Grower Brands At Retail By Catherine Evans

How do grower brands really do in the retail setting against the breeder/marketer brands that have national recognition?

When it comes to the subject of branding, our industry has mostly been focusing on the brands that the breeder/marketers have created. What about the other branding programs that are not as well known nationally but are known in local and regional markets, a.k.a. grower brands?

Grower brands have been around for quite a long time, with more popping up every year. They are mostly regional, with a few exceptions, and seem to be very well known in their region. But what about hard evidence on how they stack up? How do the grower brands fair without the benefit of a large advertising budget?

These are some of the questions GPN recently asked several growers who have successful branding programs of their own. Here’s what they had to say.

Welby Gardens

Grower. Denver, Colo.-based Welby Gardens has been at the branding game for a while. In the late 1970s Welby Gardens got involved in a local branding program. Soon after realizing how difficult it was not being able to control other growers’ quality Welby broke off and started its own brand: Hardy Boy plants.

Currently, Welby has more than 1,100 varieties in the program and adds more each year. To ensure successful varieties, Welby developed a trialing program to verify that all of the plant material in the program would thrive in Colorado and the surrounding areas, hence the Hardy Boy name. “We wanted something that was going to convey the sturdiness of the plant material,” Al Gerace, CEO of Welby, said. “So we tried to construct something that had a personality, and the boy came about.”

Welby wanted a brand that was recognizable and had the ability to establish a differential price point. “[Consumers] go out looking for that brand that will do well, whereas something that they bought at a box store didn’t,” Gerace said. “Once we have won them over, they generally come back year after year. We’ve been able to command higher prices in the marketplace because of that.”

Welby helps out its retailers by promoting the brand heavily to give consumer brand recognition and bring customers into the garden center for the Hardy Boy name. “We run advertisements that link us to the individual retailers, where we could promote the brand, and they could benefit directly,” Gerace said. “We advertise on a weekly basis through the spring and summer in about 20 papers in the local market.” Welby also advertises in local papers and some gardening magazines in its various retailer regions.

Retailers. Tagawa Garden Center & Florist, Aurora, Colo., has been carrying Hardy Boy for more than 22 years and has no plans to stop anytime soon. According to Beth Zwinak, “People definitely come in and ask for Hardy Boy plants. They tell us they hear the ads on the radio, see them in the newspaper. Because of Welby’s efforts to educate the consumer through advertising and promotions, customers trust the Hardy Boy name.”

“We always sell a lot of Hardy Boy plants,” added Zwinak, “especially pansies. Sometimes we come close to selling out, but Welby Gardens offers such phenomenal service that we just re-order, and the plants magically appear. Hardy Boy is incredibly supportive, providing lots of top-quality plant products and wonderful signage. They also reinforce the brand with fertilizers and other products bearing the same brand name.”

Another retailer that does well with the Hardy Boy brand is McGuckin Hardware, Boulder, Colo. Patty Templeton, department head and buyer for the botanical department, mirrored what Zwinak said as far as quality and customer service — two things Welby seems to be very good at, Templeton said.

“During the busy season [Welby] runs different promotions, a different coupon each week, but basically they are very helpful with anything we need,” Templeton said.

Sawyer Nursery

Grower. The Grandma Sawyer’s Gardens program from Sawyer Nursery, Hudsonville, Mich., will be entering its fourth year this coming spring, so it is fairly new to the market but becoming known in the industry. In fact, it received honorable mention in GPN’s marketing award competition in 2002. Grandma Sawyer’s Garden consists of four themed garden displays: the Bird Lover’s Garden, Hummingbird Garden, Butterfly Garden and the Ornamental Grasses Garden.

Adding something different to many of the standard branding/merchandising programs that are out there, this perennial program caters to very specific consumer needs, promoting perennials that attract wildlife or evoke an emotion. Sawyer’s program is aimed at people who want great gardens without professional help.

