Students At The University Of California, Davis, Are Eager To Learn About And Buy Flowers

heiner lieth
Heiner Lieth, University of California, Davis

College students are interested in flowers and would buy them if they had access. As a professor at the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis), I have learned that most college students do not make any use of flowers. Even when a perfect occasion arises, most students have no idea how to use flowers to make the desired impact.

While there are students who do have an appreciation for flowers and how to use them, on our campus it is virtually impossible for them to obtain flowers. Even if students wanted to use cut flowers in some way, it is much easier for them to acquire balloons, chocolates or greeting cards. Is it then surprising that when these students graduate from college, many have never had any flowers in their hands and thus do not even think of using flowers when it comes to gift-giving or simply beautifying their own living space?

Much of my career at UC Davis has been devoted to teaching students how to grow ornamental plants in greenhouse and nursery production. Most recently, I have also been teaching students who are not in majors focused on plants. Over the years, I have noted that all students are excited when they have contact with flowers, even those students who are not focused on ornamental plants.

Realizing that there was student interest, I designed a course, “Flower Power: The Application of the Art and Science of the Beauty and Perfection of Flowers,” to teach college students how to use flowers to their advantage. At the same time, my plan was to expose students to the inner workings of international floriculture by showing them how flowers are grown domestically and in Europe, South America and Asia. They would learn how the industry is driven more by the genetic traits that are important for growers, rather than the ones that are important to consumers.

By going through the process of developing the course and then delivering it to college students, I have learned a number of things that the leaders and marketers of floriculture should know.

Flower Power – The College Course

I first offered the course as a freshman seminar at UC Davis. As such, it was intended for 15 students. However, the interest and demand was apparent at the first class meeting, where 40 students made their way into the classroom. In the years since, the interest level has been so strong that the course has evolved into a regular offering in the course catalog. The most amazing facet is the progression of enrollment numbers as word-of-mouth advertising has resulted in a near-doubling of enrollment each year. Last year, 180 students were enrolled; this spring there are 350. The enrollment is limited only by the number of seats in the room, certainly not by student interest.

The course delivers lectures, slide shows and virtual field trips from my own experiences. I give a few industry professionals the chance of coming to address the students. The students are exposed to flower breeding, ornamental production — both domestic and abroad — and various hot issues related to the floriculture industry. I try to give the students an unbiased picture of the global floriculture industry and markets. Basically, the good, the bad and the ugly; and, of course, the beautiful.

Students also learn how flowers, and particular flower colors, are used in society. Early in the course, each student receives a flowering potted plant with the assignment to:

  1. make some impact and
  2. write a short essay about the experience.

I have had to add a third component: “Do not let the plant die,” because it turns out that this aspect is not obvious to many students.

In prior years, all the flowering potted plants were grown by some of my student interns during the months before the course, from propagation material provided by plant companies. With the enrollment growth, I now accept donations from commercial firms (this year special thanks goes out to Rocket Farms in California).

The statements of impact generated by the students generally include typical experiences, but also a wide range of unexpected effects, some extremely joyous and exciting. One young man used the opportunity to endear himself to a potential mother-in-law, with a remarkably positive outcome. Some impacts have been sobering, like a young Asian student who gave a white pot mum to her ailing mother to try to cheer her up — if you don’t know why that is a problem, then you obviously need to take the course.

Most recently, I included workshops in the course in which the students were able to make their own flower arrangements for the first time in their lives. I hired a teaching assistant with flower-arranging experience (I am pretty inept at this art). My friends at California Pajarosa, Green Valley Floral, Mellano and Co., Sun Valley Group and Ocean Breeze International provided me with cut flowers, with lots of help from the California Cut Flower Commission. This year, it is still a mystery how we will get this to work with 350 students, but I will try. All of the students had a powerful experience in handling flowers and making arrangements and it has been clear from their reaction that this is a favorite element of the course.

What I Have Learned From The Students

The most important thing I have learned is that college students, in general, are very willing, even eager, to be consumers of flowers. I told the students that I would write this article for professionals in the floriculture industry. I asked the students to tell me what I should write. Here is a sample of what the students want marketers to know:

1. We need flower vendors to be on campus. How are we supposed to use flowers if we cannot get them? Many of us live in dorms and it is a challenge just to get groceries back to the room. Why not sell through the campus stores? Why not set up flower vending machines?

