Live from NEMOA: Smith & Hawken Positions Itself for Growth

Groton, CT–Change is in the air at cataloger/retailer Smith & Hawken. Rick Ragusa, vice president of direct-to-consumer for the upscale gardening supplies and outdoor furniture merchant detailed those changes during the opening general session, “Positioning Your Catalog for Growth,” at the fall conference of the New England Mail Order Association here on Sept. 22.

Smith & Hawken, which was founded in 1979 by Dave Smith and Paul Hawken, has already undergone many changes. In 1993, CML Group, best known for its NordicTrack brand, purchased the company. Five years later, CML Group was bankrupt and Smith & Hawken sold to investment firm DDJ Capital and the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. Fast-forward to October 2004, when Smith & Hawken was purchased by lawn-care manufacturer Scotts.

By then, the company’s direct business had grown to 29% of sales. In addition to a Website and a print catalog it operated 57 stores. But, said Ragusa, for the company to perform at the level its new parent company expected, it had to find a way to manage itself through change. Referring to the movie “Jaws,” Ragusa said, “We quickly realized we were going to need a bigger boat.”

To that end, Smith & Hawken got busy revamping and realigning itself into a sleeker multichannel business. It opened 150 store-within-a-store locations at independent garden centers. “We’re not fighting the store-within-a-store concept,” Ragusa said. “We’re embracing it. It gives us more exposure.”

Smith & Hawken also developed marketing partnerships with retail giant Target and, in which Target will carry a line of Smith & Hawken garden accessories. “Again, more exposure,” Ragusa said. “Outside of our niche, no one really knew who we were at all.” As if that weren’t enough, Smith & Hawken redesigned its catalog and Website “to make it more of a lifestyle brand,” he said

Ragusa told attendees that they too could position their businesses for further growth by taking a deeper, more meaningful look at their businesses. For starters, he advised companies to break out of organizational silos and to unite, rather than separate, divisions. He also recommended informing the entire organization of budgetary requirements and goals.

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