Becoming Consumer-centric By Bridget White

You might be wondering what’s going on here at GPNthat we have a dinner party on the cover of the magazine. Just bear with me fora few minutes, and everything will be clear…

A couple of months ago during my Pack Trial tour at ProvenWinners (see pages 24 and 100 for part one of our coverage), Director ofPromotions and Product Development John Gaydos asked a question that plagued methe remainder of the week and has been on my mind since.

He pointed to five colorful, distinct Bracteantha varietiesand asked if I thought the market could support another variety. Our eventualconsensus was not could it but would it. Let me explain.

I loved gardening before I became part of this industry, butback then, a trip to the garden center was a different experience. I walkedaround amazed at all the beautiful plants, trying to decide which of theofferings I needed for my garden. Now, I walk in looking for a particularvariety — because research has shown that x verbena has better mildew resistanceor that y impatiens can take more sun — and I am inevitably disappointed,as even the best garden centers never have all of the varieties I want. Whichbrings me back to the question: would the market support more varieties?

My very scientific “gut” feeling is yes. Whenofficemates get a glimpse of the annual seed catalogues that are packed withplants and varieties they’ve never seen, the ones that you and I take forgranted, they go crazy. I hear over and over, “Where can I buythis?” They ask me to write down the variety name so they can ask for itat their garden center. Chances are, they’ll be disappointed.

So would a new Bracteantha make these gardeners happy?It’s hard to say in light of the fact that half of what’s alreadyavailable never makes it to the end consumer. We can’t keep turning tothe breeders for new introductions to make gardeners happy when over half ofwhat they already offer never sees a retail bench. Example, there are easily100 pansy varieties on the market, and when you include panolas and violas, thenumber becomes staggering.

How many of those make it to retail? Is it because theconsumer won’t buy them? No, the pansy market has shown double-digitgrowth for years. Is it because we need another new introduction? No, newcolors or habit improvements are always welcome, and always coming, but thecore was in place a long time ago. The only reasonable solution is that growersaren’t making the varieties available.

The Challenge

Folks, you’re clogging things up. Breeders put plenty ofnew varieties into the system, and consumers lap up anything that they’venever seen before. The bottleneck is right here with the growers. I’m notadvising you to add something to your line just because it’s new. Whymake yourself learn how to grow a new variety if it doesn’t offer somereturn either in growing ease or price point. The breeders are doing theirpart. Look at PanAmerican’s new Easy Wave (culture information on page104) as an example. The Wave is a great seller at retail, and PanAmerican hasmade it easier for you to grow by improving its bench performance.

So, here’s your challenge: You’ve got to startthinking more about the consumer. What does the consumer want? How much of itdo they want? How much will they pay for it? How can you make them want yourplants?

That’s what this year’s GPN/MasterTag MarketingInnovation Award winner did four years ago, and now they’re on the vergeof taking their idea national. Deena Altman, Altman Plants, Vista, Calif.,considered the industry’s sagging herb sales and wondered what she coulddo to make consumers want to buy more herbs — how she could make it easyfor them. What resulted is a marketing program based on usage, an award-winningpromotional campaign and the June cover article. I immediately loved thispicture because it is a graphic representation of Altman’s motivation— consumer use. (Does it make sense now?)

Before anything as progressive as marketing campaigns orawards can happen, you’ve got to get more in line with the consumer. Sohere’s what I’m really asking you to do: Trial at least five newcrops and 10 new varieties each year. Determine what would benefit youroperation, what’s easiest to grow, what requires less chemicals, what youcan make more money with, and make those varieties part of your offerings.You’ll definitely see the return once the consumers see all the differentplants you can offer.

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GPN recognizes 40 industry professionals under the age of 40 who are helping to determine the future of the horticulture industry. These individuals are today’s movers and shakers who are already setting the pace for tomorrow.

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