2. We students are indeed subject to “impulse buying,” but not on the way to class — only on the way back to the room or apartment. If there were affordable flowers available, they would sell.

3. We have some obvious financial limitations. Most students experience financial pressures, which makes buying flowers for ourselves a low priority. While we may not buy expensive flowers for ourselves, we do still spend money. We will still buy special things for others, particularly friends who might be in need of cheering up. For such occasions, it is not ideal to have only the cheapest flowers — we need access to something special.

4. In grocery stores near campus, there are features designed specifically for students – use those to also market flowers. After all, it makes much more sense to put flowers by the chips and pizza than by the ripening fruits and vegetables. It also makes sense to have the flowers near self-checkout counters, because students like to use those. You could also use those little refrigerators where stores currently just sell sodas.

5. Promote flowers on campus. Get flowers into campus events so they are more visible and in the hands of students.

6. Give us longer-lasting flowers — we want value and quality. Make sure there are always instructions with the flowers because most students have never had guidance on how to arrange and care for flowers.

7. Don’t get trapped in gender stereotypes. They do make for some obvious marketing opportunities (e.g., “How mad is she?”), but students are not so narrow and would respond to more diversified marketing.

8. Why do flowers have to be gifts, when it is just as important to have them in your environment? Dorms and apartments can be pretty dismal places, so some flowers would make a big difference.

My own perceptions on the subject include a few things the students did not tell me:

  • Students would be just as receptive to marketing about flowers as they are to the marketing for a variety of other things in daily life: shampoo, perfume, chocolates, clothes, cars, etc. Students are brand-conscious and would likely respond well to attempts to associate flower products (your brand) with important traits such as love, forgiveness and beauty. Note also that this clientele would appreciate it if they felt you were paying particular attention to them, rather than to the population in general. You don’t have to be subtle.
  • This particular age group is sensitive to the fact that they are not kids. Many older persons treat college students as kids (particularly the parents) but the reality on campus is that college students are responsible, intelligent adults, although perhaps not yet totally independent. If you treat them like kids in your advertisement, they will respond like kids and not buy flowers. If you treat them like adults, then they are just as likely to buy flowers as other adults.
  • Many of my students suffered (at least initially) from pretty absurd notions about the flower industry. For instance, most students are absolutely sure that cut flowers only last two days. Therefore, they initially see investments in flowers as absurd squandering of money. At the end of the course, nearly all write about how the flower arrangements they made (with fresh flowers direct from the grower) lasted two weeks longer than expected. Why is this such a shock to these students?
  • The industry is failing the flower consumers of tomorrow. If you don’t market to them (i.e., teach them about flowers) while they are students, can you really expect them to be your customers when they are independent adults?
Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Students At The University Of California, Davis, Are Eager To Learn About And Buy Flowers

  1. Dear professor Lieth,
    My name is Pete Pond and I’m with Aeroponics Global Initiatives and we manufacture aeroponic growing equipment. We would like to teach people to grow flowers or food vertically with no soil, no herbicides and no pesticides with a centrally located closed loop water and nutrient system. Please visit our web site at http://www.agifarms.com. Please let me know what you think or if you have any questions, you can contact me by phone at (855) 514-1191 or by email at [email protected].
    Thank You
    Sincerely
    Pete Pond

More From Grow Initiative...
HGTV_2015CAST

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attention To

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry Lobbyist

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin

April 11, 2016

How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The Same Way It Propagates Plants

Jared Barnes at Stephen F. Austin University says we are the experts at propagating plants. That’s knowledge we can put to good use to envision how to attract new gardeners and future horticulturists to the industry.

Read More
Latest Stories
HGTV_2015CAST

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attentio…

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry…

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin

April 11, 2016

How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The…

Jared Barnes at Stephen F. Austin University says we are the experts at propagating plants. That’s knowledge we can put to good use to envision how to attract new gardeners and future horticulturists to the industry.

