Amy Daniel, marketing and brand manager at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, has a passion for marketing and branding that led her into the green industry early in her career, when she and a friend started their own agency, and she began helping her parents — then owners of a retail nursery — with marketing services.
Daniel’s career in the field started in the 1980s, after she finished college with degrees in journalism and advertising. It wasn’t long before she began to feel frustrated with the status quo in the industry. She and a friend from college, agreeing there was a better way to do things, decided to start a business.
“I guess now looking back, we were probably young and naive, but it all worked out really well,” Daniel says. “We started our own advertising agency/marketing and PR firm. I ran that for two decades. It was very successful.”
The agency served a broad base of clients, including her parents, who owned a small, mostly retail nursery in Oregon. By the late 1980s, Daniel’s husband Dave had started working with her parents’ nursery full time while she continued to focus on her marketing business. A few years later, the couple purchased the business from her parents and began expanding it. That nursery was called Pleasant Hill Nursery, located near Eugene, Ore. It was a regional grower serving primarily the West Coast.
“We were fortunate to really be in the nursery business in the heyday in Oregon, when it was really in a great growth phase,” Daniel says.
Daniel eventually became heavily involved in the Oregon Association of Nurseries, which helped her learn the ins and outs of the industry, as well as meet many industry colleagues.
“I was always struck by what incredibly nice, sharing people they were,” Daniel says. “People helped each other and taught each other how to propagate and how to take care of disease issues. Where I came from, marketing, was very cutthroat and very competitive. You weren’t that friendly to your fellow industry people. So, I was really taken with the family focus and the kindness of the people in the industry.”
Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, located in Lowell, Ore., was originally one of Daniel’s clients. It was a small client at the time, but as they grew, Daniel found herself doing more and more for them, while her husband was contract growing for them, as well. Three years ago, Fall Creek ended up purchasing the Daniel’s nursery, and the couple both went on board with the company as full time employees.
“We had watched Fall Creek from a distance, both as fellow nursery people, but also because we started growing for them, and the relationship got closer and closer, and we were always just so taken with what an amazing company it was,” Daniel says. “We really admired the owners as business people. We just really had a lot of admiration for how they ran that business, how it was growing, their commitment to quality, the way they were with their people. The point at which they approached us and ended up buying us, it just felt like the right thing at that time, and it’s been a great decision.”
For Daniel, the transition to Fall Creek felt natural. She was already downsizing her marketing clients and beginning to focus on the nursery business. Her experience with Fall Creek has made her realize that she enjoys being on what she calls the “client side” of the marketing business.
“I really love the fact that I can be at one company and really focus and become an expert,” she says. “You look at a company like Fall Creek, and it’s almost like I have a lot of different clients because I have international markets that are very different from U.S. domestic, and I have nursery segments to the business that are very different than the commercial fruit world. So, even within the walls of this one company, the work that I do is so diverse.”
Daniel Champions Branding
At Fall Creek, there is a running joke that Daniel is a “brand bulldog”—a phrase coined by one of her colleagues.
“I’m really protective of the Fall Creek brand, and I was doing their marketing at the time when we rebranded the whole company several years ago, and we’ve now brought that brand very consistently into everything that we do,” she says.
The rebranding of the company is the most important initiative she has had a part in during the time she has been with Fall Creek, and she has been adamant about sticking to the company brand. A little more than three years ago, Fall Creek developed and launched BrazelBerries, its first branded plant program.
“With a handful of genetics, we had been working on our breeding program, really taking these genetics from this tiny little concept of a branded program to a completely branded program with a network of growers,” she says.
Daniel says the genetics are really special, and not typical of what you would see in berry plants. Whereas, with most berries you would need a lot of space to grow them, BrazelBerries can be grown in a patio pot.
“They’re kind of a whole new niche of berry plants. There’s a lot of value to them. It really broadens the consumer base they can be sold to,” Daniel says. “You could have a New York City apartment with a little tiny front step and have berry plants. Or you could live in a country estate and have berry plants. It’s really far-reaching.”
On the importance of branding, Daniel says that brands are a way to differentiate and add value to a collection of plants that are special and unique, and “tie a ribbon around the collection” to help consumers be able to identify it.
“If you look at any other industry — cars, tennis shoes or food products — branding is a huge part of those industries. It’s a given. We expect it. We embrace brands. We build loyalty to products over brands. It’s proven through studies it helps with repetitive buys,” Daniel says. “If people grow an affinity for products, they go back and look for that brand again.”
Daniel says she has noticed growers struggling a little bit to embrace brands, and she sees the industry being slow on the uptake of that.
“Does everything need to be branded? No. Is there a place for more generic products and black pots? Yes. But, for things that are special and have added value and need to be differentiated, I think branding is really important,” she says.
However, Daniel says she has seen tremendous growth in the industry over the past 30 years.
“When I started, there was really minimal marketing,” she says. “I can literally remember nurseries selling plants in recycled coffee cans.”
There is still a ways to go, but Daniel says she has seen growers and retailers become better and more sophisticated at marketing their brands, as well as some modest improvements in in-store merchandising.
Consumers Are Hungry For More Innovation
Through her marketing lens, Daniel sees some areas of the industry with room for improvement.
“I think that as an industry, right now, there’s kind of a fundamental gap in our distribution channels,” she says. “Breeders and plant innovators are creating some really exciting new products that truly will enrich people’s lives. They’re better, they produce more flowers, more fruit, or they’re better vegetables or higher in antioxidants. I think we have consumers that are hungry for that. They want the newest, the latest, the best.”
