Mis-labeled Tree - What Should They Have Done?

One of the first trees I purchased for my new yard ten years ago was a fruitless Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). I wasn't actually planning to buy this variety of tree but decided when I saw it at a garden center that a Sweet Gum tree that had all the good attributes of a Sweet Gum, but no fruiting, would be a good tree.

Without going into all the details, it turned out that this sweet gum was far from fruitless and in fact is very heavily fruiting most years.

I still have the receipt and the tag, both of which say "fruitless".

About six years ago, I decided to go back to this garden center with pictures of all the sweet gum balls hanging on the tree and copies of the receipt and tag. I wanted them to know the tree was mis-labeled and I was disappointed. I wasn't going to ask them to remove the tree so I could plant a tree that I really wanted or anything like that. I just wanted them to do something to show they cared and were sorry about it.

Oh those lucky garden center employees! I made their day. I don't think anyone had every come back with proof that a tree they sold was mis-labeled. And by the way, it seems to have been mis-labeled by the wholesale nursery first.

They looked at my picture, copies of the tag and receipt, and me and deferred the whole problem to "the manager" who was conveniently not in. But they assured me, promised me, that he would call me!

Six years later, I'm still waiting for that call and I've only gone to that garden center once or twice since then. That hasn't been as hard to do as it sounds because this garden center is not on my side of town.

But when people ask me where to go to buy trees, I tell them about the mis-labeled tree that I got at this garden center, because they should be aware that such a thing can happen to anyone.

What would you have done? What should the garden center manager have done?


  1. I hate it for you Carol that your tree was mislabeled. I probably would have done the same thing you did.

    I can't imagine that the manager didn't call you. I might have called him/her directly to make sure the message was relayed.

    I get really irratated with places that label their plants wrong. Who ever supplies Lowes does a bad job labeling. I have found several mistakes. I have brought an error to the attention of the management. I don't know if it helped. I couldn't let them pass off an Arctic Willow as one that gets the fuzzy catkins as the label stated. It wasn't even the right plant in the picture on the label. Geeez

  2. I certainly have an opinion on that, Carol. They should have offered you a refund or store credit for the amount you paid for the tree.

    Not long ago I had this problem on a smaller scale: http://www.penick.net/digging/?p=315. At my favorite nursery I bought an ornamental grass labeled as a 'Yaku Jima' miscanthus, which I specifically wanted. The grasses weren't in bloom, but the pot was clearly labeled. After a few weeks, it bloomed the bottlebrush inflorescence of a pennisetum.

    I went back to the nursery to discuss it with the manager. Their now-blooming pennisetums were still mislabeled, by the grower, as in your case. The manager apologized and gave me a store credit. Problem solved and customer satisfied.

    Doing the right thing creates loyal customers.

  3. Carol,
    Knowing which nursery you are referring to and knowing that is a well known, non-big box establishment, I think I would still try to let the manager know how dissatified you are and show him the same proof that you had last time. Maybe they have a new manager. And I think I would ask for the manager first, before explaining the situation in any detail. If they ask why you waited so long, tell them you have tried in the past to talk to them about it. A store's reputation is very important to them and most wish to preserve it.
    Kathy, the older sister

  4. My neighbors in Alabama had a huge Sweet Gum tree that dropped most of it's fruit in my yard. It is the only tree I've ever hated. I'm not sure what I would have done in your situation, probably return and at least get my money back. After ten years though, I'm not sure there is any recourse.

  5. Sorry to hear about your disappointment, Carol--how frustrating! Really, they should have known that it was mislabeled before they even set it out for sale. To my knowledge, the only fruitless sweet gum cultivar is 'Rotundiloba', with distinctly rounded, rather than pointed, lobes on the leaves. I planted one of those over 15 years ago, and it has never fruited. Maybe they've introduced other fruitless cultivars with pointed leaf lobes since then, but I haven't heard of any.

  6. Carol: The tree was probably mislabeled by the wholesale grower as you mentioned. The store manager should have called you back. Very poor customer service! He/She could have easily given you a store credit and gotten one in turn from the wholesale grower who should have been notified. Customer service makes the difference as Pam's comments have shown! The garden centers are suffering and they cannot afford to lose any customers! That being said, one of the garden centers I deal with had a customer return a dead shrub for credit with the receipt. The receipt was from Home Depot! I kid you not! No excuse for that poor service you received though! I wouldn't go back either!

  7. I know what the manager of our Tree and Shrub department would have done -given you a full credit for the mislabeled tree and then inform the grower of their error and have it adjusted on their account. To mislabel a tree is inexcusable in the nursery business.

    Our garden center would rather have a happy customer that will do repeat business and does everything in its power to rectify any mistakes. And that is why we are one of the most successful garden centers in the city.

  8. I would have definitely informed them of the error. And I would expect a call back from the manager. While a full refund might not be honored, I would expect some sort of compensation in the way of a gift card, at least. Customers are #1. Happy ones.

