We’ve been out doing some comparison shopping over the past few days, part of an annual rite of summer in which we look at what the competition has in the marketplace. We’ve visited dozens of garden centers, craft stores and national chain outlets, and we’ve been blown away by the condition in which we’ve found some of the chain store pottery departments. This post will focus on “Standard” terra cotta pots, which many garden centers ignore as a commodity item, rather than considering them as yet another way to differentiate themselves from the big boxes.

Given the condition in which we found many of the big box pottery departments, it should be no problem for a typical garden center to offer a superior shopping experience. A couple of  examples:

This particular disaster is from a Wal*Mart outside of St. Louis, MO. It’s not really surprising that Wal*Mart is selling cruddy low-grade red clay (note the inconsistencies in the color of the pots and saucers – in standard red clay pottery, this is indicative of a producer isn’t firing all of its pots to the same temperature – taking shortcuts, essentially). I am surprised that they apparently assume that their customers will be excited enough to buy the pots even though the pots are covered in mold and dirt.

The second example was spotted on the shelves of a K-Mart store, and while the pots have been cleaned, they also demonstrate  the lack of quality found at the lower end of the red clay market. It’s easy to see the cracks in the pots on the right, and it’s inexcusable that a K-Mart employee hasn’t pulled these broken pots from the shelves – Again, they’re implying that they believe that their customers are dumb enough to pay $.79 for an already-broken saucer.

Also of note in this photo are the black spots on several of the saucers. This too indicates that shortcuts were taken during the manufacturing process, as the black is a chemical impurity in the clay which gradually leeches to the surface of the pot or saucer. A high-quality terra cotta pot would have been crafted from a clay that had these and other impurities removed, and would have a smooth, uniform finish. The  photo below shows another example of the black markings migrating to the surface of a K-Mart pot.

There are several points to take away from these photos:

  • First, Selling ugly red clay can undermine the credibility of the rest of your pottery department.
  • Second, be sure that you are carrying high-quality red clay – your customer will recognize the difference.
  • Third, if you insist on selling crappy red clay, at least show your customers the respect of cleaning your pots before you put them on the shelves, and for god’s sake, don’t put broken pots out at your full retail price.