Communicating With Retailers

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This Week’s Special

Tom Lakers, owner of Willow Ridge Garden Center in Oak Ridge, Tenn., runs an almost year-long promotion that spotlights a choice in-bloom perennial or shrub each week.

“Growers are starting to look for things for us because they’ve realized we want to do this,” Lakers says. “One of our regular growers just brought in the Kern’s pink viburnum and said, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ We looked at it and said, ‘Hey, it’s kind of neat.’ We set one up on our porch and let it catch the customer’s eye. I auctioned it off to a lady and went back to the grower and said, ‘Give us 150 of those.’

“It’s fashion, fashion, fashion. You can always find something to bloom, but it’s about talking to your growers constantly.”

From video updates, off-hours contact and exclusivity, today’s retailers are expecting to work with a more proactive grower in exchange for their loyalty.

Virtually Improved

It’s not unusual for growers of smaller operations to wear many hats. From marketing and customer service to deliveries and growing, today’s growers are faced with days that leave little time for a coffee break or even to catch one’s breath.

Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm knows he is a busy guy. And rather than have his busy schedule detract from the relationships he has with retail customers, Traven chose to be proactive and hire Stephanie Whitehouse, Peace Tree Farm’s new sales and marketing manager.

“I’m pretty much the go-to contact now for all our customers,” Whitehouse says. “This has helped free up time for Lloyd so he can focus on his creativity and look for new and interesting plants. I’m constantly on e-mail and always attached to a phone, which has actually sped up a lot of our sales processes and improved communication with our retailers.”

While the phone may be the quickest and most direct way for Whitehouse and Traven to communicate with their customers, Whitehouse says a beefed up e

-mail campaign has been an excellent way for Peace Tree Farm to stay top of mind with its customers.
“I’m putting together a sales flier and it’s going out every Friday or Monday morning so our customers can expect to see us on a regular basis,” Whitehouse says. “It’s flashy and colorful with a lot of information.”

In these e-mails and also on the company’s website, Whitehouse sends along photos of the best-looking crops for that week. “We also add a new photo album on our website,” she adds. “People can see exactly what it looks like and how lush the plant is. And sometimes our customers might not know what a variety we have looks like because they might be new to us or just really unusual.”

Peace Tree’s website has become an added tool to communicate to retailers what its plants are all about. Every plant carried is on the site along with a photo and its cultural information.

The growing operation has also added a convenient online shopping feature to its website. ”It’s like Zappos.com where you’re searching for shoes, but in this case you’re shopping for plants,” Whitehouse says. “Retailers know we aren’t always in the greenhouse on the weekends, but they can place an order on a Sunday afternoon when they’re in their store and know exactly what they need.”

At PeaceTreeFarm.com, wholesale and retail customers can log in and have special site access to place orders.

E-mails and websites are great ways to provide retailers accessibility to growers’ resources, but Traven also encourages growers to invite their clients to come by for a visit and some face-to-face interaction. “If people come to see what we do and see how clean we run it, then we believe they will get very excited,” he says. “When I show them around, they’re saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ That’s when you begin to sell to them, saying, ‘If you carry this material, you will be selling what other stores do not have.’”

Seeing Is Believing

Tom Hebel, owner of Bucks Country Gardens, is a big fan of the informative videos David Wilson, director of Overdevest Nurseries marketing, makes of available plants.

“David goes into the grower houses and walks around among the gorgeous perennials and does more than just talk about them,” Hebel says. “He doesn’t just say, ‘This perennial looks good today.’ It’s a bit of an education of the variety and an overview of the assets of the plant. And even if you didn’t like it before he started, when he’s done, you’re in love with the darn thing.”

Wilson says these videos help reinforce the confidence retailers can have in Overdevest’s just-in-time shipping. “We want retailers to know they are market-ready for them, so as soon as it comes in it’s going to fly out of their place,” Wilson says.

When Wilson shoots these videos of market-ready products, he says, “The idea is to show them the plants they’re getting before they come in and explain some of the features of the plant and what they can do with it. We make this video short (no more than two minutes) and we send it to the retailer ahead of time, attached to an availability list.”

Wilson says these videos are great for salespeople, providing them with quick, valuable information that can be easily passed on to the consumer. Some of the videos can also be used by the retailer in their retail space and marketing efforts. He adds the clips can be linked to e-newsletters, websites and even played on the garden center’s in-store televisions.

Mihalek is a former Meister Media Worldwide editor.

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