Merrimack, NH-based multititle mailer Brookstone announced on June 28 that it was putting Gardeners Eden on the selling block. The same day the company pruned the gardening products title’s staff, laying off 19 administrative employees at its headquarters.
Brookstone has no plans to stop mailing the catalog or close its stores or Website while it waits for a buyer, according to spokesperson Robert Padgett. “From headquarters, the business is being run by remaining Gardeners Eden corporate staff, as well as a number of Brookstone employees, who historically have contributed to Gardeners Eden operations,” Padgett explained in an e-mail to Multichannel Merchant.
Furthermore, he said, “all five retail stores remain open and fully staffed, the Website at www.gardenerseden.com is fully operational and taking customer orders, and we are preparing to mail a Gardeners Eden catalog in August.”
In addition to Gardeners Eden and the flagship Brookstone catalog and stores, which sell high-tech gadgets and gifts, the company mails the Hard-to-Find Tools catalog. On April 15, Brookstone signed a definitive agreement to be sold to OSIM International, J.W. Childs Associates, and Temasek Capital.
Founded in 1982 by entrepreneur Ruth Owades, the Gardeners Eden catalog was sold to San Francisco-based multititle mailer Williams-Sonoma in the late 1980s; Williams-Sonoma sold it to Brookstone in 1999. Gardeners Eden had sales of $16 million last year; it also had a pretax operating loss of $3.6 million.
A brown thumb for merchandising
Some industry watchers believe Gardeners Eden’s unimpressive performance could stem from lackluster merchandising. For intance, Terry Sutton, a former director of merchandising at Gardeners Eden under Williams-Sonoma who now runs New York-based brand development firm Terry Sutton & Associates, says that the brand could stand to update its offering.
“I did not see a lot of newness” with the title’s merchandise, she says. Brookstone seemed to be following “what was already there when it was with Williams-Sonoma.” The catalog’s prices are on the higher end of the gardening products spectrum (its average order size is $130), she adds, and “that business at that level of price point needs to be updated.”
Some of the merchandise updates that the company has made stray too far from its mission, in Sutton’s opinion. Among the products that Gardeners Eden now sells are home decor, tabletop items, and personal care products. Because the garden products category is so diverse, Sutton says, catalogers mistakenly think they can expand into a merchandise category such as linens by, say, adding tablecloths that have flowers on them, “and that winds up diluting the brand.”
Another challenge for Gardeners Eden is generating sustained volume in a highly seasonal business, says New York-based merchandising consultant Alyce Goodman. Brookstone says that the title operates at a loss for the first three quarters of the year and then makes a profit in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard when you can’t run a volume business year-round, especially with Gardeners Eden’s outdoor-product categories,” Goodman says. And so much of what the company sells, such as birdbaths and Adirondack chairs, “is expensive to ship and takes up a lot of warehouse space. That’s not a great catalog combination.”