Foster & Gallagher Springs Up on the Web
Foster & Gallagher, Peoria, IL, the megabig horticultural direct marketer, has been taking a slow approach to the Web, but made a major plunge in late April when its Spring Hill Group launched Garden Solutions (www.gardensolutions. com), a full-fledged site, including e-commerce.
Up to now, F&G had a meager Web presence; Spring Hill, which includes the Spring Hill Nurseries, Breck’s, Vermont Wildflower Farms and Stark Bros. books, had a small site, mainly for ordering print catalogs.
“We didn’t see any advantage to leaping in for the sake of leaping in,” says John Lappegaard, president of the Spring Hill Group, which last year accounted for $130 million of F&G’s nearly $500 million in sales.
Of F&G’s five groups, Spring Hill is the first to put up a site and Lappegaard says it’s possible that the others will follow suit.
Through its online shopping, Garden Solutions offers a full range of bulbs, plants, shrubs, trees, fencing and nature ornaments like chimes and mobiles. Products are organized into 20 departments, plus subdepartments; for example, users can go into “bulbs” and “deer resistant.” Customers can order online, by phone or by fax.
Orders can be checked through e-mail, but a more robust system is in the works. Lappegaard says that’s important because of the long lead times in horticultural buying.
Garden Solutions’ features include customer service and information, catalog ordering and a weekly spotlighted item (recently, a George Burns Floribunda Rose). There’s a free gift for registering. The site stores information on users’ gardening environment and soil conditions (the form asks questions such as the size of the garden and any diseases it’s susceptible to). Live chats are also scheduled (“All About Perennials” on June 4 and “Roses-How to Get Started and Ongoing Care” June 18).
The InfoDigger database, created in partnership with the National Gardening Association, offers instant information via 400 how-to articles, 400 tips and 10,000 answers to frequently asked questions. (The InfoDigger’s mascot is a pinkish bookworm.) And if that’s not enough, the site’s hosts, “Barb and Bob,” will answer questions via e-mail.
Garden Solutions isn’t perfected yet. The information that InfoDigger digs up takes a long time to download. And that’s frustrating, considering it’s a slow, graphics-laden (all those flowers and such) site to begin with.
F&G wasn’t the first horticultural business on the Web. The biggest is Garden Escape (www. garden.com), started way back in September 1995. The two share many similar features; instead of Barb and Bob, Garden Escape has the Garden Doctor.
In theory, Garden Escape could have presented a problem for F&G, in the way that Web-only bookseller Amazon.com is giving Barnes & Noble some headaches. But Garden Escape hasn’t turned out to be a category killer. Lappegaard points out that direct marketing horticultural products is more complicated than books; for one thing, you don’t have to worry about sending dead books.
F&G, of course, has the fulfillment already in place. Lappegaard says the focus has been on the front end, the Web site itself. One of its advantages, he mentions, is the ability to provide more product information. And it already had that information on hand.
Recently, Michael Dell, founder of DMer Dell Computer Corp., Round Rock, TX, predicted that in a few years half his sales will come over the Internet. Lappegaard doesn’t place as much importance on online sales for F&G. He sees the Net as an additional channel. “It’s another way to reach our customers and hopefully attract new ones,” he says.