Mutual Marketing

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Mutual Marketing

Putting together a cooperative marketing message for the floriculture industry as a whole has proven to be a challenge over the years. But taken in smaller bites, growers and retailers have seen some real gains by working together on local, regional, and even statewide projects. Here’s a quick look at three new group projects that have been successful so far in 2009.

Local: Passport 2 Plants

Gilson Gardens, Martin’s Nursery, Middle Ridge Gardens and Sabo’s Woodside Nursery & Garden Center are friendly competitors. When a customer shows up looking for a special plant that one of the businesses doesn’t offer, the staff is quick to send them to one of the others that can help. “I don’t look at them as competitors,” says Sabo’s owner Brian Sabo. “I think of them as colleagues.”

In fact, these four Northeast Ohio businesses took that cooperative relationship to the next level this spring, launching a group marketing effort, Passport 2 Plants. The Passport 2 Plants program promoted attendance at all four businesses the weekend following Memorial Day. Customers received a sticker on a “passport” at each stop. Anyone getting all four stickers during the weekend could exchange their passport for a 20 percent discount coupon on a $25 purchase at each retailer, and a chance in a drawing for a $400 gift certificate. As a bonus, anyone who redeems their coupons during the slower months in June or July is eligible for another gift certificate drawing in August.

The results, says Sabo’s garden center manager Cathee Thomas, were even better than expected. “We had 200 people visit all four garden centers that weekend. I want those names for my mailing list. Those are dedicated people,” she says.

The chance for a $400 shopping spree was enticing to customers, obviously, but the prospect of a 20 percent discount was just as important–both for the customers and the retailers. “They make sure they spend that $25,” Thomas says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, I need to spend $2 more to get the discount? Let me buy these $8 gloves.’”

Those incremental dollars were important for the weekend’s sales, of course, but the bigger benefit for each of the grower-retailers is the potential for bringing back those new customers again and again.

“All four of us had a lot of new people coming in that we hadn’t seen before, which is what we were trying to achieve,” Thomas says. “We were thrilled.”

Regional: Maumee Valley Growers

Considering four small growers were able to entice 200 customers with a collaborative marketing idea, it’s no surprise a bigger group can do even better.

That was the experience for a branding program orchestrated by the Maumee Valley Growers (MVG), a collection of 70 or so Northwest Ohio grower-retailers. The group was founded on the premise people participating in similar businesses can gain far more from working collectively than they can individually.

“We’re proving that to be true,” says Joe Perlaky, program manager for the Maumee Valley Growers. ” We’re able to pool our resources to essentially make 1 + 1 = 3.” And a great example, he says, is the branding program the group launched this spring.

The MVG got 12 of its member growers to invest in a large newspaper ad that ran twice in the Toledo Blade. The ad promoted the staycation concept and featured smaller, business card-sized ads for each of the participating growers, along with a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase. Results exceeded expectations by a long shot.

“We went in thinking 40 or 50 returns per grower would have been fine, and that was the minimum,” Perlaky says. “Over a 10-day period we had rates ranging from 42 coupons for one grower all the way to 780 for another–3,500 total.”

But even more important, especially considering the significant cost of the ads, the average ticket price was up as well. “Some people were coming in and spending $250 on a $5 coupon. The average was $40 to $45, and we were delighted with that number,” Perlaky says.

And coupon redemption isn’t everything. Just being visible has merit too, he adds. Which is exactly what this collective branding effort did for the participating growers, as well as MVG as a group.

“Working together has provided some great opportunities for our growers,” Perlaky says. “I would encourage everyone to do it.”

Statewide: The Connecticut Garden & Landscape Trail

Money-saving offers are one way to drive traffic, but sometimes an experience is all it takes to pull people in. That was the thinking behind another new program this spring, the Connecticut Garden & Landscape Trail. This joint project of the Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association and the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association is a public-private partnership. Its goals are to highlight the role of floriculture in the state and bring attention to growers and garden retailers. The groups combined their own resources with a $30,000 USDA grant to create a guide encouraging consumers to visit 72 of the state’s greenhouses, garden centers, and nurseries.

“A lot of our facilities are beautiful unto themselves. There are probably thousands of people out there for whom going from garden center to garden center or greenhouse to greenhouse is as much fun as going to a theme park,” says Bob Heffernan, executive director of the Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association. The hope is that many of the visitors also will open their wallets and take home a few of the plants they’ve seen.

The program launched in February with a slick 48-page brochure showcasing the many beautiful stops up and down the Garden & Landscape Trail. Growers and retailers paid for listings or display ads, and each business invested in signage to alert visitors it was a stop on the Trail. Phase two of the program placed 16,000 of the brochures at 250 hotel and visitor attractions around the state to keep traffic flowing throughout the summer.

Since the program isn’t tied to a coupon, Heffernan says it’s hard to get a read on the results of the Trail so far. But he has anecdotal evidence that’s encouraging.

“The other day, a guy from New Britain came up to me and said, ‘You know, I was on your Trail last week and my wife spent $100 at one of your stops.’ That’s exactly what we’re hoping for,” he says.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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