Delight! It's' hip, with fresh photography, thoughtful graphics.....products under headers titles BEEKEEPING, CANNING, GARDEN SUPPLIES, CHICKENS - My heart raced. OK, first, I thought to myself "damn them". They finally did it before I could!. Still, I was genuinely excited, and quickly forwarded the site to many friends, in anticipation. But I moved too quickly. After spending some time on the site, I am much less excited, and maybe even a little bit sad.
William Sonoma.....nice try! But ouch. I can't help but wince, because it's such a miss on so many levels that even Mr. Optimistic Matt can say much good about the effort. Somehow you just missed your consumer by a rural mile. I can't even figure out who they are and that's what I do for a living. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press " as pointed out by market analyst Laura Champine, the new line will appeal to the surprising number of six-figure earners with second homes who are "open to beekeeping". All righty then.
Of course, I fall into that category, but still find this site so gratuitous and dishonest, or even misleading, that I would hate to see the hate mail that will be pouring in.
Let me be nice for a second. To be fair, many blogs and reviews have bashed William Sonoma for the pricey stylish coops (yet I love them, and might even buy one, I think they were on trend here) and for the"stylish bee veil" ( Not sure about it beeing stylish, but to those of us who really raise bees, there are times when we sometimes need one ( not always), but why not? ever raised bees? you will need it.
Other blogs have giggled about the cheesemaking kits ( cool) and the kombucha kit, ( yum), and I make no complaint about the site having expensive gardening tools, and other quality items like Weck canning jars, and excellent supplied. Great. But that part is easy. It's the unnecessary junk for the urban homesteader that starts my blood boiling, and then....and then....the vegetable plants. What's up with that! Why not sell prestarted poppies? Why not more stylish plants? Why not original containers quality information too? Informing people that they can have success with 3 pre-started pea plants is frankly, a joke. And it's a sin to be selling each of them for $16.95. Yes, you read that correctly. Are you with me now?
Mostly, I am pissed about is the missed opportunity, and the shallowness of the brand. I am so angry that they missed this opportunity simply by commodities and curating through assumption, that I am spitting mad. Anyone could have made this site simply by checking out what the competitors were stocking, and by making some big assumptions about what "this consumer" would like. Big mistake William Sonoma.
I may want a chicken coop, but chicken hatcheries only sell chick in lots of 25 - what the hell am I supposed to do with the other 20 once I shell out $1600.00 for my coop? Don't let Pinterest direct your buyers so much. Rather, have them try a grow 6 pea plants to perfection, before having them suggest and plan a garden.
At first glance, the brand delivers. It offers a tasteful selection of gardening tools and products, most chosen because of their aesthetic ( which is OK) like waxed twine in nice packaging, Haws Watering cans, beautifully packaged seed collections, crafted chicken coops and bee hives as well as starter kits. Hooray. But then, it fails, in the most miserable way ever. Suddenly, I am not as excited.
AGRARIAN, underdelivers and underdelights in some very bad ( but hopefully, fixable?), ways.
It didn't long for me to discover flaws, and that given that I am a huge fan of the parent brand, and a very serious gardener, I tried to pull my newbie gardener hat on tightly, and it still didn't work If anything, it made the experience worse, and I couldn't figure out why at first. Something just didn't seem right with this brand. At one point, I even checked to see if the site was perhaps a parody, a veiled attempt to get some PR by bashing hipsters and backyardatarians, but now...but nope - it's real. I so wanted this brand to work, but I will leave that for you to decide. Here is my review of the new William Sonoma Agrarian site/brand.
|Wilted forced endive, wilted cauliflower? really?|
Yes, they may have had me at 'Kombucha kit' ( seriously, I want it even though I know that I can do it myself). I love things like this. Kits of more obscure craft. They may even have had me ordering the $1389.00 shake roofed chicken coop! No...wait.....$1389.00? really? For eggs?) ( I mean, 6 eggs a week?) - I'd have to justify that a little more. OK, I've been known to drop $200 for a copper watering can by Haws, but I too have my limits. Quality is not one of them, but being mislead, is. And bad advice, dishonest information are things that just go up my stove pipe. What happened here? This brand feels more like Pinterest with a 'buy here' button ( a "buy here for a LOT" button), but the problem goes deeper than price. For although I might like to sink $1500 for a chicken coop that I have only seen on the hippest European design blog, I would like someone to also tell me that buying a 4 inch pot containing one lettuce plant - oops, and Heirloom, Organic lettuce plant, air-delivered to me anywhere in the continental USA is just wasteful, inappropriate and stupid. How could I then trust anything else?
William Sonoma is a fine brand, with trusted quality and service, and I am a dedicated consumer. I know that they have smart buyers and even smarter creative people working for them - and lets face it - this market they are trying to attract is elusive and in flux at the moment, so I give them credit for stepping back into the gardening waters......but who are they targeting? I would love to know who the target consumer is here.
Let's explore a prototype order then - I will propose a case study. Meet Jennifer. She shops at Whole Foods (most of the time), and she drives a nice white SUV, but wears some vintage clothes, and even shops at JCrew. Jenn wants a veggie garden so that her 3.5 kids can learn about gardening, and that food doesn't really come from the organic farmers market. Plus, Jenn will love chatting about how she has to "weed" and 'water' her "raised beds" and she may even toss about some phrases about how "awesome" her organic beets are compared to the farmers market beets, the next time she sees her "best friend Lydia" at the coffee shop.
