Marketing And Plant Quality Go Hand-In-Hand

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Jerry MontgomerySome of the best-managed greenhouse businesses in the industry realize one thing that many others either don’t recognize, or if they do, they pay little attention it: Being a great grower is no longer a competitive advantage. In fact, it has become a disadvantage for those companies that use this idea as their driving business strategy.

Growing great plants is not a competitive advantage; it’s a ticket to play, which allows a company to be in the game. Not to say growing good plants is not important. It is, but you cannot develop a sustainable competitive advantage through product quality alone.

When is the last time someone heard a national retailer say, “We buy from that grower just because they grow great plants?” Quality just isn’t the primary reason for vendor selection. If that were the case, the vendor base for national retailers would look different than it is today.

Successful growers today do grow good consistent product quality, but they know that alone will not keep them profitable. They understand that an amalgamation of all the business disciplines is necessary to grow and prosper. One of the most important, but often underutilized, business disciplines is the function of marketing — and the most successful growers have become really good at it.

Marketing is about understanding the market, the current product mix and the development of future products based on customer needs and competitive forces; the channels of distribution to be used; the people including customers and employees and how they are positioned; and lastly developing price models that work in the selected channels of distribution.

Great Marketers In Floriculture
There is a notable influx of good marketing personnel from outside the industry because typically, the grower sector has not been keen on hiring those who were not “plant geeks.” The lack of marketing talent is an issue of the industry not seeking out marketing expertise or, in some cases, not understanding their potential value.

One of the best marketing managers this industry has ever seen is Ben Walraven, who is now retired from PanAmerican Seed and was the architect and driving force behind the launch and development of the Wave brand. Walraven came to Pan American Seed after stints in marketing at PPG and Monsanto and my contention is no one person did more to change how seed products are marketed.

That being said, let’s look at some of companies in the industry that are great marketers:
• Ball Horticultural Co. with its Wave brand and Nature’s Source organic fertilizer

• Four Star Greenhouse, Pleasant View Gardens and EuroAmerican Propagators with their Proven Winners brand

• Star Roses with its Knock Out Rose brand

• Dümmen with its Confetti brand

All of these companies place a high level of importance on marketing but also perform the other business disciplines well.

Growers With Marketing Talent
View: Jerry Montgomery On Big Box RetailingIn the grower sector, there are some great success stories from companies that have included marketing in their management approach:

• Metrolina Greenhouses with its consumer panels, trial garden, The Color Of The Pot Tells How Hot pepper program and investment in an outstanding marketing staff

• Green Circle Growers, the developer of the Just Add Ice Orchid brand

• Bell Nursery, one of the first to use social media to attract consumers to Home Depot stores

• Costa Farms’ Plants Of Steel brand, O2 for You brand, Water Wick watering system for house plants and a huge social media endeavor

• Bonnie Farms with the only national vegetable brand available in all states

• Altman Nursery with its Smart Plant brand, the Backyard Fresh vegetable program at Lowe’s and the originator of the Viva brand, available at every Home Depot

These are just some of the examples of growers who have discovered the benefits of integrating a strong marketing presence in their organizations. And, of course, they all grow really good plants.

An important element in the marketing process for those who serve the national retailers is the function of merchandising. This has separated the high performance vendors from the low performers and is just one example of the impact of great marketing.

Some of the top-performing vendors to serve the national retailers whom I have observed in my travel to more 5,000 retail garden centers since 2006 are:

• Metrolina Greenhouses

• Masterpiece Floral

• Bell Nursery

• Grand Flowers

• Tagawa Greenhouses

• Smith Gardens

Marketing + Plant Quality = Success

Serving the national retailers is a cadre of, by my estimate, 35 vendors in the bedding plant and perennial sectors, and these numbers will decline over time. So unless there is strict attention to developing a business that performs well in all business disciplines including marketing, the chance of many businesses thriving or even surviving is diminished.

Breeders and brand managers control the introduction and selection of most green goods products with the national retailers, only because growers have not been as proactive in presenting new and innovative products. Not placing much emphasis on the function of marketing has resulted in the abdication of new product development, so consequently, it has moved upstream to the breeders.

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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