Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Letter to Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses

ADDED 1/9/12: I found out today, more than a year after this post first went up, that a day after it went live here at PATSP, most of it was duplicated at Yelp.com as a one-star review.

I not the person who posted it to Yelp as a review. I don't recognize the name of the person who did. They did not ask permission to do it. I would not have given permission had I been asked. I've asked Yelp if the above is sufficient grounds to have the review taken down, and we'll see what they say.

It also happens that most of the criticisms I have for Pierson's in this post -- though accurate at the time -- have been addressed to some degree or another, which is also part of why it distresses me that this has been allowed to stand as a permanent (or internet-permanent, anyway) evaluation of their business. I wrote it because I was frustrated with them and wanted them to do better, not because I wanted to hang it around their necks forever.

ANOTHER ADDITION 1/11/12: Yelp did remove the review.

ANOTHER ADDITION 1/16/12: My more recent evaluation of Pierson's: The Brick Joke.

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17-18 October 2010

Dear Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses,

I am writing this letter to let you know that I'm going to stop visiting your store at 1800 Ellis Blvd NW in Cedar Rapids, IA, for a while. This isn't over any one particular thing, just a lot of little things that have been going on forever, that I finally got fed up with on a visit to the store last Friday.

It started out looking promising. Your sign out front said houseplants were 50% off, which is usually the only time I can afford to buy any of your plants. So that was exciting. And when I looked around in your tropical greenhouse, I did find something I wanted to buy: you had two different Pedilanthus varieties that I'd never seen in person before. Although they didn't have prices on them (because you almost never have prices on anything), I figured they were probably something I could afford. This is an increasingly rare experience for me, finding a plant I haven't seen before, so I was briefly very pleased with you.

But when I checked the plants closer, I found problems. The stems and leaves were spotted with a gray-white, fuzzy fungus.

I realize you're selling the plant at 50% off, but the plants should still be healthy, no? I mean, this plant couldn't have been there very long; I'd last been there on August 15, and you didn't have them then, so at most it had been in your care two months. You guys are supposed to be in the business of keeping them alive, healthy, and pretty.

So what gives? It took me all of five seconds to figure out what was going on: you stuck Pedilanthus, a genus which is fairly prone to fungus if its leaves get wet, underneath hanging baskets. The baskets get watered, the water drips down, the Pedilanthus gets wet, therefore fungus.

And there was all kinds of stuff like that going on in there, that someone who knows anything about tropical plants should know better than to do. The Dracaenas were defoliating from the bottom: that means they're too wet. The cacti were standing in water, in the shady greenhouse, again, just like they were in May. You may as well not carry cacti at all, if you're going to keep them sopping wet and in the dark. That's the sort of thing I expect from Home Depot, not an independent garden center that's been in business for decades.

This picture is actually from May, but they still looked like this in October. Probably not the same specimens in October that were there in May, obviously.

You have a flat of 4-inch pots by the window that have been taken over by weeds. Whatever the plants in those pots originally were, they're not there anymore: why are the pots still there? You don't need that stuff on the sales floor. Some of your 3-inch tropicals were tangled up in one another so badly that I couldn't have pulled one out to buy even if I'd wanted to. Others of the 3-inch plants were dead because at some point they tipped over and nobody set them upright again, so they couldn't be watered. Five seconds to right a plant is too much effort? You have 4-inch ferns that are down to their last two fronds, and nobody's bothered to pull out the dead fronds. Whiteflies fluttered out when I bumped some of the Hibiscus. (Admittedly not entirely your fault: it's been a bad year for whiteflies in Eastern Iowa. But even so. You're thinking you'll cut the price in half and sucker some customers into taking these plants home? Shame on you.)

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Enlightenment.'

The Brugmansias still have aphids, just as they did in August. Your Cissus rhombifolias and your Columnea hanging baskets were mostly dead, and where they weren't dead they were yellowing. There was a piece of Euphorbia lactea sitting on the table next to the plant; it looked like a customer or someone had knocked it off accidentally, but nobody's bothered to pick it up. And who, exactly, do you think is the market for a $30, bloomed-out, half dead Phalaenopsis? Why would I bother, when I can go to Lowe's and get a healthy one fresh off the truck for $15?

The list goes on and on and on like that. Which, if it had been the first time I saw fungus, or the first time I saw bugs, or if you always got everything right except tagging and pricing the pots, then I'd just assume that you were having a bad day, bad month, bad year. But these things have been going on forever. Eventually, I had an epiphany: y'all don't care about the plants. You might or might not know how to grow them, but it's obviously not a priority. Nor is scheduling enough hours for the employees to clean up the debris and the dead plants. Instead you put everything on sale at half price and hope that the customers will sort things out for you, while you focus your attentions on the poinsettias that just came in, because that's where the money's coming from this winter. And, okay, fine, but your tropical greenhouse currently has problems with overwatering, fungus, and whiteflies. Can you name three things that are especially likely to ruin the sales value of poinsettias, just off the top of your head?

