When you think of carnations, you probably think SouthAmerica. But before we started importing cut flowers from our neighbors,Colorado was the leader in carnation production in the United States.
With such a carnation proliferation in the 1960s, manygrowers strove to differentiate. Their reaction: branding their products asbetter, unique and different. But you can only have so many one-of-a-kindproducts and this market went from being flooded with an unnamed to avariously named commodity. Branding without quality control only served toprolong the inevitable demise of Colorado carnation production; oversupplycaused low margins, marketing became too expensive and over time, growersbecame saddled with an unprofitable product.
At this point, you are probablywondering what this history has to do with Welby Gardens, the runner-up for the2002 GPN/MasterTag Marketing Innovation Award, especially if you know that thisColorado-based grower does not grow cut flowers. The most important thing aboutthis digression is not how carnations were once strong but why they became weak and why branding is the reason. According to MasterTag consumerresearch, Welby Gardens’ brand is recognized by 51 percent of consumersin the Denver area more than Blooms of Bressingham, Wave Petunia andMartha Stewart.
Welby Gardens developed their Hardy Boy logo in 1976.They’d been in business for nearly 30 years and had witnessed thecarnation catastrophe. The Gerace family wanted the logo to be easilyidentifiable and distinguish plants as easy for consumers to grow.
According to Alex Gerace, “We saw that if therewasn’t some way to establish quality and recognition of your plants, youwere forced to take what the market could bear. We felt that by branding ourproduct standing behind it and guaranteeing it we wouldestablish ourselves in the market. We saw the demise of the carnation industryand what happened when things became commodities; we see today what happens togarden mums, which are offered by everybody at the lowest prices thatyou can’t establish both quality and price.”
Welby realized from the very beginning that they could notjust unleash a brand with a cute logo and expect it to work. They knew it hadto be nurtured and controlled at every step, from the greenhouse to retail.”You have to have some kind of control over the product,” explainedAlex, “because logos in dead plants are not good advertising.” Howdid they secure that control? By being choosy about their customers,exclusively independents. “We knew that we had a good form of marketingthrough independents,” he said. “They’re going to make surethat someone takes care to water the plants because their profits are at risk.A good portion of our success is who we choose to market to.” In short,having committed retailers is directly related to your performance. “Ifyou’re not able to influence retailers, then all your work can bedestroyed,” Alex added.
Later, Welby tightened their control by funding newspaper adcampaigns that helped customers increase profits. The campaigns began in localpapers and expanded to other critical markets where 4-6 retailers carried thebrand. “We placed ads for them, using their logos
Welby’s Hardy Boy can be seen on annuals, perennials,ornamental grasses and vegetable starter plants in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona,New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Mississippi and Iowa butit’s to their line of Herbs that they are given special recognition.Á
The company’s goal with this line was to eliminateconfusion about whether herbs were hardy or tender. Herbs are designated as”Exotic Alpine,” “Exotic Old World” or “ExoticTropical” based on their hardiness zones.
“Exotic Alpine” herbs will withstand frost andare primarily perennial in Zones 4, 5 and 6. Picture an herb on the peaks ofsnow-capped mountains; Alpine plant tags depict just such an image, which helpsconsumers feel they can purchase gingko, oregano, thyme, Echinacea, mint, sage,valerian, ChasteBerry Tree, Beton and blueberry without worrying about frost.
“Exotic Old World” indicates climates of theMediterranean and England. These plants bay, citrosa, chamomile,rosemary, licorice, stevia, society garlic, lavender, tarragon, fennel andcurry are semi-hardy in Zones 7 and 8 and can withstand cold but notfrost. The blue sea and old-world architecture is what consumers see on thesetags, providing the visual cue that these plants thrive in temperate climates.
Tender herbs make up “Exotic Tropicals,” whichincludes black pepper, vanilla, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lemongrass, sugar cane, gotu kola, allspice and basil.
The Welby program has been awarded runner-up status,according to MasterTag’s Joe Fox, based on the creative way it representsthe plant segments. “It draws on emotional appeal to the consumer andgoes beyond a traditional representation of specific plantcharacteristics,” he explained.
Welby crafted an entire program around these herbs andthemes that includes information about the herbs from mythological topractical uses. Visuals and P.O.P. materials include plant tags, adouble-sized, 14- x 16-inch placard, banners and literature. When the programwas first launched, Welby placed newspaper advertisements listing all theretailers involved and the various promotional activities that would be takingplace, including in-store contests for the best herbal recipes. Individualretailers were able to give winners a full day at an herbal spa. One weekfeatured herb container planting, where customers came to the stores and eitherbought or brought in their own containers for planting. The most impressive ofthe contest prizes was a trip to one of the Caribbean spice islands. Employeescould even get involved. At some locations, there were as many as 13 staffentries for herb recipes; the winners received Hardy Boy bedding plants orcash.
Alex Gerace believes there is a definite benefit to grower-branded product: quality control. “If you have a nationally branded product,” he said, “it could be a good item but grown poorly. The good-looking plant will always perform the best.” Welby also has control over the types of plants they brand they aren’t just new and unique, but proven to perform. Welby chooses items that perform well in the area they are shipping, running a 1-year trial on each plant to make sure they are actually able to withstand the end-market climate.
“If you’re going to brand, you have to be critical of your product, critical all along the way, not just until you get it out the door,” Alex advised. “If you see yourself as just one of everybody else, that you can’t do anything to your product to make it any better, thenyou’re not going to be successful.” This is the moral of theColorado carnation one that you, like Welby, can benefit from.