My single peony bush is blooming beautifully right now. With so much time being spent at home and looking at my garden, I resolved yesterday to finally get a second and third bush so that my collection of peonies will be expanded - and I will look back fondly at those two new bushes in years to come as my COVID bushes. I have been meaning to get a new bush or two for several years now - and when every year goes by, I am annoyed with myself that I didn't buy the bushes when I thought about it. Peonies take a little while to root and get happy before they start to bloom, so these are not plants for instant gratification - sort of like farming!
I set out yesterday to combine a trip to the local nursery with a short trek through the grocery store. I could have gone to Home Depot or Lowes, which has a good collection of standard plants at reasonable prices, but I didn't want to drive an extra 10 or 12 miles to the ex-burbs, and since I only wanted a plant or two, I didn't mind the 50% mark up of going to the local Bethesda nursery. I was looking forward to the joy of wandering around the nursery for a few minutes, exploring different types and colors of peonies, making my choice and bringing them home to thrive in my little garden.
I arrived at the parking lot and was greeted by someone who explained the rules of engagement to me from behind his mask. I had to wait to be assigned a parking space - Check. I had to wear a mask - Check. I had to stay 6 feet away from everyone - Check. The staff couldn't help me beyond telling me where things were. What? No advice. No suggestions. No communications. Huh? I had to pay with a credit card and I had to follow the rules. Check.
I parked and started looking for peonies. I read the signs. I could find roses and black eyed susans, basil and tomatoes, but no peonies. I walked around. I looked. I even was so bold as to ask someone working there where the peonies were. She gestured to the area I had come from. Eventually I bought three black eyed susans, two basils and three lavenders. I stood dutifully in line 6 feet from everyone. I put my cart on the red spot close to the cashier who is protected behind plexiglass. Then I stepped back to the yellow spot 6 feet away. The young woman wanted to know if I had a frequent rewards account with them. She had to yell at me to make herself clear behind her mask, the plexiglass and me 6 feet away. I paid and left feeling grumpy and without my peonies. I won't return - even though that is the closest nursery.
I don't object to the rules to keep everyone safe. I don't object to the higher prices at my local plant store. I object to the loss of service that the COVID compliance is bringing to us unnecessarily. There was no reason why there couldn't have been someone at that store who walked over to the right section with me and showed me the peonies. Instead, I was warned at the entrance that there would be no help and only vague directions. At least I was on notice. I will go to Lowes next time which has the same plants at half the price and I will serve myself. I will find cashiers who are protected but at least audible.
So what does this mean to the American economy and more importantly to real estate? Well, I think we are going to go through another transition in the work force like we did in 2008 when a lot of jobs went away and never came back. My local garden store will discover that it doesn't need roving gardener clerks in its plant store knowledgeable about the stock to help people choose the perfect plant for a particular spot in their garden. They can make do like Lowes and Home Depot do now. We will grumble and wonder why we bother going to stores at all now when we can stay home and shop from a glossy catalogue that explains everything we need to know about the plant and will ship them right to our front door. No need to go out to the store, wander about looking for a plant that isn't in stock, bringing others home and dirtying the car and then having to lug them into the house. Let Amazon or UPS do that heavy lifting. With that momentum, not only do the jobs go away but the businesses too.
It is the value proposition of knowledge and service that keeps a business going. It is the confidence that consumers have in a business - that their questions will be answered and their concerns recognized, that their needs will be met, and that they will walk away better for the engagement - that keeps them coming back to a business.
That knowledge and service joyfully given is what keeps the pipeline full for successful realtors. It is what separates them from limited service realtors and rebate based agents. If we don't continue to provide that knowledge and service, we will disappear just like all those stores on Main Street that let their values drop and were beat out by the cheap competition.
I will let you know when I get my peonies!