Jenn has never gardened before, but she's been wanting to try perhaps a few raised beds, and maybe even a chicken or two in her back yard, after all, she is motivate, and, it is spring. While reading her favorite design blogs one day, she spots a cool chicken coop photo in the sidebar on Apartment Therapy on an post that her best friend Jess sent her. When she goes to the site, she is thrilled that it is owned by William Sonoma, her fav retailer who also owns some of her favorite brands like West Elm and Pottery Barn. "Come on! This is cool. " she says in her head "They have a gardening site!". She surfs the site a bit ( they still say "surf", don't they?) and downloads a great garden plant called PLANT-A-GRAM garden plan. It tells her exactly what to get for her garden planned out by square feet. "Neat!".
Jen reads that she needs to have a whole lot of plants - like 6 snap peas, and 6 beat plants, but she notices that she can order those right from the William Sonoma web site. "cool!". Wow, that seems a little expensive" she thinks. "I wonder why the pea plants cost $16.95 each?" But then she calms down once she reads the details, and sees that each plant is 12 inches tall, and staked.
|$16.95 for one Organic 'Freckles" Heirloom Lettuce Plant. Can I order 24 please?|
Jenn also orders the 48" square raised bed and then, using the provided Plant-a-gram Salad Garden plan from site, she places her order. All from William Sonoma Agrarian:
12 Organic Bibb Lettuce Plants at $16.95 each ( in a 4" pot)
2 pots of multi sown seedlings of Organic Heirloom Bulls Blood Beets for $16.95 ea.
6 pots of Organic Heirloom Red Romain plants at $16.95 ea.
6 pots of 12 " high Organic Heirloom Sugar Snap peas at $16.95 ea.
6 pots of Organic Freckles Lettuce Plants at $16.95 ea.
6 pot of Organic Green Oak Leaf Lettuce at $16.95 ea.
3 pots of Organic Cheddar Cauliflower plants at $16.95 ea.
I left out the unavailable 6 Italian Brocoli Rabe, the 12 Organic Heirloom Arugula plants and 3 purple Graffiti Cauliflower plants which would have raised the cost of her order
The total for plants for this "salad" garden is still: $695.45.
Jenn's order arrives, and she plants her raised bed which is four feet square. That night, she dreams about what the site tells her will happen from this planting
"Harvest lettuces and arugula leaves from the plant's outer edges, and the inner foliage will continue to produce. Enjoy young beet greens fresh in a salad or quickly sauté them along with the broccoli rabe. Harvest the beets when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Other vegetables such as cauliflower and sugar snap peas can be shaved and served raw or lightly steamed for warm salads or healthy side dishes."
Clearly there has to be a strategy here...right? I can only assume someone actually planted 6 pea plants as measured what one can harvest, after all, the description does say " sugar snap peas can be shaved and served as a healthy side dish".
My guess is the Jenn will be shaving more than peas.
Snarkyness aside. Aside from the even more obvious issues here, ( like transplantability of beets, or the volumes needed to provide a useable crop even for one harvest or one recipe) the problems with this new venture are many. It's almost as if, they didn't even try to identify what people really need and want. I can only imagine someone at William Sonoma saying something in a meeting like" Hey, if Urban Outfitters can sell plants and gardening stuff, then we can do it better, we have a better and more trusted brand name - get out there and compete, damn it!). And off went buyers looking for products and partnerships.
I must give some credit, the seeds sold under the Beekman 1805 house look awesome, but I still question where they seeds come from - for many gardeners, it's more than packaging ( although the packaging is stunning). Hooray for the Haw's watering cans, even the nice bee keeping materials. Hooray for the overall visual aesthetic and design of the entire brand for that matter. Even the gardening tools are fine, and worth the investment to many of us who appreciate good design and quality, or at the very least, experience. Sometimes a hand hewn brass tool is just nice to use, to own, to cherish even though a plastic one can do the same job. We all have different values.
To sum it up, all is not lost here - William Sonoma can still grow this brand into something amazing and meaningful, but it will take some work in understanding who and what they stand for honestly. Right now, it all feels a little disingenuous, a little too much like they are trying to be something that they are not.
The new gardener is an elusive market, with boundaries muddled across a broad audience of beginners to experts, it's not easy to see how one can miss at least, hitting one of those consumer groups, but I think may have missed them all.
My advice to William Sonoma?
- Try your products out first, then write about them, or test them.
Just because White Flower Farm sells olive trees for $79.00. doesn't mean you can too. But it you do, make them awesome French or Italian cultivars, not trained topiaries for kitchen tables. If you want to sell small topiaries, sell awesome ones that will grow on a kitchen table like Myrtus.
- Know your audience in and out. Don't guess at what they might want or need, and don't use your competitors as examples as much as learn what fantasies are in your consumers heads. Sell the experience, not, 'just because we can'.
- Be careful about building a brand based on a curated collection, unless we know who the curator is.
- Be honest and genuine - lettuce plants sold as individual plants for $16.95 may seem smart, but I guarantee that you will not have a repeat customer. It was a stupid idea.
- Sure customers want gardening to be easy, but is that the customer you want? Or do you want the expert gardener? maybe you want to appeal to the 40 and up woman who wants a sustainable garden, who is affluent? Great. But I challenge all of those models since your product line does not connect to any of them. Gardening is part science, part experience, and part results, plus, it's hard to get right. In many ways, it's very similar to cooking. But you must know who your chefs are. 'The French Laundry' shows people how to boil a calves head for two days, but few home chef's will do that. But many want their kitchens to look as if they could. That logic plays into a different fantasy when it comes to gardening.
- Be wary about consultants, or internal directives who are not truly experienced. Exercise care with evaluating your buyers choices or what your merchandiser creates or designs. When in doubt, test it out with some consumers first, or, be sure that he or she raises bees, keeps chickens and gardens.
- Be daring, be risky.