We Put Our Products to the Test
Our team makes sure products meet high standards
Jason Mazur does "load testing" on the Rain Barrel Stand.
Anyone can try to sell you gardening supplies, and in fact, everyone does. Every year hardware stores, home centers and catalogs stock up on the latest garden gadgets, but how do you know these products will work?
At Gardener's Supply, we have confidence in our products because we've tested them ourselves. Whether it's our latest innovation or a tried-and-true classic, we won't sell anything we wouldn't use in our own gardens.
Testing begins in our product department, where we assemble and disassemble products we're considering, checking for fit, finish and general quality. Do the screw holes line up? Is the coating durable? Are the instructions clear? The product doesn't go into our catalog until we are satisfied. And because we often work with prototypes, we do the whole process again when a product goes into final production.
Even if something looks good in our workshop, that doesn't mean it can survive in the wind and weather. Many products go into our test gardens to see how they'll hold up over time. We subject products to salt spray, freezing, dropping and scraping. Sometimes we ask employees to assemble products without instructions. Not every product needs this much testing, but we want to make sure it's perfect before it goes in your garden.
Sometimes the perfect tool or problem-solver doesn't exist, so we invent it. These are the products that get the most rigorous testing. Kay Burde, director of development, says "When we come up with a new product, it has to do more than survive in your garden, it has to make your garden better and more productive." Gardener's Supply maintains several test gardens where products are tested side by side, produce is weighed and plant growth is measured. In 2011, we added a new component: more than 15 test gardens managed by customer volunteers around the country. Now we can see how our products work in other growing zones, hot or cold, dry or rainy. We even have a test garden in Costa Rica, managed by Gardener's Supply founder, Will Raap.
Testing can take a long time. "It took us three years of experimenting to perfect our soil mix for self-watering containers," says Burde. "But now we know we've got the best mix there is (Self-Watering Container Mix)." And occasionally an idea doesn't work out — like back in the 1990s, when we set up 96 potato-growing bins, only to learn that they didn't grow potatoes any better than the traditional way.
Even when a product works great — and sells great — the testing isn't over. We recently improved our seedstarting system — which we've carried for 27 years — by making the tray biodegradable. "We always ask, 'can we make this even better?'" says Burde. "That's how we've been able to improve our Tomato Success Kit every few years and make it the best one on the market, while other companies are still selling an outdated design."
It takes a big investment, to test and re-test products. But we think that sets us apart from other companies that only dabble in gardening. After all, in gardening there's no substitute for experience, and we're happy to share ours with you.