Diverse Building Blocks In Sync

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Diverse Building Blocks In Sync

Today’s trend-setting and professional grower consortiums are the epitome of the all-important four Ps of marketing–price, product, promotion and placement. These allied grower assemblages offer the first three Ps and retailers provide the fourth P, leading to a solid working relationship.

By combining the strengths of regional growers and sharing strategic brand and product standards, the industry’s grower consortiums put forward collective offers for the retailer that are difficult to match. Grower consortiums provide trialed plant products carefully packaged according to tactical branding principles, promotional programs consisting of national advertising, marketing, personal selling and public relations, as well as consistent pricing structures that make buying easier and more manageable for retailers. When this advantageous combination is paired with the physical place of retail, the garden center, the four Ps are aligned and positioned to generate sales.

Unified regional growers, otherwise competitors, are changing the ways in which plants are grown and sold from coast to coast. The industry is experiencing this change in the form of would-be area-restrictive growers coming together with the common goal of producing, distributing and selling mass live goods under one mutual brand or trademark. Doing so lends power and status to all of the participants, not to mention the talent and capacity to contend with other national plant development entities. The end result is meant to provide comprehensive plant programs–along with high levels of marketability–to garden center owners, managers and buyers. Even given the effort necessary to accomplish such objectives, the involved growers are finding the alliances better in many ways than making a go of it on their own. The members individually contribute and, thus, cooperatively develop a synergistic core that equates to higher levels of return on investment and involvement. 

Empowering Growers And Retailers

Under A Foot Plant Company, a horticulture-based business headquartered in Salem, Ore., created and launched the STEPABLES plant brand of creeping perennials several years ago and has been going strong ever since. It all started as a multi-faceted concept to enlist regional growers to achieve national brand awareness and product development on the part of Fran Hopkins, president and CEO.

Passionate enough to initiate and direct a national plant brand, Hopkins knew that a group of growers working jointly would benefit the participants in ways each could not imagine on his own. She also realized the powerful impact the cohesive members could make on the marketplace, providing a comprehensive product and marketing package to the retailers carrying the branded line of plants.

Although Hopkins’ long-ago vision for a national plant program was viable, she knew she would need to partner with a full team to accomplish it. She conducted research on consumer buying behaviors to matching products with specific homeowner needs. Simultaneously, she met with select growers and invited those she knew would support and benefit from the program to join the alliance. Grower by grower, Hopkins was able to create one of the largest consortiums in the industry and enhance production to suit. The plants are sold nationwide and throughout Ontario.

The benefits for the growers and retailers are symbiotic. “The growers benefit from volume buying control, mass product exposure, and the confidence in knowing the plants will be marketed for them, which allows them to do what they do best, grow great plants,” says Hopkins.

She says many independent retailers have stated the advantages for them are similar. “Garden center owners and managers benefit from a more streamlined brand program that spans multiple product sources and the assurance that presentation and performance will remain consistent.”

STEPABLES growers are discernible by an attuned approach to production, marketing and selling. Hopkins provides clear and distinct standards for production in addition to promotions. Each participating grower commits to adherence of quality requirements. Standards of plant product excellence markedly show face whether grown and sold by a grower in the Midwest or one located in the Northeast.

The same is true of the STEPABLES marketing materials, which were designed to offer easy-to-use point-of-purchase and point-of-sale products, display racks, foot-shaped tags and consumer-friendly plant-finder tools that can be found online via the brand’s Web site and offline at the garden centers carrying the line of over 130 varieties. The bottom line, according to Hopkins, includes working closely with her growers to ensure their needs are met, establishing wide-ranging plant programs for retailers and implementing marketing continuity. This is possible, she says, by blending her product development and marketing strategy knowledge with sound production of the plants by the individual growers across the country.

“It is the amalgamation of the group itself that gives STEPABLES the legs and arms to reach consumers nationally and the ability to offer retailers broad-based plant programs that solve homeowner issues and are easy to manage and sell,” says Hopkins. 

Mastering The Concept

Defining itself as a member-owned retail nursery cooperative that is founded upon a supportive network of growers, the Master Nursery Garden Centers consortium is no stranger to the playing field. Founded in 1957, the association members obtain live good and hard good discounts, market a shared line of products and provide factoring services to industry suppliers which likens to a single point of billing. However, in keeping with the trend of consortium-based product development and branding, leaders are now working to fully introduce an exclusive line of plants known as Garden Elements.

With roughly one year under their aggregate belt, those associated with the new brand are quickly making themselves known for pooling resources to accomplish common goals of product production, marketing and selling.

“Our retailer and grower members are combining efforts to develop and sell Garden Elements that are stronger than the individual parts of the group,” explains Executive Director Bill Jameson. “This is because the result is greater than the sum of our individual capabilities.”

The members of the partnership retain their separate business and legal status, but interact congruently for long-term product expansion and financial benefit. This type of cooperative action is a nearly ubiquitous feature of grower and retailer unions because the goals and objectives are simultaneous–despite the fact that one grows and markets plants, while the other serves as the point of direct sales for the end consumer.

“By combining the attributes of all Master Nursery Garden Centers affiliates, the collective entity spawns more competitive muscle and earned revenue than its predecessor standalone companies would be able to generate,” says Jameson.

In addition, cost synergy for Jameson–as a side effect of grower-retailer unification–means the reduction of certain expenses associated with running a business. Spreading costs and risks over multiple participants, as well as sharing in a defensive response to the competition, is a collaborative means being executed by Master Nursery Garden Centers to nurture and augment the Garden Elements brand. 

Consortiums And Retailers–A Likely Co-op

Support for the retailers is always top of mind for grower consortium leaders. They invest annual budgets to market their programs in ways they would not have realized as regional growers alone. Cooperative budgets translate into regional and national marketing campaigns from which garden centers reap benefits. Support for the retailers is offered in the form of branded point-of-purchase materials that address the unique selling points of the plants and retailers. Without the retailers, none of this would be feasible.

According to many industry joint venture leaders, grower consortiums–and the retailers that work closely with them to provide consumers premium breeding, cultivation and product availability–are an integrated and powerful means that comprise one of the most industry-changing aspects of the plant trade to date.

Don Eberly is president and CEO of Eberly Collard Public Relations, an agribusiness and home/garden-based firm that specializes in public/media relations, marketing, advertising and branding for garden centers, professional nursery and greenhouse growers, grower consortiums, plant breeders, horticulture product companies and landscape designers. He can be reached at 404-574-2900 or doneberly@eberlypr.com.

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