Founders: Smith & Hawken Opportunity Squandered
By Tom Ryan
Co. announced last week that it would close its remaining 56 Smith & Hawken
stores by the end of 2009. But both founders expressed relief because
the chain had long abandoned its original values.
have been a worse corporate owner,” Paul Hawken told the Marin
Independent Journal. “Smith & Hawken
had become just a ghost of itself.”
Smith and Hawken
opened their first retail store in Mill Valley in California in 1982
with a goal of providing organic gardeners with handcrafted tools from
England with a lifetime guarantee. It eventually became an early role
model for socially responsible companies.
Smith & Hawken
changed owners a number of times, including a sale to CML in 1993, to
DDJ Capital in 1999, and Scott in 2004. But the founders were particularly
upset by the sale to Scott, best known for its Miracle-Gro plant food
and Ortho weed killer.
bought it and Smith & Hawken was owned by the largest pesticide seller
in the U.S., I suggested people boycott it,” Mr. Hawkens said. “It had
completely lost its roots.”
Mr. Smith said, “It’s a boom time in the gardening business and Smith & Hawken
is going down the tube because it went way off the roots of the company
and became a frou-frou, knick-knack kind of store, instead of a serious
At the time
of the 2004 acquisition, Scott said it was hoping Smith & Hawken
would expand the company beyond its “grow and kill” products and increase
its appeal to women. Its initial plan was to turn Smith & Hawken
into an outdoor living and gardening product line to sell to stores such
as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
to be a strategy we could not execute,” Scott’s spokesman Jim King, told
the Chronicle. “It
left us with a specialty retailer, and that’s not who we are. We never
meant to keep it as a stand-alone retail operation.”
the store branched out into outdoor living products such as furniture,
fire pits, lighting and garden décor.
you possibly have a gardening store in this economy and go wrong?” Mr.
Hawken said. “I’ll tell you why. This wasn’t a gardening store anymore.”
it was unable to find a buyer for the struggling chain.
CEO Jim Hagendorn, “Unfortunately, the combination of a weak
economy and the lack of scale proved too great to overcome.”
What do you think was at the root of the demise of Smith & Hawken?
What lessons does this offer in how to manage acquisitions and “green” retailers?
- Smith & Hawken to shut down because of
weak economy – Marin Independent Journal
- After 30 years, Smith & Hawken to close
– San Francisco Chronicle