Read More
Congressional Action Days 2016

April 5, 2016

Floral Industry Leaders Make Progress And (In Some Case…

Nearly 90 floral industry members gathered in the nation’s capital in March to meet with lawmakers in the annual event coordinated by the Society of American Florists.

Read More
Student Video Horticulture Education

April 2, 2016

Use Videos Featuring Your Millennial Employees To Recru…

Your Millennial employees may be the best spokespeople you have for your business. Why not encourage them to make a 30-second video talking about why they got into horticulture?

Read More
One symptom of Botrytis blight is gray, fuzzy sporulation on foliage and flowers, similar to that shown on the flower of this hibiscus

March 25, 2016

American Floral Endowment Will Fund Research Projects A…

AFE’s primary research funding priorities cover everything from pest control to production management. Funding applications are due June 1.

Read More
kendall farms

March 12, 2016

3 Grower Brands That Give Customers What They Want

With product information, reviews, and price comparisons at their fingertips, Millennials are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost.

Read More
NatureFresh Internship Program

March 8, 2016

NatureFresh Develops Innovative, Interactive Program Fo…

Through WeAreTheGrower.com, students can get hands-on experience connecting with consumers at community events, and sharing their experiences via social media.

Read More
Kristine Lonergan, Garden State Growers

March 7, 2016

How To Make Your Brand Connect With Millennials

Marketing to tech-savvy Millennials means paying attention to their shopping habits and motivations to build relationships that help them connect with gardening.

Read More
Uber provides value to consumers by making their lives better

March 6, 2016

How To Market To Both Millennials And Boomers

While Millennials have become the all-important generation among many marketers, there are some important parallels that can be drawn between Millennials and Boomers.

Read More
This row of tomatoes with large fruit load is part of an on-going project with DeRuiter Seed Co

February 24, 2016

University Of Arizona’s Greenhouse Crop Production &…

The annual event features a comprehensive educational program as well as a hands-on workshop. Registration is now open.

Read More
Carol Miller

February 16, 2016

Why America Needs Plant Evangelists

If we want to have more people buying plants, we can’t sit back and hope for change. We need to share our passion with individual communities and spark a love for plants.

Read More

February 2, 2016

19 Strategies To Strengthen The Horticulture Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW initiative’s five pillars: cultivate new customers, demand quality, drive consumer success, invest in the industry, and sharpen business management. Here is what you had to say.

Read More
John Daley Featured

January 25, 2016

How To Retain Motivated Young Growers At Your Greenhous…

Wholesale grower John R. Daley says engaging young growers and making them a viable part of your operation is the best way to ensure you keep young talent for the long term.

Read More
Janeen Wright

January 18, 2016

Five Thought-Provoking Ideas From GROW Summit 2015

Here are five ideas from Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 GROW Summit ranging from big-picture ideas to smaller initiatives that can help move the industry forward.

Read More
SAF CAD

January 18, 2016

Sign Up Now To Attend SAF Congressional Action Days In …

Congressional Action Days is a great chance for Society of American Florists members to meet their state’s lawmakers and discuss the most critical issues they are facing.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

January 15, 2016

Allan Armitage: Why The Deck Has Becomes The New Hot Sp…

Armitage says decks and small spaces allow younger generations to enjoy all the benefits of a garden without the work.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

January 6, 2016

Most Popular New Year’s Resolution For 2016 Favor…

It’s splashed all over social media: 2016 is going to be a great year! And what’s fueling that sentiment? It’s an overwhelming need for Americans to enjoy life more. In fact, we’re so passionate about this that it’s the most popular New Year’s Resolution for 2016, followed by living a healthier lifestyle. Here are the top 6 resolutions for 2016, as reported by Time.com, according to a Google Consumer Survey by GoBankingRates. Enjoy life to the fullest Live a healthier lifestyle Lose weight Save more, spend less Spend more time with family and friends Pay down debt Among different age groups, Millennials (18 to 34) are setting more resolutions than any other group, and they’re the most concerned with spending more time with loved ones, and the most concerned with spending less and saving money. Younger Gen Xers (35 to 44) are focused more on living healthier in 2016, while […]

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