  9. Personally, it's sad to admit, I'd probably grin and bear it. But I know that's the wrong thing to do!! REALLY I do. So I'm glad you tried to get them to get them to make it right.

    Since after all this time it still bothers you so much that you're telling other potential customers about this mistake, talk to the manager and tell him/her that given the chance you're not recommending their nursery. Likely, they'll be smart enough to see that replacing your tree will be much cheaper in the long run.

  10. I'm impressed that you kept the label and the reciept for so long! Perhaps if you wrote a letter (snail mail not email) to the nursery and explained what happened and what didn't happen and what you would like to have happen, they would reply. Companies hate paper trails! Verbal complaints can be ignored. Written ones can't.

  11. Don't you just hate that when it happens? All your careful thinking and planning goes down the drain when you get a mis-labeled plant or, even worse, tree. I'm with Pam on this. In my country when something like this happens the law requires the seller to either give you a refund or the right plant/tree.

  12. Carol, I would have done the same thing you did. I had a similar experience with Menard's, and I now will only do business with them when it's absolutely the only other choice.

    That being said, mistakes are made because we're all human, but when this happens, someone should do something to compensate for it. It's a way of showing you really care and that the mistake wasn't intentional.

    I think they should give you store credit for the amount you paid, then they should notify their supplier of the error.

  13. Too bad the nursery doesn’t have a blog where you could register your disappointment, and receive a response from the owner. I have heard of some progressive nurseries that do just that ;-)

    When someone comes in upset about something we ask the customer what it is that they would like us to do? Yep, you got the power! Want a new tree to plant? Want credit on the tree you bought? Want me to do a little dance while signing the praises of May Dreams Gardens? I’ll do it. In addition we would also contact the grower and let you know what they say.

    This is all so preventable. While the original mistake, the now planted fruiting Liquidambar has already happened, they are just compounding the hurt by never having contacted you.

    This company should thank its lucky stars that you haven’t mentioned their name

  14. Companies are supposed to be in the business of satisfying their customers--or so I always thought. Now, being the sort of person I am, (mild mannered until riled), I would have called and visitd the nursery numerous times until I did get to speak to the manager and some sort of solution was offered. Granted, it was probably the wholesaler at fault. I do know that in nurseries things get mislabeled not only by staff, but by customers picking up tags to look at them and replacing them in the wrong container. But I would still have made a fuss in this case. This isn't a five dollar perennial, after all. It's a tree, a large, slowgrowing and generally expensive item.

    Probably in a week or so I'll be writing a story on my blog, not about plants, but about my misadventure with my laptop--and how that is finally being resolved. But we'll wait til I get the new one and send the old one back...:-)

  15. Anyone knowing about good customer service would have 1. called you back 2. apologized 3. offered a replacement tree or credit.

    These stores with their :customers last" attitude reap what they sow in the future.

  16. Wow, thanks for the support, you all would do great at customer service. It's been ten years, so I think I'm ready to let it go at this point, especially knowing that a refund would not have been an unreasonable request.

    The tree was $35 by the way. I did figure out, Nan Ondra, when I did more research when the tree first started to fruit, that it was 'Rotundiloba' with rounded leaves that didn't fruit. I know now that if I ever see a sweet gum with 'regular leaves' tagged as fruitless, that it isn't. But you all know how it is when you get to the nursery. No reference books on hand, so you have to trust the tags!

    Thanks again for all of the support.
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  17. I have to admit that after 10 years (or four years the first time), that it's pretty hard to ge someone to want to do anything about it. But an apology and a thanks for being informed of the error (so it could potentially be resolved for future buyers) is a great idea. Of course, also lip service if, as another person said, it's a big box store. They're hever going to quality-check the labels on their plants. They don't even know what they are. ~A :-)

  18. This is one of those errors that make me crazy, and I've written about before on my blog.

    Across the nation we have small businesses wringing their hands and complaining that the big box stores are driving them out of business because the small businesses cannot match the big box prices.

    Yet here we have an example of an opportunity to provide good customer service, one of the most important differentiators between big box and small business, and it is wasted.

    It doesn't matter where the error originated, the more important error was in not addressing the mix-up when given the opportunity.

    I would continue to share your dissatisfaction with others, and if you are feeling charitable, attempt one more time to provide some education to the manager about an issue that can certainly be make-or-break for the business.

  19. This is a great lesson from a nursery persepective.

    What we do at our nursery is 3 months after the sale we send our customers an email and ask them to rate us on our Staff, Quality expectation and leave a comment if they wish. We then print this out and put it on the notice board for all the staff to read from the staff who graft and propogate to the customer service staff.

    Most of the time it is a big moral boost for Staff and gives us work satisfaction but the customers who we haven't met all their expectations often give us the wake up call to get our act together in whichever area they have complained about.


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