Letter To Linda

Hello Laurie,

I just wanted to write and let you know what a super article you wrote for the May issue of Greenhouse Grower. As a greenhouse grower, garden center owner and a retail florist (FTD and Teleflora), I can appreciate what you have to say about selling design elements.

While I consider myself to stay current with the trends, I cannot say that for my grower … however, at least I have a grower who "thinks" like a retailer.

Thanks again,
Linda Zoerb
La Crosse Floral Co. Inc.
La Crosse, WI

Hi Linda,

First, thanks for the kind words. It feels good to know that people agree or disagree with me. Also, congratulations for having a grower with a good feel for what the retailer wants. That is huge.

Second, I do not have any real good solutions for this. All my ideas are way too radical. But if you can humor me, my summary would be:

1. Fire all the boys. Boys have been great stewards of the industry for many decades. We did OK and grew the business when it was easy to grow. But today it is hard. We need the real pros in that space – the girls. I know I am causing the hair to raise on the necks of many, but tough. We male-gender types do not get it when it comes to retail space. We had a good run and now we need help.

In marketing, we look all the time at how women shop, think and decide differently than men. Many men are not in the right mindset to select decorating products that are purchased by women. I am OK with male decorators making those calls, but not so hot on male farmers. If your favorite store is TSC, you cannot possibly pick decorating elements for female shoppers. (TSC is Tractor Supply Company. Great stores, full of irrigation and tractor parts. I love them. I cannot pick decorating elements.) If you think you look pretty good in your John Deere baseball cap, you cannot pick products for females. If you are a boy and you have a NASCAR number decal on the back window of your truck, you cannot be making any fashion statements. Trust me, dressing in Budweiser Red is not a fashion statement. If you are a boy and do not own an iPod, have a 5 list, blog or have a profile on MySpace, then you’d better not be picking plants for the younger female population. That is just wrong!

2. If you cannot fire all the boys, at least pull them out of all new product roles. They should not decide product mix, they should not decide what plants go into mixed containers, they should never decide on product names. My favorite bad new name is ‘Viper’ vinca from Floranova. This is a company I really like – good and interesting new genetics and they push the envelope with new ideas, great stuff like awesome mini patio veggies. Viper is a really bad name if you want consumer support. I am sure they aimed this just at growers, because I cannot fathom a female shopper gardening and decorating with a flower named after a poisonous snake. What is next, Asp petunias and the Rattler rose? Yeesh.

3. If you cannot remove all the boys from new product roles, at least reduce their vote. For every vote a farmer male gets, the female decorator gets at least two, maybe three votes. Is three votes to one democratic? Nope. Should it be? Nope, not until the universe of all-male-gender farmers prove that they really get it and start acting like decorating suppliers rather than plant suppliers. I know that growing/shipping/dealing with retailers is not easy, and we shouldn’t abdicate all of those critical tasks and details just to keep decorators happy, but we need a better blend.

4. Yell at the boy retailers. This one has peril attached, as most of the retailers do not like getting yelled at. I do not blame them, because they really do know their market and their customers. But every so often, I see and hear retailers get very ‘boy’ with ideas. I believe most boys still leap to conclusions about what will sell based on our ‘boyness.’ Retailers can help, but they all need to remember it is a female shopper. Our job as growers is to help retailers see how display/combo/color use/new products better fit their customers.

We need a boy-ectomy in several key areas. This year at Pack Trials, I had to put together some mixed containers ahead of trials. As we got closer to opening the Greenheart/Dümmen/John Henry/Sahin trial, I watched as Brenda Vaughn, a great design person at John Henry, put together many fantastic, amazing combination pots. Did any guest say anything nice about my combos? Nope. Did guests gush about Brenda’s? Yup. ‘Nuff said. I would offer more thoughts but I need to pop into TSC and get some irrigation parts.

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