I know you've had a rough last few years: the flood hit you pretty hard, and the economy crashed right as you were re-opening the store, which couldn't have helped. I know it's poinsettia season and the tropicals are not your priority. I know you're an independent garden center and you have a lot of competitors, some of whom can get better wholesale prices than you can. I know you're really more of a florist than a garden center anyway. I know it's expensive to have people on the payroll, especially in the fall when people are mostly not buying garden-related merchandise and there's not a lot of cash coming in. I know you've been in business forever, and you've always done things this way, and it's worked fine for decades so clearly you know what you're doing and if some blogger wants to tell you how to run your business then he can go fuck himself.

Maybe so. But you've lost this particular customer for a solid year or two, all the same.


Anonymous said...

Shame about the Pedilanthus, esp the 2nd dark green one. I'd buy one of those for sure if I ever saw them here in Toronto. Your letter was right on track because, as you observed, this was not a one-time (or even a two-time) occurence but something that had been going on for a while. I might have waited for a response before making the letter public but that's your call. I'm not the one who shops there so I don't know the whole story.

Liza said...

They should sell the nursery to you!

Paul said...

I'd never buy anything I expect to last more than a week from a florist. Florists have no sense of maintenance in my experience. They're disposable-minded and mostly concerned with freezing a portrait (bouquet). No, that doesn't excuse their dreadful mismanagement of affairs, but it explains it. I do feel sad for the poor plants, especially the brugmansias. I love those!!

mr_subjunctive said...


Oh, gods, no. The point was not I could do a better job than you (maybe I could, probably I couldn't: it's not like I have experience running a business) so much as all of your competition is doing a better job than you.


You may have a point about letting them respond first, but A) I don't actually expect them to see this at all, and B) if they did, what're they going to say? The only choices they've got are yes we know we suck we're sorry or we're sorry you were disappointed but we try to provide quality plants at fair prices blah blah blah, neither of which makes me feel any better.

This post is really more about me being righteously indignant than about trying to change the way they run things. If there was a chance at changing the way they run things, I figure it would have happened a long time ago.

I could probably have dealt with the frustration more maturely, but this has been building for almost two years and I'd finally had enough of being teased with half-ruined, overpriced plants.

mr_subjunctive said...


It's a bit ambiguous where they stand on the florist/garden-center continuum; they do have four (five?) greenhouses attached to the store for tropical plants, and they sell trees, perennials, and annuals in the spring and summer, so they certainly look like a garden center, but I don't think they actually sell stuff like lawn-care products, herbicides, pruners, and the like. In any case, they ought to know enough about the stuff they sell to be able to take care of it appropriately, as all their competition seems to be able to do.

amccour said...

I see persistent pest and fungus issues, as well as drowned cacti, at locally owned greenhouses and garden centers a lot. I tend to think that a lot of these places get most of their money from seasonal landscaping plants and the like and less from houseplants.

Although it still doesn't seem economically viable to me to treat the plants in such a manner that will eventually kill them, unless the greenhouses get reimbursed for dead plants by the growers or something.

lynn'sgarden said...

A fun read, Mr. Subj.
I can think of 3 local greenhouse
businesses in my area that should receive this letter as well.

You'll probably see a FOR SALE sign not long from now...

p.s. Happy 3rd Blogaversary! :)

mr_subjunctive said...


I'm pretty sure they don't get reimbursed for plants they don't sell. Stores like Lowe's sometimes (always?) have a similar kind of deal (my understanding is that Lowe's doesn't pay for its plants until they have sold, and if they die without selling then the supplier eats the loss), but an independent garden center wouldn't be able to negotiate a deal like that. My guess is that they price the plants high enough that they don't actually need to sell that many to turn a profit, and they rely a lot on seasonal plants like points and Easter lilies, which they can mark up outrageously to begin with, and then mark up even more with some foil and bows and a card. What irks me is that they wouldn't have to make huge, sweeping, expensive changes to the way they deal with their houseplants in order to keep them sellable: give me a couple hours with a bucket, and I could clean up the dead plants and dropped leaves. They could get some flats for 3-inch plants to hold the small plants upright, so they don't tip over and die. They could keep the hanging baskets from being on top of the succulents. They could train people to water only the things that need water. This isn't extreme, impossible stuff, and it would help their cash crops like the points too.


I doubt it; we saw something on Friday that made it look like they were opening a third Cedar Rapids location, actually.

And thanks.

Anonymous said...

Oh! If you linked directly to their site, you probably needn't have sorted through Google results; as fucked up as the Yelp plagiarism is, cookies are probably the culprit. I would imagine they saw traffic coming from this post. It's just a theory, from a small business manager who minds patterns like that in our web traffic.