Digitizing The Catalog

Cheri Markowitz didn’t think Emerald Coast Growers needed an online ordering option. She was the naysayer. But then the orders came, and they came in full force for Cheri and her brothers Paul and Mark Babikow, the three minds behind Emerald Coast’s electronic marketing strategy.

Since Emerald Coast launched a website in 1995, the Pensacola, Fla.-based business has developed a multi-pronged strategy of carefully targeted and meticulously selected digital tools that simultaneously build business and service existing customers and brokers.

“As a business today, you have to be poised to respond to the growing need for electronic communications,” Paul says.

And respond Emerald Coast has. It now has a website (ECGrowers.com), an electronic product database, e-newsletters, online availability updates, electronic ordering and a downloadable catalog to give customers an all-access pass to the true ease and convenience of doing business with Emerald Coast Growers. “We want to be the easy choice,” Paul says.

Bits & Bytes

So how did Emerald Coast build a world for customers online? While Cheri, Paul and Mark all have a born-and-bred passion for plants, each has a unique specialty: Paul’s background is computers and technology, Cheri’s is sales and marketing communications and Mark’s is photography. They have a nice blend of skill sets for a business, especially a green industry operation.

Mark’s striking photography and videography are front and center in everything Emerald Coast Growers does, from the catalog and web site to e-mails, newsletters and tags. His high-quality full-color shots bring the catalog resource guide to life.

“We launched it with a more retail look, with large color photos and detailed information,” Cheri says. “That’s why for 15 years, the industry has used and appreciated it.” The look has been integrated into Emerald Coast’s electronic strategy in a downloadable version available on ECGrowers.com.

World Wide Wonder

By the early 2000s, Emerald Coast Growers’ website had grown to include more photos and more products, but updates were still only made twice a year at best. Two years ago, the three started creating a plant database online.

“We knew a database was the key to making the website more dynamic,” Paul says. “The fact that it’s constantly changing is what sets a website apart from a static, once-a-year catalog.”

Last fall, Emerald Coast launched its online ordering function, which even features a password-protected members-only side that’s only available to customers and brokers.

“I think one of the fears wholesalers have with putting themselves out there is everyone will have your information and pricing,” Paul says. “Our site is designed to provide pricing to site members only. Customers enter their information and tax ID number to get a login, and we review each request.”

Attention to details has helped Emerald Coast build its website into its current form. The website is much more than just variety photos and company promotions. The extensive database is packed full of details, including descriptions, zones, culture, usage and more.

“It’s searchable information for customers and brokers,” Cheri says. “They enter ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘variegated’ and get a set of solutions.”

More than just an advertising vehicle, Emerald Coast views its website as an essential tool. “It’s a resource where customers and brokers can get all the information they possibly need,” Paul says. “Availability is updated daily. Our online ordering process accepts credit cards, and approved customers can place their order on account.”

Cheri chalks everything up to service. “Placing an order online with our quick and simple 24/7 checkout is just one more convenience we offer our customers,” she says.

Videos are the next frontier for the site. Shot in-house by Mark, the vignettes are short clips designed to give viewers quick hints and how-to advice on growing, plant attributes, new varieties and more.

“It’s a unique way to experience our selection,” Cheri says. “We sell plants by movement, sound and color. With these videos, we present the plant in its real environment and truly connect to our customers.”

True Integration

Beyond the Web, Emerald Coast takes full advantage of the electronic world with daily availability updates by e-mail and Web, a monthly e-newsletter to a targeted key customer and broker list and regular breaking news e-mails with product updates and other hot items.

Integration is the key to [the e-newsletter’s] effectiveness, Cheri says. The e-newsletter pushes traffic to the Web. The website homepage carries a call to sign up for e-mail updates, and Emerald Coast’s electronic and print advertising directs customers to the website. Emerald Coast has explored pay-per-click advertising, and it works extensively with the industry’s print publications to exploit their electronic ads and reader service options.

“Entering into the digital world doesn’t exclude print advertising,” Cheri says. “We don’t think in terms of weekly newsletters or a magic number for updates. We think, ‘We’ve got news, how do we best get it out?’”

Staying With The Customer

Pacing is one of the biggest challenges in the electronic world. How far ahead do you go before you leave your customers behind? It’s something Emerald Coast wrestles with every day.

“Ten years ago, we looked at moving from fax to e-mail availability,” Cheri says. “To send the list would take a full night every week. I asked customers if they preferred it by e-mail, and I got five responses. Five years later, nearly everyone requested e-mail, and we stopped the fax version completely.”

While Emerald Coast’s customers are migrating to new electronic tools, Emerald Coast Growers works to educate them on the potential. “If we send an older format to a customer, we always also send the newer format,” Cheri says. “It’s getting them to look at it in a different way.”

For Emerald Coast Growers, knowing its customers’ state of mind is critical to success. “We do not dictate to our customers how they’re going to receive our material,” Paul says. “When we make changes, we put notices out on the positive aspects. When customers see them and understand how much it can do for them, that’s when they get on board.”

Cheri agrees: “We don’t leave anybody behind, but we also include them in everything new we’re trying.”

That balance also includes figuring out how to best communicate with customers of all sizes. “We do need a way to communicate with that customer who might buy two trays a year,” Cheri says. “The Internet has been the most useful tool in finding those startup businesses.”

Emerald Coast sees the benefits as three-fold: The Internet is out there to attract new and smaller customers, the website is a communication tool for customers and brokers to find all the information they need, and online ordering rounds it all out.

