Last year, homeowners in the Northeast and Midwest were cutting grass in early March. This year, snow covered lawns past St. Patrick's Day.
That has the lawn-and-garden market looking at a weak start in 2013.
Scotts Miracle-Gro, the market leader, hiked U.S. ad spending 50% last year and absorbed commodity costs without raising prices. Yet 2012 retail sales rose only 2% and reported sales were flat as retailers trimmed inventory, Chairman-CEO Jim Hagedorn told analysts in December. At least Scotts gained two percentage points of market share. Never one to mince words, Mr. Hagedorn said, "If it got to the point where advertising didn't mean shit, then I guess we'll say "then don't waste the money.' But I don't think that's where we're at."
This year, Scott plans to roll back about half of last year's ad-spending increase. But that was before the cold spring, and Scotts has long tied much of its outlay to weather.
Scotts spokesman Lance Latham said he couldn't comment on how weather has hit sales pending quarterly financial reporting next month, but noted it "certainly has delayed the season."
Lowe's has also adjusted its marketing for spring, its most important selling season, and is using geographically targeted promotion to reach consumers just when they are hitting the various stages of outdoor work, from cleaning and prepping to planting and beautifying, said Ricki Barger, Lowe's VP-advertising. "The South gets spring earlier, so they will start cleaning/prepping before the Central and North," said Ms. Barger.
Lowe's is relying heavily on digital advertising, because of its flexibility, to serve "relevant spring promotions and content based on users' local weather forecast as well as implementing a dynamic digital creative rotation based on region of the country," she said.
Scotts, meanwhile, has forged ahead on ads from Richards Group, Dallas, behind its biggest 2013 initiative, the Snap fertilizer spreader that lets users snap the bag onto spreader. Mr. Latham used one on his yard in central Ohio just ahead of a recent snowfall. Hope springs eternal.