According to Amy Kaiser, garden center account manager for Sawyer, one of the challenges with the program is that garden centers have not caught on to its value. “People who have purchased it love it and replenish and work with it each year,” said Kaiser. “We have tons of people come up to us at trade shows, look at it and say this is a great idea. When we rely on them for working it, they start looking into what it costs, and the interest unfortunately falls off some.”

Though the cost might be an issue, each of the four themed kits includes a number of features to attract attention to the program and the store. Each garden is designed and displayed with about 12 plants to choose from. Display and signage pieces show where to place the plants and how many to use in the themed garden, maximizing visuals and interest at the point of sale and making it easier for the consumer to plan the garden they envision.

Currently, independent retailers from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana carry the program. According to Kaiser, “Certain customers have the kits and set up the displays, and that is their livelihood of perennials; they are smaller businesses that don’t do a lot of perennials, but when they do, they sell right off the display.”

Retailers. Emma Kearns from Landscape & Patio Supply, Centerville, Ohio, said, “We do moderately well. The reason we do not do better is because they are the only plant we carry; we are not a typical garden center. We just carry the Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens. If we were pushing more plants, we would do better. The product always arrives in good shape, it’s well packaged and the plants are more than decent size.”

Sarah Lanham, Brunner’s Market & Greenhouse, Alliance, Ohio, adds, “It does very well. We actually just started three years ago, so we pretty much just stick to the basics. I do the garden displays, and I add some of the most popular sellers. It is something customers see along the way and pick up. I have been very pleased with it overall.”

Every program has its ups and downs, and with the program going into its fourth year, more and more retailers are catching on and seeing the added value of using the Grandma Sawyer’s Gardens merchandising programs.

Overdevest Nurseries

Grower. Overdevest Nurseries, Bridgeton, N.J., is also in the perennial branding business and another GPN marketing award honorable mention. Garden Splendor was introduced to the market in spring 2002 and has hit several of the garden centers in the Northeast with a bang.

Garden Splendor was put into place because retailers were looking for a way to differentiate themselves from local and big box competition, and Overdevest wanted to help out. The company wanted retailers to have a brand that could be seen as private labeling, something that was not at the box stores or other garden centers in the same area, and Garden Splendor’s exclusive dealership territory promise does just that with its local marketing zone of five-miles plus, whichever encompasses 50,000 households. Retailers really like that aspect of the program because it gives them the ability to be the only one to carry that brand, so people looking for that brand will come to them and not the guy next door.

Another unique aspect of the Garden Splendor program is that at retail each plant is labeled with a typical plastic tag, which includes a photo and culture information and is hanging on a stake; however, the part that sets this brand apart from others is the accompanying Remember Me metal tag with the species and variety names and the Garden Splendor logo. This allows consumers to stick the tag in their own gardens for a nice looking label to remind them of the variety name for next year or to help admirers looking for something similar for their garden.

Along with the metal stake, the program offers POP material, signage and online marketing that includes a dealer directory, photos of the newest varieties coming out Á and a consumer e-newsletter with information on the program and where to get it. According to Bob Sickles, owner of Sickles Market, Little Silver, N.J., “With the E-mail newsletter, we get customers coming in asking for their plants.”

Retailers. Both Sickles and David Williams, owner of Williams Nursery, Westfield, N.J., have had Overdevest’s program in their stores since its inception. “Garden Splendor was added to brand a product,” said Sickles, “and the unique thing about the brand is that it was really seen as the center’s brand, not necessarily Overdevest’s brand. The final customer thinks of it as the Sickles Market brand or whatever other centers are involved.” Williams added, “It has done extremely well for us, with almost 100-percent sell out every year. I think the biggest reason it does so well is that Overdevest is probably the best, most consistent grower we use. We increase our orders every year.”

As with almost any product on the market, there are a few small problems in the mix that are currently being remedied by Overdevest for next season. “In essence, the only one problem with Garden Splendor is that we can’t always get enough product,” said Sickles. Another thing that Williams mentioned is an issue with the labels not being attached to the pots, but that has been addressed.

