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HOW NOT TO GROW A BUSINESS
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 05/01/2007 - 10:10am.
I was walking along West Broadway on my way to meet Matt for lunch yesterday when I impulsively decided to pop into the Soho Smith & Hawken’s in the hopes of finding a packet or two of Osaka purple mustard greens. The Seeds of Change revolving rack was out of my favorite greens, but the store had plenty of one of my most despised greens--and yellows--the Miracle-Gro label.
The sight of this toxic turquoise fertilizer dominating the shelves of a store that pioneered the rebirth of organic gardening in the U.S. gives me the heebie-jeebies. How does Paul Hawken, the original crunchy capitalist, feel about having his name attached to a company that’s now owned by Scott’s, the giant chem corporation that’s in cahoots with Monsanto, and run by a former Wal-Mart executive?
Back in the day, I schlepped countless bags of Smith & Hawken’s mushroom compost home to mulch my rooftop roses, and they also sold their own brand of organic fertilizers in little 5 pound brown bags, with different blends for vegetables, bulbs and flowers--perfect for city dwellers with tiny terraces and windowboxes. Or renegade roof gardeners like myself.
Their selection of fine English gardening tools and fancy Felco pruners was notoriously expensive but fun to fantasize about, and sometimes even affordable if you waited for them to go on sale.
Now, the tools are all cheap Made-in-China knock-offs, and the fertilizers are brought to you by Scott’s, which has teamed up with Monsanto to develop a genetically modified grass that’s resistant to Monsanto’s signature herbicide, RoundUp, so that gardeners “can plant the turf and spray weed-killing chemicals without worrying about harming their lawn.” The Department of Agriculture has yet to approve it, citing environmental concerns.
A sickly Agent Orange aura hangs over the whole enterprise now, and no wonder; Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, is a former F-16 fighter pilot, who “views grass and gardens as a commercial combat zone,” according to a recent profile in U.S. News and World Report. "I run my own war every day," he told them. "Instead of taking land, [we gain] market share... I would like Scotts to be the McDonald's of lawn and garden.”
I guess this combative mindset explains Scott’s decision to sue Terracycle, a tiny start-up founded by some eco-geeks in a Trenton, New Jersey enterprise zone. Terracycle sells organic fertilizers made from worm poop and packaged in used plastic bottles.
The fledgling business, founded in 2003 by a Princeton dropout, has yet to turn a profit, but it’s turning up on the shelves of big box stores like Home Depot. In other words, trespassing on Hagedorn’s turquoise-tinged turf. Evidently, Miracle-Gro’s unwilling to surrender a single inch of shelf space, so they’ve gone on the attack, filing a lawsuit against Terracycle.
Scott’s claims that Terracycle’s packaging steals Miracle-Gro’s trademark green and yellow and is designed to fool consumers. Just imagine how disappointed you’d be if you went to your local garden center looking for funny colored synthetic chemicals to give your plants a nitrogen rush and accidentally came home with an all-organic fertilizer derived from worm poops and sold in a secondhand soda bottle.
As Grist’s David Roberts notes, the lawsuit has brought Terracycle “boatloads of free advertising out of its innovative strategy: rather than creating new bottles for the product, it asks schools and churches to collect used 20-oz. soda bottles. For each bottle collected, the company donates a nickel to the charity of the collector's choice.”
How great that Miracle-Gro is boosting upstart start-up Terracycle’s sales with the kind of publicity that only a huge corporation like Scott’s can buy. Looks like Hagedorn the blowhard’s got some blowback coming his way.
Hagedorn’s determined to not just hold on to Miracle-Gro’s market share, but to cut into organic fertilizer sales with its own line of organic fertilizers, just to hedge its bets while it waits for the feds to give the RoundUp-Ready transgenic grass the green light.
Scott’s is pumping up its advertising, too, in an effort to appeal to “the Internet generation,” according to the U.S. News and World Report. Hagedorn’s strategy? "We need to make gardening seem edgy and hip."
Good luck with that, Scott’s. Your CEO’s a 51 year old fossil fuel fossil who collects muscle cars and proudly displays a picture of himself in his office giving the finger, as U.S. News and World Reports noted, citing these as example of Hagedorn’s “spunky side.” How juvenile. Smells more like mothballs than teen spirit.
Bottling up worm compost tea and selling it in old soda bottles, now, that’s cutting edge. The twenty-something founders of TerraCycle were savvy enough to mock Scott’s sourpuss lawsuit with a website called suedbyscotts.com, which also encourages donations to the TerraCycle Defense Fund. Sweet.
Hagedorn, like so many CEOs who try to paper over their petro-based businesses with a green veneer, doesn’t understand the demographic he aims to appeal to. Smith & Hawken is losing money, and stocking its shelves with Miracle-Gro will only hasten its decline.
If Hagedorn really wants to board the socially conscious business bandwagon, he can get a crash course in conscientious capitalism by reading a new book called Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being. It’s written by a guy named Paul Hawken.
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