The Will of Seville By Brandi D. Thomas

Way cool and far out, we dug Seville Farms’ pansy marketing program enough to name them the honorable mention for the 2002 Marketing Innovation Award.

Ask any flower and plant retailer to describe their customerbase, and the answer will likely range from a middle-aged wife and mothercomplete with young children and mini-van, to a female retiree who comes inevery Tuesday for her senior discount. From the 35-50-plus range, give or takea few gray hairs, that’s probably what they’ll say. To appeal tothe aura of that consumer group, a marketing manager might think in terms ofmuted colors and traditional images, like country geese and apple pie.

But not Dave Johnson. Seville Farms’ vice president ofmarketing is a cautious creative; while slow to implement grower branding,Johnson knew who he wanted Seville’s customers to be and took his timeobserving consumer demographics before he made his move. He had his sights seton national retailers, and he had a sneaking suspicion that the primarygardening consumer at those stores was neither a dowdy divorcee in her 40s nora mother with kids in tow. “I have a running opinion that our consumerbase in the Southwest [including Texas, Okla., La. and N.M.] is not as we haveperceived it to be in the mid-40s and older, but in the mid-30s and gettingyounger.”

Making horticulture hip

The most recent study on consumer floral buying habitsconducted by the American Floral Endowment and Ipsos-NPD backs upJohnson’s observation (See the June issue of sister publication Lawn& Garden Retailer for complete details). While only seven percent ofrespondent bedding plant buyers at independent garden centers were under 35years, 17 percent of shoppers at home centers and 14 percent at discount chainswere in that lower age range.

One year ago, when Seville launched its pansy blendsprogram, Johnson didn’t have any tangible proof that the image createdwould be in tune with its targeted younger buyers. All he had were his eyes anda gut feeling. “Some of my staff wanted me to use things like ‘SunsetBlend’ and ‘Apple Orchard Blend’ and ‘Cider BoxBlend’, and I said no, I don’t want that. I want something thatjust leaps out, that maybe grabs a different eye. I’m still sold on [theyounger demographic], and I’m going to continue to be sold on it becausewhen I go into national retailers, that’s who I see shopping.”

That said, Johnson’s objective is not only to appealto younger customers, he wants Seville’s program to appeal to everyone.He likens his vision for their marketing program to the readers who turn thepages of Martha Stewart Living. “Who reads Martha Stewart?” heasks. “Maybe everyone from 19-99, but there’s a sector out therethat reads Martha Stewart more than others. Who reads Sunset? Again,that’s a different age sector. I want to have something for the entirespectrum.”

While 2001 marked the initial year of the program, it hadalready been in development for about 24 months prior to this in plant trials.Johnson had experience managing pansy selections for some of his high-endcustomers, including the Ft. Worth Botanic Center and Southwestern Seminary inFt. Worth, Texas, with much success. Seeing this, Lowe’s gave Seville theopportunity to expand, provided that it could develop a good tagging programwith POP materials to complement it. With MasterTag’s help on the colorschemes and graphics, Seville created a program that so impressed Lowe’sthey requested an exclusivity agreement for the Southwest region. The homeimprovement giant then designated Seville’s program as its featurecatalogue item for October 2001.

When Lowe’s customers opened up their flyers, theydidn’t see just a stock picture of pansies, they saw Seville’sthree carefully chosen blends and clever signage. Using Sakata’s Crownvarieties, Seville’s pansy palette became “Hot Diggity”(Crown Purple, Orange and Scarlet), “Groovy Gold” (Crown Scarlet,Cream and Gold) and “Way Cool” (Crown Blue, Azure and White). Theyproduce the finished blends in 12-inch color bowls and 8-inch terra cotta pots,and single colors in 4.5-inch pots. The program generated $300,000 of newbusiness for Seville in 2001, and it could have been more — demand turnedout to be much more than projected selling expectations. This year, the programis booked at over $540,000, with the introduction of two new blends, andSeville is producing extra product in anticipation of approximately $600,000each year.

Aside from its business with Lowe’s, Seville alsomarkets heavily to Home Depot, Wal-Mart, a large supermarket chain in Texas andlandscape contractors John Deere Landscape and Tru-Green. Home Depot was itsfirst customer when Seville was founded in 1993; at that time, Home Depot didnot have a good supplier in the Southwest region, so Seville was able to meetthe DIY retailer’s needs. Nine months later, Wal-Mart also signed on.Lowe’s became a customer in 1997 when it was starting to penetrate theTexas market. Á

Johnson, along with Billy and Bobby Brentlinger and GeorgeSumner, are Seville’s principals. All four of them have a growingbackground; Johnson was a sales representative for a large, corporate nurseryin San Antonio, and the Brentlingers owned their own wholesale nursery inMansfield, Texas, prior to pioneering Seville. In January 2001, they startedanother company: Integrated Botanics, which sells plugs and liners nationwidethrough various brokerage networks. Seville is one of IntegratedBotanics’ primary customers.

Investing in input

Because Seville does not have in-store merchandisers to lookafter its product, it channels its efforts into what it can control — notjust innovative marketing materials, but the quality inputs needed to create anexceptional end product. “From the very beginning of the purchasingprocess,” Johnson explains, “we insist on an outstanding-qualityplug or liner product. We are sold on our potting mix based on its productionquality. One thing I’m particularly sold on is its shelf-life after itleaves our facility. I don’tsee enough growers looking at products from that standpoint.”

Of course there is always the risk, when you aren’t incomplete control, that your plants will not get enough water or will get toomuch sun. When this is the case, choosing varieties that are more forgiving inthe face of inadequate care is crucial. “What we have to do is make surewe’re using the products that can snap back if they dry out, and drainwell if they’re being watered overnight. Products that are notparticularly susceptible to pathogens,” Johnson says.

Johnson tries to stay abreast of the newest and mostresilient varieties on the market by attending the California Pack Trials everyyear. (For GPN’s extensive coverage of the 2002 Trials, turn to page 44.)”This was a particularly strong year for new pansy development, andI’ve already bought a significant amount of seed to put us in aproprietary position,” he says. Seville’s customers recognize thecompany’s constant efforts to deliver quality, a factor that has helpedfoster excellent relationships between Seville and its regional buyers andcorporate offices.

Future expansion

Seville recently purchased a 200,000-sq.-ft. productionfacility from John Deere Landscape, which will increase its productioncapabilities from 500,000 to 700,000 sq. ft. Its aim is to expand its vendorbase into additional landscape contractors and wholesalers to the contractors,supplying these vendors with pansy blends. Seville is also augmenting itsnational retailer customer base: In 2003, it will have markets in Kansas,Missouri and Mississippi. Johnson also sees the possibility of expanding Seville’smarketing program to encompass plant varieties other than pansies, as well ascreating further blend options that use varieties other than Crowns.

All fingers point to success with this expansion —especially those of the consumers who’ve been buying Seville’splants. “I can walk into Wolf Camera wearing a shirt with the SevilleFarms logo, and the professional helping me at the counter will say, ‘Ibuy your plants at Lowe’s and Home Depot all the time!'”Johnson says. “We’re becoming a consumer brand in the Southwest,and that’s a compliment to us.”

Brandi D. Thomas

Brandi D. Thomas is an associate editor for GPN.

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