Education for All By Roger C. Styer

Growers, buyers and end consumers, too.

This is the time of year when I am finishing up a lot oftraining seminars for my grower clients. I conduct in-house seminars andtraining sessions on a number of growing topics about which the growers wantmore information. We get a chance to work with plants they are growing in thegreenhouse and discuss some of the newest information and how it relates to thebasic concepts of growing.

Having someone conduct a personal seminar for your operationthat is based on your needs, questions and uses for your facility, and thattargets your mission statement, is the best way to get education, but it’s notthe only way. Growers are able to attend regional meetings and conferenceswhere they pick up good cultural and other information. I find that growingoperations that allow their growers to continually upgrade their skills withseminars, conferences, trade shows or just visits to other greenhouses keeptheir growers longer and improve their product quality.

Growers and owners have a number of very good regionalconferences and trade shows, and one big one in the Ohio Short Course. Howoften do you have your growers attend a conference where they can improve theirgrowing knowledge? For my clients, I challenge the growers attending aconference or trade show to come back with 3-5 key ideas, suggestions or newproducts that can be incorporated into the growing operation and will improvetheir product or methods. Each attendee has different assignments, so there isno need for overlap. Soon after the conference, before everyone gets too busyagain and forgets, they make sure to review what was seen or heard and whatwritten information was picked up.

We have a lot of opportunities to pick up good information,but I see a lack of interest from managers and owners to improve their businessand management skills, even though talks are offered at the conferences. Thesame challenge I give to growers should be for managers and owners. What 3-5new ideas or suggestions can you bring back to improve your business andmanagement skills?

Bringing it all together

But what about the rest of the floriculture industry? Who iseducating the store buyers or independent garden center operators? And whatabout the end consumer? We can continually improve our growing skills, but ifthe rest of the market chain does not improve, what good will this do us?

I think the biggest gap we have in the educational processis between growing operations, store buyers and end consumers. The better wecan put together programs and services with stores and garden centers, the moreproduct we can sell for higher margins. Often, I hear about growing operationsthat deal with the “big boxes.” You get an appointment for acertain date and time to meet with the Wal-Mart buyer in Bentonville, Ark., topresent new programs and what you have to offer for the next year. They say yesor no, and push you for a lower price. But how well do those buyers reallyunderstand the plant products we are promoting? Do any of them attend the sameconferences, trade shows or trials we do? Without a better understanding of ourproducts and how to promote them to the end consumer, it is impossible toincrease value with better prices, sizes and quality.

On top of all this, I see continued problems when the mainoffice drives box store programs and regional differences are ignored. Thebattle that Home Depot and Lowe’s are engaged in with guaranteeing they havethe lowest prices is not helping our cause either. When marketing decisions aredriven by egos and not common sense, we all suffer. How can you, as a producerfor box stores, get the buyers back to offering their customers good valuewithout losing your shirt?

Finally, let’s not forget about educating the end consumer.We are trying to do this with POP, fancy labels, pots, tags and even bookletsin the stores. Do the chain stores you deal with maintain good displays and POPto help sales? And how many different POP displays can a store handle withoutconfusing the consumer and themselves?

Good independent garden centers will offer in-house seminarsto educate their consumers on different products and trends, along with havingopen houses to show off their products. Some even offer landscape design andinstallation services. But how many will make house calls to help plan theconsumer’s installation or help with a problem? The personal touch is what manyupscale consumers are looking for, and they are willing to pay an extra chargefor that service.

Education for the end consumer is more than just articles inmagazines or the local newspaper. When you consider your buyer as a consumer,you will find there are ample opportunities to educate them about the value ofthe products you sell. Remember, education is a never-ending process for thedifferent segments of our market. Why should growers have all the fun?

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Roger C. Styer

Dr. Roger Styer is president, Styer's Horticultural Consulting, Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208-0542 or E-mail at [email protected]

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