Burpee Holding Co. Files for Chapter 11

Burpee Holding Co., the Warminster, PA-based holding company of seed cataloger W. Atlee Burpee & Co., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Philadelphia bankruptcy court Sept. 21. The filing “will have zero impact on our catalog business,” says Burpee chairman George C. Ball Jr., nor is the company exploring buyout options.

According to Ball, “discussions were becoming disputatious with our bank lender regarding our acquisitions,” though he would not disclose specifically which acquisitions. In January, Burpee had bought assets of now-defunct pure-play Garden.com; in June 2000 it had acquired the Heronswood Nursery catalog.

Burpee Holding Co.’s filing comes on the heels of similar filings from gardening catalogers such as Foster & Gallagher (see page 8) and Etera. “Big box” retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s “are stealing market share from every type of garden retailer and cataloger, because they’ve begun to sell products that were once available only by catalog or in specialty garden stores,” says Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association in South Burlington, VT.

Butterfield also notes that the past year’s exceptionally long and cold winter delayed gardeners’ purchases for spring planting. “By April, some gardeners may have feared that it was too late to order by mail and wait for the products, so they went to their local garden centers for what they needed,” he says.

And the popularity of seeds — the mainstay of numerous catalogers, including Burpee — is dwindling in favor of plants. In 1999, the most recent year for which data are available, 35.1 million gardeners purchased annual flower transplants, 28.7 million bought perennial flower transplants, and 22.0 million purchased vegetable plants. Comparatively, 13.3 million gardeners bought annual flower seeds, 10.4 million bought perennial flower seeds, and 15.7 million bought vegetable seeds.

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