Online Only: Consumer Connection
In this Q&A, Rick Brown, owner of Top 100 Grower Riverview Flower Farm, talks about the company's focus on sustainability and foray into social media to connect with consumers.
April 28, 2009
GG: You’ve been blogging about your Florida Friendly Plants. Why did you decide to start blogging?
RB: For years we wanted to have a better direct conduit to the retail consumer of our products. We have had a website for 10 years but it remained static with too few upgrades. The blog took a tremendous amount of thought and time, but it is headed in a direction we feel will be effective marketing. If you get a good plant question from a consumer, there is a good chance others have asked the same question. Posting an article that restates the question and answer spreads that information around the state to folks following the blog, including the garden associates at the Home Depot. The information also stays posted with a tag and in a fixed category so the answer or article is searchable for whenever it is relevant.
An important use for the blog is to direct customers to products that are currently in the stores. Then we can also tell a story about that plant to make sure they are aware of the plants’ features and benefits and how to properly site it. We use the website and blog to demonstrate some of our innovative products to build on their success.
GG: What value do you see in using technology to communicate with consumers? And how does it benefit Riverview?
RB: If you listen to Dr. Bridget Behe, you hear her say growers fail to tell their true “green story” in contrast to so many not-so-green companies that extensively use green washing in their marketing. Our blog gives us a place to say that we are and always have been walking the talk. Today’s gardener is better defined as an outdoor space designer. The blog gives us a medium to promote design use of our plants. A major goal of the blog is to reach a new audience that only uses plants as a part of creating their outdoor living area. As home sizes shrink, outdoor kitchens, patios and socializing areas are becoming an increasing trend. We show our plants used in containers in settings as they might be used by the consumer.
There is so much plant and gardening information available on the Web that consumers get confused. Folks want to grow more organically, but information from Cornell, Michigan State or Oregon has little benefit to Floridians gardening in this subtropical climate. We always try to link to research-based information that the University of Florida publishes. Our goal is to get gardeners to be successful and come back to the Home Depot for more plants that perform well for them.
GG: What kind of feedback have you gotten about the blog and website?
RB: We get lots of feedback everyday, and it is positive. Not one negative so far. One thing we have learned about this type of blog is that the gardeners are coming for information and nearly always eMail a question rather than post a comment on the blog. We have found that there is a group of garden bloggers who write back and forth constantly in their comment sections to increase traffic on each other’s blogs and this becomes a hobby in itself.
GG: What are you philosophies on sustainability, and what are you doing to be more eco-friendly?
RB: We have always been leaders in water conservation, recycling and promoting more sustainable products like Florida Friendly Plants and native Florida plants. We use heavy compost in our soil mix and add a corn starch water absorbing polymer, ZEBA, which allows us to use 30 percent less water and fertilizer to produce a better crop and give our customer much better shelf life and marketability.
The end consumer also greatly benefits from easier establishment in the hot subtropical climate. Less water is needed through the life of the plant as the product continues to function well after transplant. We produce our plants using drip tape fertigation, which uses nearly 90 percent less water than overhead irrigation. The plant leaves stay dry in production, reducing the use of fungicides and pesticides. There is very little leaching waste. We can inject garlic extract through the drip tape to reduce the use of conventional pesticides by making the plants distasteful to insects. These practices are what we mention on our blog and website and add value to our products.
GG: Who do you supply?
RB: We supply 144 Home Depot Garden Centers in Florida in climate zones 8–11 with a wide range of Florida Friendly Plants. The Home Depot pay-by-scan system has worked well for us, using Web-based replenishment software we co-developed that is called Grower Live. Without it, we could not match production and delivery to the rate of sale and we would not be the viable business we are today.
GG: Is there anything you’d like to add?
RB: The web is an ever changing media option, and more people use it every day as their primary source of information, and they rely less and less on dead tree media. At Riverview Flower Farm, we get more accomplished more efficiently and with more accountability every day thanks to software, hardware and innovation.