Befuddled by Nursery Customer Relations??

After following some other horticulture blogs more closely in recent months, I’ve decided it doesn’t hurt to occasionally rant now and then. I believe this will be the first time I’ve used this blog to rant against someone other than myself. I’ve decided to leave the subject of this rant anonymous so as to avoid being unnecessarily antagonistic. But I’m sure they will know who they are if they read this. If this post were to start a conversation and some sort of positive relationship with them, well that would be just grand.

So here’s the story. In late November, as we are all trying to forget, we had a big freeze in which the temperature dropped to 12 degrees. Just a couple days after it warmed back above freezing, a particular nursery posted on their Facebook page (and I’m paraphrasing), “Wow! Look at these certain plants we have that survived 12 degrees in their pots with no damage! That’s right folks, if it’s not totally hardy here, we won’t sell it to you.”

Now I won’t, and don’t, claim that everything we grow and sell is “hardy” for everyone around here—I freely admit that certain plants we offer (the most exciting ones, of course!) may be considered a risk, especially for colder gardens, and just plain not hardy in some cases (I mean, we can’t really grow Leucadendrons here, whatever die-hard zonal denialists might think). Additionally, if I may be so candid as to say this, I also don’t claim our business has always maintained a flawless customer service record. Like anyone that wants to stay in business, we pledge to always do whatever we can to give our customers a positive experience and to make things right if something bad happens, but rarely certain things have slipped through the cracks leaving it to the customer to initiate this process.

I also have more than enough experience to know that just because a potted plant—particularly a broadleaf evergreen, which the subject plants were—looks good two days after a freeze, doesn’t mean it’s going to be fine. It’s very common for the root system of the plant, having frozen solid, to be killed in a freeze like this—the top may look good for a while but eventually with no roots the whole thing collapses. And it’s VERY RARE for damage to show up right away in these instances—it usually takes weeks or months, not just a couple days.

So I posted a reply to this nursery’s Facebook post, something to the effect of: “Be careful! Plants’ roots are often much less hardy than top growth, and damage may not always be evident right away.” (And, by the way, I was posting as a regular user, with no hint of connection to my nursery business.)

So how do you think this nursery might have responded to my reply? A few options come to mind. They could assure me (and everyone else reading) that if someone purchases these plants and they fail, they will replace them (I would have no problem making such a guarantee under the same circumstances!). They could use this as an opportunity to discuss the topic of root hardiness in general, thereby fostering the education of themselves, everyone else reading, and possibly me. At the very least, they could even just tell me I’m wrong, and the plants will be fine because they have been through this before and lived.

Instead, they deleted my comment, and that was it. No personal message of any sort, nothing.

I’m not impressed. Do I feel like patronizing this nursery now? Did I have a positive experience with them? Am I going to recommend them to my friends? Am I going to want to continue “liking” their Facebook page?

For the time being I’ve decided to give this business one more chance, at least until I meet the owner in person. Because sometimes we all make mistakes and deserve another chance. And I won’t be bringing up this topic unless he/she reads this post and wants to talk about it. I mean, with the kind of response to customers that I experienced, any more customers who are put off by them could mean more business for us!

Seriously though, I want all small and local nurseries to do well especially given the current economic climate. We just have to admit we all have more to learn in our own particular areas—us too.

UPDATE 1/3/2011

OK – this person seriously needs to get a clue. Her latest Facebook post is basically an advertisement for the chemical herbicide RoundUp. Her main point is to advocate spraying weeds now while we have a chance during this period of uncommonly dry winter weather – which would be fine advice if it weren’t for the toxicity problems with RoundUp. She even says “Round-Up… degenerates in soil to become glycine ( a natural amino acid ) and phosphates ( a nutrient ). No harmful residues are left.”

The problem is, not everyone is convinced RoundUp is safe. I know that many people use RoundUp without giving it a second thought. However, many gardeners, especially those in the younger generation which should be her target customers, are suspicious of RoundUp at best, or are in agreement with studies that have concluded it is highly toxic to humans and the environment. Also, RoundUp is manufactured by Monsanto, the name of which immediately makes some people run far away from any business even remotely associated with its products.

Mind you, I’m really not trying to be too political or anything here. I’m just pointing out that this nursery owner may be inadvertently alienating a large proportion of her potential customer base. Next time I hope she’ll think twice about that. I’m sure I’ve made a few statements on my Facebook page that have put off some people: since I’ve started it, 113 people have joined and 16 have left. It is impossible to please everyone, but I still try to emphasize that gardening is something that should bring people together as much as possible, rather than alienating certain people who don’t agree with the business over a particular political or environmental cause.

BTW, at the Desert Northwest, we neither use or promote RoundUp, as we feel the evidence is not in its favor, and we really just don’t need to anyways. But people who do use it are still welcome here. In fact, at least one of our favorite ‘plant people’ who owns another nursery we really like has been known to use it at need.

I won’t post direct links here, but a quick Google search for ‘RoundUp toxicity’ turns up plenty of information that I encourage readers to judge for themselves. Whatever your stance, it doesn’t hurt to be educated.
~Ian

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Social Media Shenanigans « THE DESERT NORTHWEST [blog]
  2. Horticulturist
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 04:46:57

    Norman C Deno, professor emeritus at Penn Stat University is my source for degradation processes of Round-Up.
    I certainly don’t have the background to dispute his knowledge.
    And I would appreciate a candid conversation if my postings offend you. You feel that deleting posts with no explanation is rude. This is hypocritical.

    Reply

  3. Ian
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 09:59:07

    The purpose of keeping nurseries that are the subjects of these posts anonymous is to focus the discussion on the topic in general rather than attacking anyone in particular. Had I not kept both parties anonymous, then yes, this would be quite rude as would my other post.

    Perhaps my strong feelings against RoundUp have clouded the main point of this discussion. It is not really about my feelings, your recommendations, or even about RoundUp. The broader question is on a very general level, does any business want to get caught endorsing a product when public sentiment is rapidly turning against this product? Any business should be prepared to stand behind what they’re selling to their market. Is it possible that some potential customers, having followed your Facebook feed, may have chosen not to shop with you because they, too, have reservations about RoundUp? Of course, you can never please everyone, so that’s sort of a fine line.

    Whether RoundUp is actually problematic, is a separate layer to the discussion. To me this is an instance where considering a variety of sources rather than just one is more likely to lead to a balanced and informed conclusion.

    Thanks for commenting, and if at any point you’d like to take this discussion private, that’s fine by me. – mail@desertnorthwest.com

    Reply

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