20 years of innovation–marketing & retail: Breakthroughs in marketing
FROM PromoFlor to Proven Winners, the face of floriculture marketing has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Our guess is, the evolution has only begun. Three main themes have told the story of the adoption of marketing, branding, and retail improvements in the floriculture market since 1983. Here is a brief look at how each has contributed to where we are now.
Marketing Orders And The Alternatives
As floriculture has adopted the concept of marketing, it has realized several failures and consequently, many are gun-shy of what could happen to the new efforts being developed now and the opportunities on our horizon. National promotion orders have been flushed down the tubes because of a lack of cooperation and coordination, not to mention too great of a diversity among green crops as opposed to a commodity like milk or pork. But these trials have made way for several successful alternatives.
Good examples of past failed efforts include PromoFlor, the national marketing order promoting cut flowers and cut greens that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. Represented by the consumer-friendly character Buzz the Bee, PromoFlor got plenty of free publicity with Buzz’s regular television appearances on national talk shows and even his run for the presidency. But the industry’s faith and funding waned when the referendum to continue the campaign failed and PromoFlor – and Buzz – were squashed in 1997.
Similarly, Floraboard, a 1984 promotion order for cut flowers, foliage, and blooming plants died, as did Plants For America, a dismal failure due to the industry’s stance against its effort to collect a mandatory container assessment to raise funds.
The same mistake was almost repeated with the industry’s effort to fund the newest and broadest campaign, America In Bloom (AIB). Founded in 2000, industry members rallied against the idea to collect a two cent assessment on all containers in 2001 and, learning from past failures, instead made contributions voluntary. This alternative has been successful in launching the national beautification campaign and contest modeled after Canada’s Communities In Bloom, and in 2002 ATB attracted 38 municipalities of all sizes and populations in its first all-American contest. To date, AIB has raised more than $240,000, plus in-kind sponsorships. AIB hopes continued press and publicity will affect sales of green goods across the board and while the organization will continue to seek industry support, it has also begun pursuing sponsorships and grants from outside sources, which could include airlines and hotel chains.
Other more voluntary alternatives cropping up include the Flower Promotion Organization’s “Flowers. Alive With Possibilities.” campaign, positioning flowers as “a natural, easy, simple, and inexpensive way to improve and freshen up the home and office.” The campaign was born out of a resolution with Columbian flower growers. U.S. cut flower grower groups agreed in 1999 to drop trade actions against Columbian growers and in exchange, Columbian growers paid 0.85% of the value of their U.S. exports into the promotion fund. Initially, the campaign launched in five urban U.S. markets, but with gathered momentum, it has expanded into one more and continues to grow.
The Associated Landscape
Contractors of America’s (ALCA) Plants At Work campaign is a successful ongoing effort funded by voluntary pledges to the Interior Industry Growth Initiative. The national information campaign aims at promoting the benefits of interior plants – including reduced stress, enhanced employee attitudes, increased productivity, and improved air quality, in additon to aesthetic value – to professionals and the public. The effort has made great strides, including sponsoring an essay contest for students of Stuyvesant High School in New York City about how plants clean the air and boost spirits after the air quality was questioned due to the school’s proximity to the World Trade Center after the 9/11 disaster. Industry members provided 1,000 plants to the school.
Branding And Misunderstanding
With consumers’ discretionary incomes rising tremendously within the last two decades, floriculture has seen increased competition for dollars from other recreational industries. And while gardening is still the No. 1 leisure activity among Americans, floriculture leaders recognize the need for greater education and promotion, so the new varieties boom of the past 10 years doesn’t catapult floriculture into “commoditization” and the hard times other segments of agriculture have seen of late. This need, coupled with the rise in competition among varieties companies, has spiraled into large, national consumer branding efforts by private companies, the largest of which are Proven Winners, The Flower Fields, and Simply Beautiful.
It all started in 1992 with the introduction of the first spreading petunia from seed, Wave petunias from PanAmerican Seed. Because growers and the gardening public were unfamiliar with how Waves would look in the landscape, a full-scale educational “Wave-Rave” campaign was launched. The results were very positive and today, consumers ask for Waves by name.
The same year, EuroAmerican Propagators, Pleasant View Gardens, and Four Star Greenhouse partnered together to launch Proven Winners, a marketing cooperative established to promote vegetatively produced specialty annuals, many of which were totally obscure and, because they were so new and different, became extremely popular Proven Winners was one of the first to invest heavily in a consumer marketing campaign and its plants and promotions have generated great hubbub among the national garden media.
The advent of the vegetative boom brought increased competition and companies began jumping on the “brandwagon.” But many industry members have asked, “How can we possibly brand plants?”
While branding is a no-brainer for consumer goods like tennis shoes and cola, the perishable nature of live plants makes it a scary and costly prospect for low-margin producers. After all, the whole purpose of branding is to add value and create premium products, but with the production variability among growers, the disconnect in quality that occurs from wholesale to retail, and continued exploitation of price points by big box retailers, there is still uncertainty about the viability of floriculture brands.
Still, proponents are optimistic that brands can succeed by providing the information resources consumers are demanding to help them be successful in their gardens. Establishing a brand takes time and it is way too early to tell how successful one will be. In the meantime, national brands are following the lead of other consumer products by signing spokespeople like The Flower Fields partnership with garden guru P Allen Smith. Hopefully, the next 20 years will see consumers catching on and asking for more plants by name as a result of the branding efforts underway now.
Revelations In Retail
Big box retailers have played a huge role in bringing plants and garden products more visibility. Since 1983, the chains have barreled into all 50 states and they continue to be the fastest growing retail segment on the market But despite the chains’ help in growing sales, they have also hurt growers’ profits and security not only with their continual demands for more plants at lower prices, but also with market consolidation. Lack of knowledge and plant care at retail is negating efforts to establish higher quality, premium items and thus, higher profits. In response, operations like Bell Nursery, Burtonsville, MD, which serves more than 40 Home Depot stores, have had to make more deliveries and develop their own merchandising services to increase sell-through.
Increased branding efforts to train retail employees, like Proven Winners’ Certified Retailer program, are making headway It’s likely we will see a larger concentration on merchandising and retailer education, and growers taking on more responsibility for their plants at retail within the next several years.
With chains driving down prices on standard bedding plants, independent garden centers have learned to adapt to compete, developing niche markets in specialty annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses. In addition, increased levels of customer service, from offering gardening courses and hosting plant festivals to planting and delivering custom-designed container plantings, as well as building destination garden centers complete with cafes, have kept consumers coming back for more. Branding initiatives are helping retailers differentiate themselves with point-of-purchase and merchandising materials, as well.
Copyright Meister Publishing Company Jan 2003
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