets bashing garden bloggers while they sit there owning their own company and reaping the rewards of that. I'm not saying anybody is getting rich off it, but neither am I with my 9-5. Be happy that you are doing something you love and that you are your own boss. And take responsibility for the success (or failure) of your business! If you read enough of our blogs you'd know that most of us do patronize your stores. Unfortunately, the things you've said have really soured my image of IGC's. I realize there are only a few of you blaming your failing business on garden bloggers but that's how it works. You make global statements about garden bloggers and suddenly here I am all offended writing a negative post about IGC's. Because I've got the attention span of a gnat and incorrectly assume all IGC's are mean like you. You know, painting you all with a broad brush like you're doing us.
My personal feeling is that IGC's have failed miserably at reaching out to gardeners, especially new ones. Maybe it's just me but many of them seem to be places you go after you are well versed and can navigate through all those cool plants. I have not found them to be overly welcoming and often feel it's a haven for plant snobs. I fashion myself a bit of a plant snob, too, so I'm OK with it. But if I were a knew gardener I'd never step foot in one. A coworker once told me that she doesn't shop at Whole Foods because she feels like the other shoppers would look down on her. Like snarl, look at her trying to pretend like she knows the difference between organic and commercially grown strawberries! Of course I told her that wasn't the case at all but thinking of it in the context of this discussion I realized that's exactly how I felt the first time I went into my local IGC. At Menards or Lowe's it's like hmmm which shed should I get...wait! how did I get over here with all these pretty flowers?
The bottom line is that the Internet is part of an external environment that is dictating a lot of changes in print media, the music industry and evidently IGC's. In business it is the responsibility of the business owner to be aware and responsive to these external factors. If you sit back using the same business model you've always used, ignoring the changes and only taking action by attacking garden bloggers, I suspect you'll be like Blockbuster and Borders, going out of business right and left.
Lastly, I wanted to point out that while you IGC garden blogger haters go around criticizing garden writers, realize that many of them are struggling to make a living. I know enough to know it's not a lucrative business for most. It's pretty shallow of you to indict people who may write full time to feed their families for the failure of your business when in reality, they are "the little guy", not you.
Lecturing people doesn't work. We're all out here doing the best we can to support our communities, our local and small businesses, etc but I don't appreciate being demonized for establishing a business relationship with Troy-Bilt, a company that started out a very small business and has done the right things in order be successful any more than I do being lectured about how the fact that I eat cheese yet don't eat meat is somehow flawed (even though the milk cows aren't killed they're still tortured!) and makes me a bad person, or at least a stupid vegetarian. And what about the small PR companies who work with folks like Troy-bilt to help them grow their business. They are small businesses, too and I don't know this for sure but I can only imagine in ruff economic times like this, one of the first cuts a company might make would be to their marketing and PR which could put these small firms right out of business. You seem to think your businesses are the only ones that matter.
It's funny, the thing that has kept me out of IGC's more than big box stores has been seed companies. This year everything in my vegetable garden has been started from seed which makes me wonder why you haven't gone after them. I guess in 2011 blaming everything on the big box stores and the Internet is much more fashionable.
grow, marvel, eat, laugh, persevere