Smith & Hawken Goes Fishing

GROTON, CT — “Get your line in the water” was the frequent refrain Rick Ragusa heard as a child while fishing with his family. Somehow, his father always dropped his line first because Ragusa and his brothers were pinching each other or otherwise goofing around.

Recently, that childhood mantra echoed in Ragusa’s ears again. A year ago, The Scotts Company bought Smith & Hawken, where Ragusa is vice president of direct-to-consumer marketing. And with that change has come a mandate for some significant growth over the next five years. So Smith & Hawken had better get its line in the water and start fishing.

So far, Ragusa appreciates the many changes Scotts has instituted, including streamlining the company’s organizational structure so each sales channel is accountable for driving sales.

“We were overthinking stuff for too long,” he said at yesterday’s New England Mail Order Association conference.

To fulfill Scotts’ growth mandate, Smith & Hawken focused on its brand positioning over the past year. Ragusa pinpointed elements that make up a brand promise:

* A competitive frame of reference is the group in which a brand competes, not one in which it wishes to compete.

* The target group is the broadest group that has a desire for a brand’s products.

* The point of difference is what sets a brand apart from everybody else.

Pulling together these elements and writing a brand statement in a way that is relevant to consumers and a company’s internal staff helps “set the course,” Ragusa said. Though Smith & Hawken doesn’t currently publish its brand statement, its staff frequently uses it as a “decisioning tool” to determine what strategies to proceed with and which ones to let go, he said.

With the brand statement in place, the company is moving to build sales. Smith & Hawken has 57 stores, and 60 percent of its business comes from retail. Of those retail dollars, 30 percent are generated by the catalog. The company’s annual sales are $150 million.

Ragusa discussed some of what is in store:

* The redesigned catalog will focus more on creating a lifestyle brand and getting customers to shop across categories.

* The company is building a new database so it can get a 360-degree view of customers. Any company representative in any channel will be able to easily access what, when and where a customer has bought from Smith & Hawken.

* Its new e-commerce platform is being designed to let customers shop as if they’re browsing its stores.

* A new marketing and merchandising partnership with Target will involve a new line of products created just for Target.

Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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