I'm all ready to be skeptical about some company that promises to offer garden centers a canned, pre-made, searchable website database thingy that promises to solve all their Internet and social media woes. I mean,the whole point of independent garden centers is that they're independent, right? And any kind of turnkey, off-the-shelf website deal must have Big Plant money behind it, which means that the whole website is going to end up being all about Proven Winners and Monvrovia.
Well, not necessarily. I bet your local independent bookstore has a website powered by IndieBound, the American Booksellers Association's giant book database that makes it much easier for independent bookstores to have a searchable website without re-inventing the wheel. That's cool, right?
So I talked to the guys at 10-20 Media not long ago and I have to say, I think I might dig this thing. Here's what it is:
It's a big plant and product database that garden centers can subscribe to and put on their website. The data comes from plant and product companies, and garden centers can go through and check the products from that company that they carry. Then it goes on their website, and people can go to the website and search for the stuff they're looking for, and at least have some idea of whether or not the garden center carries that thing.
Now, that thing may or may not be in stock. It doesn't talk to the garden center's inventory or anything. But let's say you want to go have a look at some Dramm hoses or some Wave petunias. You can at least find out where those things might be found.
But wait–you say. What about the tiny heather nursery down the street that sells plants to the garden center? Or the local company that makes ceramic pots? Well, the heather nursery or the potter can upload its inventory to the database. I know, that could be a lot of work for a little business, but the point is–it's possible.
And here's the other thing: the app. There's a website and an app called Garden Pilot where you can go and search for a plant. The idea is that you'll look for your plant, read about it, find out what garden centers near you have it. And here's something–the plant information doesn't just come from the growers–it also comes from Friend of Rant Allan Armitage, with articles and other information from the likes of Joe Lamp'l. (For every plant,they tell you where the plant information came from, so you know whether you're reading Allan's information or the grower's.)
I tested the iPhone app–the free version offers you the complete herb and vegetable database, and the $2.99 version gives you everything–and found it surprisingly complete: there were, for instance, 19 varieties of basil. And you can filter your results by light requirements and all that stuff.
But here's what I really like about these people: I listened to their pitch and then I said, "Okay, what I want is a widget for my blog's sidebar so that people can search by zip code for whatever plant I'm blogging about. And while you're at it, take a look at how well Amazon Affiliate integrates with most blog platforms, so you don't even have to copy and paste URLs to send someone to look at a book you've mentioned in your post."
And you know what they said? "Okay. Got it. We'll do it." And I think they will!
So really: Would it not be cool to be standing in someone's garden, have them point to some weird basil variety they grow, and be able to punch it into your phone and find out if anyone's selling it nearby so you can pick some up on the way home?
And would it not be extra-cool if the Allan Armitages and Michael Dirrs and Graham Rices of the world could license their vast horticultural knowledge to such an endeavor, so you could carry the ultimate plant reference guide in your pocket–AND find out if the garden center near you is selling it? And how long before they figure out that they can include a Latin name speak-and-spell in this thing so that we can actually pronounce the name of the plant before we get to the garden center?
Now it's up to the garden centers to join up. Wonder if they will.