The Year of Cautious Enthusiasm By David Edenfield

Head down."

"Focused, focused, focused."

"Get back to basics."

"I'm taking no risks this season."

"I'm going to grow just what I scanned last year and not one plant more!"

Do any of these describe your attitude and company direction as we head into spring 2008? While I certainly agree with several of those statements, I have some concerns about becoming overly cautious in certain areas.

Weather. As a native Southerner, we talk about weather more than anybody else. It's our hobby. We live to talk about weather, and when we are done discussing it, we are no further toward the forecast than when we started. My point should be obvious: We cannot change the weather, no matter how much we discuss it.

So be prepared, be smart and be cautious, but be aggressive with a plan to take advantage of the weather that is headed our way. Do you have a drought marketing plan? How about a drought sales plan? Consumers, for the most part, are going to buy plants at least at the same level they did last spring. History tells us that. Where they will have second thoughts is later in spring or summer, when it is hot and dry. I would suggest that you be aggressive but at the right times. Have a spring-season exit strategy. This may not be the year to chase the sale.

Economy. USA Today recently reported a 300-point drop in the Dow. Consumers are preparing for recession by selling off stocks and holding on to the cash. Travel trailer sales are down. Advance reservations for summer resort vacations are off 30 percent this year to date. Experts suggest the times are going to be tough. But in my 34 years in this industry, we have seen this economic forecast at least three times before. Each time, we saw the demand for our products rise, not fall.

Do you have a plan to buy extra material to sell if you run short? Be ready to take advantage of the opportunities. The consumers will be buying.

Marketing, merchandising and promotion. When times get tough, the good marketers do an even better job of driving customers to buy their products. They get aggressive, they get creative and they become resourceful. I am reminded of the retail case study of our friends at Coca-Cola. They owned the soft-drink market and decided that they did not need to advertise their products. Less than 12 months later they had lost sufficient market share to several other soft-drink companies. Here is the challenge for you: Pick a main line or group of products and decide to really push that item this spring. Jazz it up, and make sure it is positioned on some of your best endcaps. Draw special attention to it through extra merchandising efforts. I think you will be surprised at the results.

Heads Up, Eyes Open

There is a lot happening in our industry, and you at least need to be informed.

For example, there is the whole subject of sustainability. "How will it affect my business?" you might be asking.

Get informed. There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation as well as good, old-fashioned knee-jerk reactions. Before we jump to conclusions, let's get the facts straight. A great place to start is with the newly formed VeriFlora Sustainability Council. The council's purpose is simply to advance sustainability in floriculture.

I recently went to the TPIE show in Florida, and there are really exciting new varieties out there that are truly different, unusual and marketable. The demand for some of them will be unbelievable. I would suggest you think about trialing them this spring and summer.

As I think about this season of uncertainty, I am reminded of a quote from Dale Carnegie: "Act enthusiastic, and you become enthusiastic." This is the year for a little enthusiasm mixed with a good dose of caution.

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David Edenfield

David Edenfield is president of Visions Group LLC. He can be reached at [email protected] or (440) 310-2458.

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