Signs of Progress

Signs of Progress

by Danny Summers

For some of us the image above seems very familiar. For decades many Garden Centers utilized the trusty little red wagon as the main form of shopping cart for customers to select plants for their homes. I know of one close to us who still does.

Most Centers have progressed by offering their customers more convenient and efficient ways to shop, including better shopping carts. With the Average Sale being such an important component in a Garden Center's success (actually one of our Big Three KPIs here in The Group), the number of plants that can fill a cart is critical. Sid Raisch has often discussed the need for larger carts and encouraged Centers to consider them so not to artificially restrain Average Sale.

I have also heard retailers say they watch for carts getting full and offer a second (or third) cart to the customer as they set the current selected plants aside for them. This seems great in theory but when you're really busy, this seems tough to do.

Have you ever wondered about the history of the shopping cart? The progression is from a hand-held basket to something larger – with wheels!

Doing a quick search will yield the following:

The modern shopping cart was invented by Sylvan Goldman, a grocer from Oklahoma City. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “While living in California, Sylvan and [his brother] Alfred were intrigued by a new type of grocery store that offered all products under one roof—the supermarket. The brothers returned to Oklahoma in order to bring this new way of shopping to their home state.”

While running the Humpty Dumpty grocery chain in the 1930s, the problem Goldman encountered with the new large-format stores was that grocery baskets limited the amount of products customers could pick up as they walked the aisles. He started fiddling with the design of the basket, eventually landing on a potential solution when he placed it on a folding chair.

With the help of an employee, Fred Young, Goldman devised a prototype shopping cart, based on the folding chair: wheels at the bottom of the chair legs and two metal baskets on top of each other in place of the chair seat. Here's an ad by Roll'er Basket Company on a later upgraded version that folded.

The next notable evolution of the shopping cart, after the addition to a child seating area, was in 1947 and a solution to cart storage. Engineer Orla Watson noticed that shopping carts, while helpful, were bulky and hard to store within supermarkets. His modification to the design—adding a swinging panel in the rear of the cart—created a way for carts to nest one inside the other, effectively stacking them horizontally to reduce the amount of space they take up when not in use. When you see a shopping cart attendant piloting a thundering train of metal carts across the parking lot asphalt, that is Orla Watson’s fingerprint, an idea from the mid 1940's.

So what about the little red wagons of Garden Centers of the past and our own signs of progress? Shopping Carts for Garden Centers have also progressed and today vary as much as Garden Centers themselves.

Solid surfaces and solid tires... some Centers have concrete walkways and they can utilize large solid tire carts that are easy to push and maneuver. Others have fine aggregate and pneumatic tires may work best for them. Are brakes needed? We all have seen some Centers with amazing elevation changes which make brakes a necessity.

Then let's look at the plant types that are prevalent at a Garden Center. If a customer is shopping for mostly annuals, more shelves on a cart are needed. If larger perennials or woody plants are on the list, more height on the cart is needed, maybe two or even only one shelf level. Maybe a fold up top self would work as an option.

The fact is, just like many other characteristics of Garden Centers and product types, one size (or type) of shopping carts don't fit all. However, just like regular shopping carts, Garden Centers shopping carts have progressed and as our product types and mix changes and evolves, so too should our shopping carts.

One thing that is a necessity... a weather resistant shopping cart is a must.

Better Shopping Carts
A Working Focus Group – This Thursday!
Another Sign of Progress ahead began months ago when we had a conversation on GroupEs eList about shopping carts. Again, this is an area that one size does not fit all, but understanding who is using which ones and why and how efficient each one is will be a worthy discussion.

This Thursday, November 2nd, we will begin a Working Focus Group that can consider Needs for the Future and some effective changes you would like to see in shopping carts. Bob Rogers, CEO of R.W. Rogers will be with us for our first meeting. It will be a Zoom meeting that I will organize. Bob has already been working on some "what if's" and I can tell he is excited to have our input on what could result in better shopping carts for you.

If you are interested in participating in Better Shopping Carts - A Working Focus Group, sign up HERE. Depending on what we come up with, we may need followup meetings or at the very least, we will share developing design ideas with you for feedback. I will be sharing more details ahead of our meeting.

Signs of Progress are all around us and your Center. You may still have a few little red wagons at your Center for your youngest shoppers, but the more modern carts you offer your customers are just one indication of the progress you are delivering in order to make it easier for your customers to bring the joy of plants home.

One final note about the wonderful photo of the 'Rusty Old Wagons' at the top of this message. I found the photo and connected with the artist, Mel Steinhauer. He has some fabulous photography in his portfolio you can find at: One album in his collection I found was titled Cincinnati. In conversation, I learned he is from the Cincinnati area!


Sharing is at the heart of The Group and your ideas are very important. If you have any trouble logging into The Group WebSystem, please let me know. Are you and your staff all subscribed to our eLists such as GroupEs, Retail-Grower, Retail-Landscape, Owners-Only, and a number of others? Need help subscribing? Let me know so I can show you how you can sign up.

Thanks for sharing!

Danny Summers
[email protected]
Tel: 678-909-7770
Cell: 678-761-7145

REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as Tim Quebedeaux, Sid Raisch, John Kennedy, Jean Seawright, and of course Danny Summers are included in your retainer!

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Comments on "Signs of Progress"

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Lauren Schaab - Monday, October 30, 2023

Hi, I'm trying to get sign up for the workshop and keep getting an error message.

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