“There’s a convenience aspect to it,” Paul says. “Customers with only a few employees are in the field or greenhouse all day and don’t have time to sit down and discuss. I’ve looked at our statistics, and a lot of our orders are coming in after hours at night and on weekends.”

Glancing Ahead

So what’s next? Twitter? MySpace? Facebook? YouTube? Another digital revolution? Even Emerald Coast Growers doesn’t know. What Emerald Coast does know is whatever its next move is, it will be made for the customer.

“Our customer is very involved in what we do,” Cheri says. “Our challenge is to listen and be ready to make the move.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Digitizing The Catalog

More From Finance/Operations...
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS…

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Jill Calabro

November 3, 2015

AmericanHort Names New Research And Science Programs Di…

Jill Calabro will bring strategic direction and oversight to research funding by the Horticultural Research Institute, the research affiliate of AmericanHort.

Read More
SBI’s ANY Device Application allows growers to quickly determine availability-featuer

November 2, 2015

SBI Software’s Solutions Help Simplify Logistics For G…

The company focuses on helping growers improve their existing processes with solutions for site fulfillment, replenishment, inventory management and more.

Read More
Griffin Expo15 seminar

October 28, 2015

Griffin’s Hits Record Attendance With 2015 Expos,…

Griffin Greenhouse Supplies set new attendance records with its 2015 Expos. Its 2016 Expos are set for August 31 and September 1, 2016, in West Springfield, Mass., and September 21-22, 2016, in Lancaster, Penn.

Read More

October 28, 2015

Possum Run Greenhouses Taken Over By New Owners

Justin and Lynn Marotta have placed Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts into the hands of new owners. John and Caroline Bletner, a newly married couple, took over the Bellville, Ohio, property October 2, according to an October 24 article in the Mansfield News Journal. The Marotta family has run Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts for 41 years. When the Marottas announced in April the greenhouse operation was for sale, they said they were looking for an energetic couple to take the business to the next level, which is what they found in the Bletners, the article reports. The Bletners have hinted they’ll be “opening to a larger market” and that the retail side will “look different.” They’ll hold a grand re-opening the week of April 22, 2016. Staff are staying on board and the Bletners are maintaining many of the suppliers. The 200-plus varieties of fuchsias Justin brought to the greenhouse […]

Read More

October 25, 2015

We Could Be Growing More Green Infrastructure Plants Th…

At her Cultivate’15 presentation in July, Shannon Currey of Hoffman Nursery challenged the horticulture industry to get involved while green infrastructure is still developing, saying that a good start is to offer more plants that fit the unique needs of this market.

Read More
Integration Key To Compliance For Specialized Crops

October 22, 2015

Integration Key To Regulation Compliance For Specializ…

Growers considering supplementing ornamental crops with cannabis will enter into a new world of governmental regulations where key business systems will be indispensable for successful crop management.

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

October 21, 2015

Kate Santos Explains What The Sale Of Dümmen Orange To …

Over the weekend, Dümmen Orange announced that the Dümmen family has sold its majority stake in the Dutch flower breeding company Dümmen Orange to European private equity firm BC Partners. The deal is valued at more than $560 million, around 11 times its core earnings, according to a Reuters press release. The company, owned by the Dümmen family and investment firm H2 Equity partners, has locations all over the world, including farms in Central America and East Africa. This is BC Partners’ first foray into the flower business. We caught up with Kate Santos, operations director for Dümmen Orange, to find out how the company’s sale to BC Partners affects Dümmen Orange customers, if at all. Here’s what she told us: Why did the Dümmen family decide to sell their shares? Why to a private equity investment company? Similar to the reason that H2 sold its shares to BC Partners, all […]

Read More
The tradeshow at the Cannabis Business Summit & Expo — outside of the occasional 1960s vibe, perhaps — would feel familiar to most growers

October 19, 2015

Have Cannabis Growing Expertise, Seek ‘Golden Ticket’

Many horticultural growers might start cultivating cannabis tomorrow if they could secure a license, the equivalent of a “golden ticket.” But these are hard to come by, and the number and criteria vary greatly by state

Read More
Lurie Garden Millennium Park

October 16, 2015

Green Infrastructure An Opportunity To Redefine How We …

Green infrastructure is an emerging market that has important ramifications for the horticulture industry. That is, if growers, designers and other industry players take a proactive approach to grasp the opportunities that come their way.

Read More

October 5, 2015

Smart Business Sense At Tidal Creek Growers Yields Succ…

Tidal Creek Growers stays competitive by focusing on what really turns a profit. It helps the large operation successfully balance contract growing with growing for retail garden centers.

Read More

October 4, 2015

ePlantSource Adds 5 New Partner Companies

ePlantSource has announced an additional five companies that have been added to its partner distribution list. Not only do the additional partners offer more supplier options to ePlantSource customers, but the website now also provides a more diverse product list with the addition of bulbs, clematis and many new varieties. New partners added for the 2015 – 2016 season: A.D.R. Bulbs Lennon Farm Greenhouses Micandy Gardens Pacific Growers Roseville Farms “We make it a priority to respond to our customers, and we have had many requests for additional options and a more diverse product line, so we are continually evaluating suppliers that work well with our non-traditional approach to the sale of live goods,” says Gary Falkenstein, President and CEO of ePlantSource. “We feel that it is good for our company, our customers and the industry as a whole to keep looking forward and seeing how we can improve and expand how […]

Read More
Cannabis marijuana

September 8, 2015

Supplemental Lighting Benefits For Growing Cannabis In …

The cannabis industry has moved out of the basement and into the light, and with this shift in politics and regulation occurring worldwide there is a need for growers to change the way they think about lighting and energy consumption.

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]