Metrolina Greenhouses is reaching out to consumers nationwide through its new venture, Home Garden Panel. The grower’s consumer research division was launched two years ago when the operation saw the need to get more customer feedback on products going to market, says Mariah Holland, Metrolina’s director of marketing.
“Traditionally, growers and buyers drove the decision process and we really wanted to engage the consumer and dig a little deeper into what they were thinking,” she says. “We found that there are companies conducting horticultural research but it’s not very specific to our product category. So we thought we’d try it and see where it goes.”
Through Home Garden Panel, Metrolina contracts with a third-party research provider that recruits consumers nationwide, across a range of demographics to participate in monthly surveys.
“We are able to ask questions about different topics and themes each month, sent out to a panel that represents the whole U.S. That range of demographics allows us to slice and dice the data we get back in a variety of ways that makes it more relevant for our partners,” Holland says.
Currently the resulting information is proprietary and confidential. Metrolina shares the findings with its partners and retail customers to help make product decisions and look for new opportunities, says Myles Wynn, Metrolina’s marketing research coordinator.
“Our goal is to continually stay ahead of the consumer and where they’re going,” he says. “We assess how they shop at garden centers and utilize live goods at home, for example, and then dial down into the nitty gritty details among different demographic groups. From that information we create actionable ideas, which translate into new products and marketing strategies.”
Every few months, Wynn pulls together that quarter’s data and Metrolina leadership presents a webinar for investors and customers to review key trends that have been revealed month to month.
“Myles does a great job of analyzing and summarizing the data,” Holland says. “Oftentimes when you get research reports, they’re full of a lot of information, so this is more of an executive overview hitting the key points.”
Impacts On Production Planning
One way the information has impacted Metrolina’s production planning will be seen in 2014, when the grower will incorporate more of a seasonal crop mix, gearing specific plant colors to different seasons, Holland says. It’s also revealed some consumer shopping habits beyond the high-traffic months in spring.
“Home Garden Panel has allowed us to see the value in breaking out colors on a seasonal basis,” she says. “It shows us where the gaps are and that there are many opportunities in the shoulder seasons. Surprisingly there is a lot of traffic in June, July and August. While it declines, it’s still very relevant. For us, that means our product mix has to change. We want it to be different every time the consumer comes back in to shop, so they’re always excited about it.”
While Home Garden Panel is still a relatively new project, it has great potential. Metrolina is planning its next steps, which could include making information gleaned through Home Garden Panel available to other growers someday.
“Consumer tastes are continually evolving, especially in recent years and with how individuals expect to receive information, and the manner in which they shop and plan out their purchases,” Wynn says. “Our customers have been very receptive to the fact that we are able to stay on the leading edge, to discover some of those new tastes, habits and preferences before they’ve been seen in the market. We are excited about the innovations Home Garden Panel continues to drive through consumer insights and look forward to diving deeper