Of seven dimensions contributing to garden center quality, customers ranked plant quality as the most important dimension (30%) and responsiveness and assurance as half as important (15%); the other dimensions (tangibles, reliability, empathy, quality of non-plant products) were slightly less important (10%). Plant health and condition (32%) was the most important plant or product characteristic, followed by price (22%) and assortment and variety (21%). Large gaps between customer expectations and perceptions existed for ‘clearly marking plant price’ (0.9), ‘willingness to offer guarantees’ (0.8), ‘plant health’ and ‘name labeling’ (0.7). Service quality gaps were reported for the tangibles dimension in the range of 0 to −0.29 and in the other four dimensions (reliability, empathy, responsiveness and assurance) in the range of −0.30 to −0.59. More frequent purchasers (Buyer 3—people who made more than 10 purchases from surveyed outlets) purchased over two-thirds of their plants from the survey outlet and had higher reliability perceptions as compared to less frequent purchasers (Buyers 1 and 2). When respondents were categorized by their expenditure at the survey outlet, those with lower expenditures ($1–50) had lower perceptions in all five service quality dimensions. Traditional retail customers responded with higher perceptions in all five service quality dimensions than mass merchandiser customers.

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Author notes

The authors thank The Horticultural Research Institute, 1250 I Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20005, for their generous financial support of the project. This project was successfully completed as part of Regional Research project S-103 ‘Technical Efficiencies in Horticulture Production and Marketing.’ Surveys were conducted by the following members of the S103 Regional Research Committee: Charles Hall, Texas A & M University; Robert McNiel, University of Kentucky; Bridget Behe, Michigan State University; Susan Barton, University of Delaware; Charles Safely, North Carolina State University; and John Brooker, University of Tennessee.

2Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Horticulture, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.

3Extension Specialist, Ornamental Horticulture, Dept. of Plant & Soil Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.