Stepping Up From Generic

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These furniture dudes had a few ideas about how to buck the low-margin trend. Rather than just watch low-price imports from Asia mess up the market, they felt there is a large and profitable place in the U.S. furniture market for such wacky ideas as brands, value-added design, products that tell a story, etc., all the same blarney that us crazy plant marketing zealots keep spouting. I kept looking around to see if Marshall from PW or J. or Linda from Novalis were in the room.

I cannot say the furniture guys are much ahead of us with their up-market programs. Brands such as Todd Oldham at Target and the National Geographic Home Collection are only a few years old. But it sounds like many retailers and consumers are very ready for a step up from generic product.

Their retail price points are very different, but the upscale area rug at $599, the upper-end bedroom set at $2,999 and the nicely glazed oriental vase at $149 are all examples of our industry. The well-dressed quart pot with a fancy specialty annual and large tag at $5.99 are fighting for shelf space with the generic area rug at $299, the no-name bedroom suite at $899 and, in our case, the generic 4-inch annual at $1.49. The similarities were amazing.

My take-aways from this:

1) The grass is not always greener on other side of consumer products mountain. The Wal-Mart effect impacts all product makers. We all had better get good at getting better. Remind me to also stop whining.

2) If guys who make overstuffed sofas can sort it out, darn it, so can we. We have much more flexibility in what we sell. We can cycle quicker. We have no excuse. It is easier to repackage a petunia than a credenza.

3) To get better we need to always keep up with our customers. We need to be delivering products that tell a story, are fun, are about the customer and create an emotional connection for the customer. I can hear all the old guys reading this doing the "old guy groan," followed immediately by the, "We grow petunias, darn it," speech. We may grow petunias, but customers buy lifestyle.

Cue background noise – old guys choking – followed by Rod Serling.

The other day, I attended a marketing seminar. The key speakers were talking about the market and they mentioned a number of neat things. Best new product design is "Fresh, Wow, Fun and Different." Great new products elicit an emotional reaction.

Promotion-priced products and discount retailers are forcing all retail prices down, despite the fact that price is ranked No. 3 or lower on when you ask consumers to rank product features. The industry is going through a devaluation.

Brand partners are being brought in to help give stronger value statement to new products. Attaching an established consumer brand to a generic product category works.

Too many products are still being selected by the older generation of men and not enough by the younger generation of women. Dumb, as it is women who are the product consumers and core shopper. Some new products are being developed that better connect to people’s spirits and to outdoor lifestyle. Generation Y kids are now more of the market and we do not know how to deal with them. There are too many old decision makers in the way.

If you did any head nodding with any of these observations, it’s because it is all we talk about in the plant biz these days. The fun factoid I failed to mention is that the marketing seminar was not about plants, but about the furniture industry! Yup, people who work in the manufacturing and marketing of sofas, chairs and tables have almost identical issues to us poor little geranium, poinsettia and petunia folks. It just cracked me up! It was like one of those "Twilight Zone" episodes. It was like déjà vu all over again.

Laurie Scullin is a marketing consultant helping get new ideas to the consumer marketplace. For more information, contact him at lscullin@gmail.com or 352-495-3375.

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