But, along that distribution continuum between the breeder and consumer, there are growers and retailers who were traumatized by the economic recession, and as a result, were left with little desire for taking risks and trying new things, Daniel says.
“I think because of that we’re sort of our own worst enemy, in that we’re not doing the best job we can in bringing those higher value products to the consumer who wants them,” Daniel says.
Daniel says she believes that until growers and retailers are more willing to trust new innovations, the industry is going to struggle.
“We’re going to undersell our potential in the industry. We’re going to miss out on opportunity. Ultimately in a way, we’re going to make home gardeners less successful,” Daniel says. “It’s not going to change overnight. It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take everybody along that distribution continuum to step up their game and try a little harder and support the guy that’s next to them. It’s an industry-wide effort. We have to all get aligned and try to bridge that gap.”
Daniel Is A Typical Gardening Consumer
Daniel and her husband have been married for 27 years, and have three children (Max, 16; Libby, 12 and Lena, 10) who keep them very busy.
“I’m a typical working mother, you know, I’m trying to balance everything,” Daniel says. “I feel like I’m mostly an air traffic controller for my family.”
Daniel says it can be really hard to be a working parent, trying to balance all of her responsibilities. She makes it work through communication with her husband and staying organized. Working at a company like Fall Creek helps, too.
“I’m fortunate to work for a company that’s really family focused and really supportive of all of us who have kids in the organization,” Daniel says. “So that helps. I’ve been in other situations where they don’t really care, you just have a job to do, so I feel fortunate about that. It’s a great place to work when you’re raising a family.”
When she can, Daniel likes to make time for doing artwork, particularly collage and mixed media pieces.
“I love to do it. I don’t have enough time for it, but it’s really a passion of mine,” she says.
She and her family also do a lot of home improvement projects, including yard and patio projects. Daniel admits that, for as long as she has been in the industry, she’s not the greatest gardener.
“I think I am the typical gardener that most retailers are targeting,” Daniel says. “I have a really busy life, and I need things spelled out for me. I need simple and easy, and I want beautiful, and I want my yard and my patio to look amazing, but you know, it’s a constant struggle.”
Her situation helps her in marketing to others in the same boat. Daniel looks at all of Fall Creek’s marketing materials or retail support materials with a very critical eye.
“If we’re explaining how to prune something, are we putting it in the most basic terms? There are so many people who are plant experts in our industry that it’s easy to make things seem more complicated than they have to be. Most plants are pretty simple. I’m the testament to that,” she says.
Women And Young People In The Industry Need Support
Early in her career, when Daniel became involved with what is now the Oregon Association of Nurseries, it was called the Oregon Association of Nurserymen. She admits that the name used to drive her nuts, particularly when she would attend board meetings or other events and look around the room and see just as many women as men.
“I always felt like we treated the industry as if it were a man’s industry,” she says. “I kind of stirred up a hornet’s nest years ago by saying, ‘Why in the world are we calling our organization a nurserymen’s organization?’ Long story short, we ended up renaming the association the Oregon Association of Nurseries, to be all encompassing.”
Daniel says that even then, it wasn’t a man’s industry, and it’s even less so now. She sees so many women working at all different levels, and she says she believes women bring a lot of great qualities to the business.
“I think all industry would benefit by doing everything it can to promote women into the higher ranks at organizations,” Daniel says. “I think women bring some unique qualities to leadership. I’d love to see our industry embrace that. I don’t think they’re holding women back necessarily, I don’t mean to imply that, I think we just need to make sure we’re promoting women through the ranks, as well.”
Daniel feels strongly about supporting colleagues, not just women, but young people, too.
“We need to get the younger generation embracing and getting involved in our industry,” she says. “We need some of that brainpower coming up through the ranks.”
Daniel says networking and mentoring are both ways to accomplish this.
“I think those of us who’ve been in the industry for a long time need to make a concerted effort to really identify some of those rising stars. Who are they? Is it a kid who just graduated from college or maybe worked for your company part time in the summer? What can you do to give them a hand up?”
Daniel says she has had two mentors in her career that stand out in her mind, and each one came into her life at different points and influenced her in different ways. Daniel’s college professor, Ann Maxwell, has been a big influencer and a close friend from early on in her career. Maxwell’s expertise has helped Daniel develop marketing strategies and inspired her to get into the consumer mindset and really understand her target audience and what motivates them.
“I’ve applied to my entire career the things I’ve learned from her, and she still mentors me,” Daniel says.
Much more recently, Daniel has begun to look toward her colleague, Amelie Brazelton Aust, as a mentor. Aust is a second generation owner at Fall Creek, and Daniel says that although Aust is quite a bit younger than her, age has nothing to do with it.
“She is so wise beyond her years. I still am just really awed by her. She’s really influenced me so much, and I look at her as a role model in that she has this uncanny ability to maintain razor sharp focus on vision,” Daniel says. “I really look at her as an example when I try to improve my own skills. And I run things by her, like if I’m struggling with a concept or I’m not sure about a vision or a strategy that I’m working on, I know if I go to her and I spell it out and we talk it out, we solve it.”
For Daniel, the great lesson from that is to not underestimate who you can learn from.
“Don’t always think that learning comes from people that are older or higher on the ladder than you are,” she says. “Open up your mind to all the people that surround you.”