Despite a few glitches in the logistics of the plant material, one thing that was made very clear is the quality of the product in the Garden Splendor program. “Garden Splendor is definitely a premium product,” said Williams. “It costs more than a normal perennial, but the plants are always the absolute best.” Sickles adds that people want a higher-quality product that doesn’t look like it was just thrown out onto the bench, and Garden Splendor has that quality look and feel to it.

Floral Plant Growers

After covering some of the most well-known grower brands/merchandising programs for independent retailers we thought we should at least add one program that is sold at the mass merchant level.

Floral Plant Growers, Denmark, Wis., doesn’t talk about brands; they look at it in terms of a package. According to Dean Chaloupka, president of Floral Plant Growers, “The reason we talk in terms of merchandising is because we feel that the packaging needs to meet a need for more information, and that is what we are trying to do — provide information to the consumer about our product.” The program he is referring to is called Living Pleasures, which includes bedding plants and perennials for sun and shade and debuted for the first time in spring 2004 at Home Depot and Shopko.

Floral Plant Growers felt that in many instances lawn and garden gets very cluttered and confusing and worries that consumers become intimated when they are not able to find products in the exact same spot every time they visit a store. “We wanted to bring some organization in with this program — whatever garden center it was in; we felt that was important. Many studies have shown that people are buying on impulse, it may look good, but they don’t know anything about the plant or where or how it should be used,” Chaloupka said.

Floral Plant Growers saw that the mass merchants it supplies did not have enough employees in the store to help each customer, or they were not educated enough about the product to give accurate information. “We needed to make it easier for them to at least engage the customer in basic knowledge,” Chaloupka said.

The packaging for Living Pleasures is made up of color-coded pots and tags and coordinated with bench tape, price signs, posters and POP materials. “The reaction by consumers, store personnel and merchandisers was extremely positive because it allowed us to present a much more consistent look from store to store. There was a consistent look whether for a pack, a 4-inch pot, 6-inch pot or a gallon; the fact that the packaging was the same color, the tagging was all the same color and the signage was consistent with the packaging, made for a much more visually appealing presentation,” said Chaloupka.

Currently, certain aspects are in the process of being changed. The bench skirting had a tendency to get caught on carts or walked on and ripped. There were also some tag talkers on flats that got dislodged and ended up on the ground for the merchandising people to pick up. “We are going to make changes like that, but overall, the reaction in terms of how it made the garden center work as well as the information it provided was very positive,” said Chaloupka.

Retailers.Shopko was one of the retailers that tried Living Pleasures in the first year, and they found it to be a nice addition to the garden center. Tom Dunbar, senior buyer of lawn and garden for Shopko said, “I am very pleased with the program because I find a combination of things; number one, the program makes it easier for store personnel to know where to put things and keep their compounds better organized. It also helps the customer find things when we don’t necessarily have a sales person available. It helps answer the common question of where can I plant this. It also helped tie our compound together nicely and give it a nice clean look.”

Shopko actually sells Living Pleasures in all of its stores nationwide with the help of Floral Plant Growers support in allowing other growers around the country to grow the product. “We have a partnership with our growers,” explained Dunbar, “and Floral Plant Growers tends to be kind of our leader in the category, so they were able to help coordinate things with our other growers and share information.”

“There was a lot more positive feedback on how the signing looked and the way the product presented itself on the fixtures” added Dunbar. “The program was new, and it was such a dominant part of our store presentation. I think this has a lot more potential of becoming a brand in the consumers’ eyes than a lot of the other companies. I think the Living Pleasures system certainly has a chance.”

The above accounts from growers and retailers implies that the breeder/marketer companies aren’t the only ones that can be successful with branding/merchandising. Most grower brands may not be nationwide, but they do seem to have a following in certain regions. Though there were a few glitches here and there, retailers expressed a very positive response to the grower brands, especially regarding customer service and quality.

One of the main reasons grower brands work so well in this industry is because of the love of plants and growers using that to their advantage. Taking pride in the brand is the way growers show that they have the good material and are willing to prove it to the world by branding it.

Catherine Evans

Catherine Evans is associate editor for GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1050 or E-mail at [email protected]

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