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...

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Horticulture Priorities

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadlines Approaching

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More
Latest Stories
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower.com on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015

GreenhouseGrower.com Relaunches With Responsive Design …

Greenhouse Grower magazine, the nation’s leader in profits, production and education for greenhouse growers, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, GreenhouseGrower.com. The new design is the product of direct user feedback and GreenhouseGrower.com analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

Read More
Andy Higgins

February 3, 2015

MasterTag Names Andy Higgins As Its New President

Former CEO and president of Ecke Ranch, Andy Higgins, joins MasterTag as its new president. He brings more than two decades of industry experience to the position.

Read More
Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Lead Role

January 28, 2015

Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Le…

Ronald Valentin has been appointed technical lead for Syngenta Bioline, effective January 2015. He will be responsible for technical support of Bioline biological control agents and will be instrumental in helping growers develop integrated pest management (IPM) solutions.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Give Equal Time To The Number Crunchers

Before investing in a new business opportunity, check in with the financial gurus of your organization to make certain you have the cash flow to back up your efforts.

Read More
Plant Introductions, Inc. partners Mark Griffith, Dr. Michael Dirr and Jeff Beasley and Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney.

January 20, 2015

Bailey Nurseries’ Purchase Of Plant Introductions Inc. …

When Bailey Nurseries purchased its long-time breeding partner, Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII), in early January 2015, it freed the PII team to concentrate on what they do best: develop new plants. Bailey Nurseries will take on the business management side of the partnership, but otherwise the relationship it has enjoyed with PII for years will be largely unchanged.

Read More
Plant Introductions, Inc. partners Mark Griffith, Dr. Michael Dirr and Jeff Beasley and Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney.

January 13, 2015

Bailey Nurseries Acquires Plant Introductions

Bailey Nurseries has acquired Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII), effective January 1, 2015. PII has developed numerous innovative new varieties that have been marketed worldwide, many introduced by Bailey Nurseries.

Read More

January 7, 2015

How Inflation Affects Your Business And Why You Can’t I…

Awareness of the true increase in costs after inflation is a necessary part of good financial management for greenhouse operations.

Read More

December 4, 2014

New Developments In Shipping/Logistics Software

Improved shipping and logistics software from Picas Software and MapMechanics makes it easier for growers to plan loads efficiently and automate day-to-day distribution planning.

Read More