This is a blog post from by Matt Mattus

Scott’s Miracle Grow Company announced today that they are shutting down their high-end gardening retail business Smith & Hawken this week. ( I know! Scott’s Miracle grow!! They bought the company in 2004). I suppose it is not surprising that the brand was headed in this direction, after all, the signs were all there. My favorite location, on West Broadway in New York started carrying less and less merchandise that was unique and stylish, opting for more mass market brands and items, with less creative uniqueness that the brand was originally known for, and then Smith & Hawken started licensing the brand to Target Stores with a low-end line. All nails in the coffin, in many ways, of course, along with the economy and the competition. Yes….the competition.

Look….as a designer and a creative trend hunter, I can’t help but apply my filters to my hobbies, too. For those of us interested in plants, things are changing fast. For most people, growing plants has become a lifestyle hobby, a place where they can express themselves, and self expression is rare today. Have you ever wondered how we ever lived without Michael’s Craft Stores, the D.I.Y channel and Home Depot? Do it yourself is certainly self expression, as well as the recent rise of the craft movement, and cuisine. The fact that Americans now know what Arugula is, as well as Mesclun, is a testament to out new found passion of self expression and experience. Entertainment has moved the line of appreciation higher for some, such as foodies, and lower for others, such as plant folk. For now, anyway. But maybe things are changing.

Sure, we live in a sound-bite world with 900 TV channels and still nothing to watch. Sure, we want more and more information but less time to consume it all. Forget newspapers, we get our news from other sources now. Forget about no going out on a Friday night for dinner because our fav gardening program is on, we can just Tivo it and watch it at 6:00 am Sunday morning. And forget about taking three hours on a Saturday to go to a Pelargonium Society meeting, when I can just go to their website at my lunch hour at work and upload some photos I took on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when I had a spare hour. Yes, modern life is even changing the way we enjoy our past time, gardening. I don’t know if it is all that bad?

I still love to get Society Journals and Quarterlies in the mail, I read them in bed, on a plane, or outside on the deck with a glass of wine. But I also like the convenience of the Internet, to see others photos, read about their successes and failures, I particularly love to waste time multitasking on my laptop ordering bulbs while the TV provides it’s mindless background noise. I admit it. I’m OK with it.

So, why did Smith & Hawken fail? One can only speculate. For one reason, teh economy, surely, but I also have a personal one, even have even stopped buying product from them. No, that shouldn’t shut down any one, but it might, them. I think the ‘experience’ changed for me, in the end. I felt different when I went into one of their stores. Less excited, I guess. I used to discover things that I could not find anywhere else, things that we’re authentic. Like Guy Wolff Pottery. Then, Smith & Hawkins started carrying their own line of faux Guy Wolff, for nearly the same price. Why would I buy that? When I could go directly to Guy himself to buy the pots at less cost.

Ten years ago, there was a visual style associated with Smith & Hawkin. Either it never evolved, or it became too cliche as low cost retailers copied it for lest cost. Teak furniture is common today, and faux teak is available at Lowes and Home Dept. Even I bought an oak bench that looked like a Smith & Hawkin design, for $200. rather than $600. If I now wanted a quality teak bench, then I would go to a authentic garden bench retailer like xxxxx and pay $1200. It’s more authentic. Smith & Hawkins clearly have lost their identity But why?

Design is important to me, and ten years ago, the company had a ‘look’. Now that I think about it, at that time they we’re owned by Williams & Sonoma ( who also owns the Pottery Barn). Yes, these are all luxury brands, but again, I am OK with that, when Luxury means quality and authenticity. It’s when Luxury becomes faux that it feels disingenuous, and thus, fake. Why pay for that, and if you do, then go to Target. (I’m OK with that, too, BTW).

What I am not OK with is that many unique and specialty brands become bought-out by big business, and then they are managed ineffectively and loose thier quality. Mostly, I believe that they lose their design edge, what probably elevated them in the consumer mindset in the first plant. In 2004 when Scott’s purchased Smith & Hawken, they hired David palacek to deisgn their retail experience. Not a bad move, after all, he has already recrafted WIlliams and Sonoma and Pottery Barn. As someone in the design business for a living, I can only speculate that too many cooks we’re in this kitchen, and the cooks were not chefs.

I use this analogy alot, but I believe that cooking, design, and even gardening, are all creative arts, and actually, quite similar when you consider that they all rely upon creativity. The world of cuisine suffered for years until a few star chefs, emerged, and became stars, brands even, Then things began to change. Emeril,( the brand) is now owned my Martha Stewart ( the brand), not surprising perhaps, but they both represent clear, authentic expressions, and I can only assume that the smart people at MSLO will manage this correctly.Target behaves in the same way. They fostered once garden designer turned TV celeb Sean Conway, who lives near me, into first one of thier named brands ( the Sean Conway line), and then he moved on to cable TV with an apparantly successful lifestyle program that I wish I could get in the Boston area, called Cultivating Life ( also a book).

Then comes…TERRAIN..

But then there is TERRAIN, perhaps the best expression of how a gardening brand can evolve is what specialty retailer Urban Outfitters has created. As one of the premiere design-driven companies around, Urban Outfitters has exercised it’s creative muscle in some very new and authentic ways. This Philadelphia based fashion and lifestyle company has opened, or shall I say, redesigned a Philadelphia area nursery, into what many feel is the new garden center. Youthful, design centric and stunning, Terrain is catching everyones eye, from publishers to garden geeks like me. Watch how this store will change everything. At least it has for Phily shoppers. Here is the press release from a year ago.

“The traditional atmosphere, the horticultural and land design expertise, and the wide range of plants in the region are enhanced by a new sense of style from Terrain – the people who brought you the design innovation of the Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People stores… Drawing on the work of contemporary designers and traditional style from around the world, Terrain at Styer’s integrates home and garden into a personal living space enhanced by a connection to nature, and respect for our environment and our community.”

This should have been a kick in the butt, to Scott’s Miracle Grow, that perhaps the needed a makeover fasssst.

Yes, some Styer;s shoppers complained, and others felt that this was just another Starbuckification scheme taking over the world, but many feel that the store is quite nice. Many bloggers like hiddeninfrance and Oh Joy have posted on the store, and many picks can be seen on Flickr, just search terrain.

From the TERRAIN web site.

SO how successful is Terrain? Well, time will tell, but at the Philadelphia Flowershow, their garden display one best of show, and people popularity vote.

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