Getting Savvy About Tags By Brandi T. Thomas

Spring Meadow Nursery is trying to change the way gardeners think about flowering shrubs. With a pull-through marketing technique and attractive, self-selling tags, consumers, retailers and growers are taking notice, even if they don?t produce woodies.

There’s been much ado about annual and perennialmarketing these days, from P. Allen Smith representing the Flower Fields toProven Winners’ Pikmin and partnership with The Weather Channel. It wouldappear that every gardening application the consumer needs to know about hasbeen covered, from bedding plants, to fall plantings,to container gardens?except for one thing. Can youhear that sound? That’s the sound of money in a consumer’s pocketas she leaves the garden center. That’s the sound of plants thatyou grew but your customer couldn’t sell.

A recent statistic says that 78 percent of consumers onlyenter the color portion of the garden center, where they find annuals and a fewperennials. No problem, right? The majority of your product is right there.Wrong. This way of thinking is going to send you the way of the dinosaurs. Themore your customer sells, regardless of what department it comes from, the moreable they are to expand and buy more product from you.

Realizing this interdependence between departments, SpringMeadow Nursery Inc., Grand Haven, Mich., is introducing a new tag that devotesvaluable space to selling plants they don’t grow.

Marketing times three

Aware of the void in good marketing for trees and floweringshrubs, Spring Meadow Nursery developed ColorChoice, a program for introducingnew plants to the marketplace that integrates the widespread marketing of thesenew introductions and a tagging support program that features colorfulphotography and usage information. The tags drive consumers back to Web site for plant care information, where they can alsoview other Spring Meadow plants and find out which retailers in their statecarry the plants. Tags for the complete product line were launched in 2002.”We saw offering tags to the product line as a way to fill a void, andthe ultimate goal is it will increase sales,” said Steve VanderWoude,licensing director for Spring Meadow.

Using a three-pronged advertising approach, Spring Meadow isattempting to attract the attention of all parts of the production/consumptionchain. They’ve published advertisements in industry trade magazines forwholesale growers; in magazines such as GPN’s sister publication, Lawn& Garden Retailer, for retailers; and in consumer magazines such as GardenShowcase. The objective is pull-through marketing: to encourage consumers toask their retailers to start stocking the plants they see in magazines, toprompt retailers to put in orders with Spring Meadow growers, to enthusegrowers enough about the product that they will buy more plant material andpersuade retailers to place orders for it.

VanderWoude considers garden writers to be a great vehiclefor publicizing the ColorChoice program. Spring Meadow gives out 300-500 plantseach year to garden writers to encourage them to write articles about theplants. “We did a piece this year on “Wine &Roses” and it got picked up by over 130 newspapers across thecountry, 50 of the top 100 markets, reaching 3.8 million consumers,”VanderWoude said. “To me, that’s pull-through marketing.”

The power of a tag

Though the ColorChoice program dates back nearly six yearsnow, Spring Meadow recently revised its tagging program to reflect theindustry’s needs and to add more sales-friendly features. What was once along strip tag that attached to the plants via adhesive and folded around themgot a facelift this past June. The new, rectangular tags now attach witha string and feature seven, easily identifiable icons on the fronts forconsumer reference: sun, part shade, shade, attracts butterflies, attractshummingbirds, fragrant and cut flowers. The backs of the tags feature bulletedcharacteristics of each plant, as well as facts about exposure, season ofinterest, hardiness and size.

One of the best features of the new tags is a suggestiveselling component Spring Meadow calls Perfect Pairs: other plants that willcomplement the current selection. “My thought process with Perfect Pairsis that the consumer needs some direction,” said VanderWoude. “Itcould become part of a whole merchandising program for the retailer, who couldcreate an endcap with some of the combinations. My goal was to give consumers acouple of ideas of what to pair with this plant so they’ll go buy anotherone.” For example, one of the Perfect Pairs listed for Wine &Roses is Rudbeckia hirta.

Spring Meadow sells more than 400 varieties of floweringshrubs to wholesale growers in 49 states, and boasts slightly more than 3,000customers. Growers pay, on average, a $0.38 royalty on each plant purchasedfrom Spring Meadow, which includes the cost of the tag; Spring Meadow requiresits growers to apply the tags as part of the licensing agreement. Somelicensees, like Monrovia, have been approved to use their own tags, whilenon-licensed growers who buy individual liners must use the ColorChoice tags.Spring Meadow channels 30 percent of its royalty cost back into marketing.What’s unique about Spring Meadow’s program is that an additional30 percent of the royalty cost goes back into the program, for such purposes asidentifying new plants for the ColorChoice line.

While the program is geared toward independent gardencenters, Spring Meadow does not tell its licensees that they cannot sell tomass merchandisers, and to that end, VanderWoude has seen Wine &Roses at Lowes. This does not mean, however, that independents do nothave the opportunity to make a premium on these plants. The challenge,according to VanderWoude, is getting growers and retailers to understand thatthis program is made for independent businesses. “You can sell them formore money because they are premium plants, and the opportunity is really inthe first 3-5 years,” he explained. “Get in, promote it, market it,merchandise it–it’s going to yield benefits to you.”

Performance Worth Merchandising

Spring Meadow’s goal is not to flood the market with adizzying array of new flowering shrubs, but to provide consumers with uniqueplants that are guaranteed to perform and with adequate marketing and taggingto support them. They have accomplished this through trialing. Three acres ofdisplay gardens on Spring Meadow’s property showcase well over 800-1,000varieties of plants; by comparison, there are only 43 new additions to thecompany catalog this year. Tim Wood, horticulturist and product developmentmanager, and Dale Deppe, owner, travel the world in search of new plants,including Korea, Belgium, England and The Netherlands. For a variety to beselected, it must be something different than what’s currently availableon the market, and it must evoke excitement in the consumer. It must also showgood form, flower for a relatively long period of time and be attractive and”sellable” even when not in bloom, among other judging factors. SpringMeadow invites all of its licensees to come visit the nursery as often as theyplease, for two reasons. “First, it gives them the chance to get an ideaof what we may introduce in the next couple of years,” said VanderWoude.”And second, it gives us an opportunity to get feedback from them.”

VanderWoude has visions for the way he’d likeretailers to merchandise ColorChoice plants, visions that he believes couldhelp them sell more. How? First, he suggests that we stop the segregation ofplant categories and think more in terms of cross-merchandising.”There’s almost nobody in the country integrating shrubs andperennials,” VanderWoude said. “I think as long as we maintainthese double yellow lines between departments, it only increases the confusionfor the consumer. Imagine a garden center that has delineated sun and shade[departments], and plants that can be grown in both areas are located in bothareas. Maybe there’s a nice, weeping red Japanese maple positioned on thebench or on an endcap display, wrapped with hostas and whatever else. Right nowwe sell all the Japanese maples out in the tree lot in full sun, and so we, inessence, increase the amount of information our staff must share, whilereducing the ability to sell plants because we make it more confusing.”

It doesn’t have to be confusing with the rightmerchandising. Spring Meadow has provided the tools with tags and is drivingdemand through advertising–with some effort, the potential to maximizeyour sales is in your hands.

Brandi T. Thomas

Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor of GPN.

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