by Cynthia L. McGowan
Shoppers count on Market Basket’s bedding plants to help them
beat the winter doldrums.
When New Englanders are emerging from a long, cold winter,
they’re eager for signs of spring. And Market Basket, a 59-store
chain based in Tewksbury, Mass., fills that need with colorful
outdoor garden centers that entice customers to buy high-quality
products to beautify their lawns and homes.
“Bedding plants are extremely important to Market Basket,” says
Jim Bielecki, the chain’s floral buyer. “Many people have been
inside and can hardly wait to get outside and into their
Making sure that Market Basket has the right garden center
products for those winter-weary customers is a year-round task
for Mr. Bielecki, who does the floral buying for all the stores.
At the close of each garden season, which runs from about the
week before Mother’s Day until the second week of June, Mr.
Bielecki, store supervisors and Produce Director Mike Maguire
review the sales numbers with each store and book for the next
Multiple factors are in play when deciding which plants to buy.
Mr. Bielecki searches out the best quality, the hottest trends
and good values.
The chain also reviews the weather patterns to help with
planning. “The key to all this is keeping accurate records of
the weather conditions,” he says. “No one can sell too many
plants when you have high winds and rain for 10 days. All this
must be accounted for when making your decisions for the next
year. Never underestimate what Mother Nature can do to you in
Throughout the year, Mr. Bielecki is constantly educating
himself on bedding plant trends to make sure the chain is ready
for consumer needs when the season arrives. “Consumers have read
so many gardening magazines and watched so many gardening shows
that we must stay on top of new varieties, color trends and
easy-grow products,” he says.
THE RIGHT VENDORS
Mr. Bielecki also stresses the importance of working with
top-notch vendors. He visits all the vendors’ operations and
says, “Each supplier must have a quality product at a fair price
so that I can offer our consumers a great value.”
Having suppliers all in the New England area is key to offering
consumers products that are fresh and free from transportation
stress. “By using local suppliers, our turn-around time to
supply the stores is four to six hours, which enables the stores
to have a great selection of plants,” he says.
Mary Ellen Prunty, floral manager of the Market Basket in Lee,
N.H., says customers are drawn to big flowers with a lot of
color. Her store did particularly well with large-head marigolds
last year. “I don’t know if it was just that it had been such a
bad winter, but people wanted a lot of color,” says Ms. Prunty,
who reports that garden center sales make up two-thirds of her
floral business during the spring season.
Ms. Prunty’s products range from trees to bedding plants to
hanging baskets. The garden center sold about 40 fruit trees
last year at $19.99 each. Eight to 10 kinds of shrubs including
Rhodendendrons/Azaleas, Forsythias, lilacs and pussy willows
sold for $9.99 to $14.99.
Pansies, which come in bowls, flats and planters, were highly
popular, at prices ranging from $9.99 to $14.99. Ms. Prunty
replaced her initial stock twice. Other bedding plants she sells
include Dahlias, Cosmos, snapdragons, Nicotiana, Petunias,
Impatiens, Salvia, Ageratum, Alyssum and dusty miller.
Hanging baskets, at $12.99 and $16.99, also are big sellers—Ms.
Prunty stocked 300 for Mother’s Day last year. The baskets had
fuchsia Begonias, New Guinea Impatiens and Bacopas as well as
combinations of daisies, geraniums and other flowering plants.
Ms. Prunty, an expert at merchandising—she won the Grand Award
in the 2003 “Merchandising Award of Excellence” contest,
sponsored by Super Floral Retailing and Börgen Systems, and also
was an Honor Winner in 2004 for sensory appeal—takes up half of
the front of the store with her garden center, ensuring that
customers can’t miss it. The sidewalk is covered by an overhang,
so the plants—and customers—are protected from the elements.
“Customers can shop if it’s raining because it’s under cover,”
Ms. Prunty points out.
Prunty uses color blocking to showcase her plants. She also
recommends breaking up the colors: “I always do a yellow, a
blue, a red, and then if there’s something not showing a lot of
color, I put right next to it another yellow or an orange,” she
Signage also is important. “Everything has to have a sign,” Ms.
Prunty says. The computer-generated signage has large, easily
legible type, with pricing prominently displayed.
The plants are carefully organized in the displays. Baskets hang
in a row across the front of the entire display. Plants in pots
go against the wall on three-stepped wooden merchandisers.
Plants in flats go in the front of the display, on pallets atop
cement blocks, which makes it easier for watering because the
water goes right through. “The roots aren’t sitting in water,”
Ms. Prunty says, keeping the plants healthy for customers.
The organization also is designed to be convenient for
customers. “It’s a continuous flow,” says Ms. Prunty. “They
start from one end and work their way through.” Adding to the
convenience is the presence of a cashier outside for garden
The high-quality products, colorful merchandising and
convenience all serve to draw repeat customers to the garden
center. Ms. Prunty reports that before the season starts,
customers ask her when her spring plants are going to arrive.
Market Basket promotes its garden centers in weekly store
fliers, but, Mr. Bielecki says, “Our consumer is positively our
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
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