By Joe Callison
25 February, 2017
Around this time of year I like to start looking at seed and nursery catalogs for some new plants to try out. I ordered some plants from a couple of places in the past and since then I have been inundated with catalogs from numerous places. Looking through them I began to notice that many of the items in different catalogs seemed to be identical and then I noticed that most of them had addresses in Bloomington, Illinois. Two were on one street with numbers very close together and two were on another street with numbers very close together. Could there really be that many different companies operating nurseries next to each other in one city the size of Bloomington?
I entered one of the addresses in Google Maps and looked at the Satellite view. It showed what looked like one nursery at the intersection of the two streets that I had 4 catalogs from, but 4 even different business names than I had were shown at that one location on the map. Now this was getting interesting! At least 8 different business names appeared to be located there.
Next I started a Google Search for reviews on the businesses, and found many negative reviews and a reference to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) listing showing the company doing business under 11 different names. Now what could be the reason for a business doing this? Since then, I have received more catalogs from well known seed, bulb and nursery companies with Indiana addresses. A quick search on BBB revealed them being one company doing business under 22 different names! A little more research revealed that there have been a lot of acquisitions in the mail order seed and nursery business, especially during the most recent recession. The top three companies in size consist of dozens of former independent companies that they have acquired, so a fulfillment center at one location may be issuing catalogs and taking orders under several different company names. That is not necessarily bad, but I do find it misleading and if you are dissatisfied with one company you may not know that another one you try is actually under the same ownership.
For internet orders from unfamiliar companies, I look for user reviews that are not on the company’s own website. A well known PC security/maintenance software business advertising heavily on TV for years even operates many fake websites with their own fake reviews. I use BBB information, and I look for information about the business on the company’s web site, usually under a heading like About or Company History and I look for contact information that includes a real address, telephone number, and if possible a person’s name. With the business address, I can look them up on Google Maps and with the Satellite and Street View I can tell if they look like a legitimate business. There are many websites for businesses that have nothing but the web address and a toll-free number and you have no idea if they are legitimate or what country they are operating from. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can put up a website with pictures of products and take your credit card number. Even Amazon is plagued with shady merchants, so be sure to carefully check the reviews by Amazon users and if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is! Recently an Ebay seller built up a reputation as a highly rated seller and then listed and sold over a hundred thousand dollars of products they did not even own and skipped the country to retire. Sometimes even being careful about whom you do business with does not protect you, but in this case people could have used the Pay After Delivery option that Ebay offers to avoid paying for items never received.