Promising Progress

There’s no question this year has been a tough one, the toughest I’ve witnessed economically in my 16 years working on Greenhouse Grower. Being down 20 percent in sales seemed to be the new norm as spending cutbacks rippled through the supply chain.

There were big winners and losers after box store buyers dramatically reduced the number of growers they will work with. Those who gained more business won big. Those who lost the business are scrambling for customers and can’t diversify and reinvent their businesses fast enough. Independent growers and retailers were especially challenged to preserve their market share as more price-conscious consumers gravitated toward box stores and discounters. Even in the instances where foot traffic was up in the garden centers, the average purchase at the register was down.

But in the grand scheme of how our nation, the world and other industries and retail categories are faring, our industry weathered the economic storm extremely well, especially in the spring. While we may not be recession proof, we are recession resilient. How’s that for a new term? I’d like to end 2009 on a positive note, reflecting on the bright spots and progress made this year:

Vegetable Gardening

This may have been a record year for mainstream media outlets promoting vegetable gardening. The new garden at the White House captured a lot of attention. Focusing on vegetables was just right for those who were looking to save money on food, help the poor and take care of their own health and well-being. The only negative story was the tomato late blight breakout in the Northeast linked to Bonnie Plants.

Growers and retailers who offered garden vegetable plants sold out quickly. The timing for Ball to partner with Burpee on a branding program couldn’t have been better. The pilot programs in the Baltimore and Dallas markets were well received and supported by public relations events–planting a community garden in Fort Worth, Texas, and hosting a Root Camp at Burpee’s Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, Pa.

Mixed Liner Trend

One of the most revolutionary new products isn’t a new variety but a fairly new concept–rooting several cuttings into one liner. These varieties could be three colors of petunias or a petunia, verbena and a calibrachoa. Dömmen pioneered the concept with its Confetti Garden liners and then came Selecta’s Trixi liners and Syngenta’s Kwik Kombos. The companies have trialed which varieties will grow well together, taking the guesswork and labor out for growers and simplifying repeatable results.

Indoor Plant Renaissance

Holtkamp Greenhouses rolled out a new brand and website for African Violets called Plant tags direct consumers to the website, where they input a unique access code for information on the plant they bought. They can personalize the experience by naming their plant. Plans are in the works to create similar programs for more than 20 crops, including begonias and poinsettias.

Green Circle Growers took the phalaenopsis orchid market by storm and has launched a comprehensive marketing program around Just Add Ice Orchids. Consumer traffic to that website is strong and the concept is resonating. The strategy is to make orchids easy to care for by watering with ice cubes.

Blooming Billboards

My favorite story was GreenRoad Media partnering with Altman Plants and Ellepot USA to create 30- by 60-foot floral displays along California’s highways to promote Toyota’s 2010 Prius. It’s this kind of outside-the-flowerbox thinking that will create new markets for plants. We need to think beyond current retail outlets, which are becoming increasingly limited.      

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