Sell Foliage And Tropical Plants As Home Décor Items

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Rocket Farms sells locally grown potted plants at select San Francisco Bay Area Pottery Barn stores.

Rocket Farms sells locally grown potted plants at select San Francisco Bay Area Pottery Barn stores.

What else is better to make a home look cozy, warm and bright than a stylish tropical plant? Rather than adding new throw pillows or those pricey window treatments — or maybe in addition to them — why not buy some unique plants that will add interest to your interior, improve your air quality and lighten your mood? Plants can create an instant oasis and transform an indoor room or an outdoor patio. They transport you through time and space to a private island of relaxation.

That is the message our industry is working to promote through a variety of breeder and grower campaigns to get consumers to look at plants as essential lifestyle purchases that enhance their environments. And, in addition to décor, their efforts are communicating the health benefits of plants: cleaner air, which leads to less stress; noise reduction, which enhances productivity; more oxygen and less carbon dioxide; and more connectivity to the outdoors.

“Well-being, clean air and relaxation should always be a focus in selling this kind of product,” says Plants Nouveau’s Angela Treadwell-Palmer.

Enlist Home Retailers To Incorporate Plants In Interior Design
Improving the status of plants as home décor could be as simple as working with high-end national retailers like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel or Restoration Hardware to merchandise plants among furniture vignettes and emphasize them as an element of design. Getting these retailers on board is the challenge.

Rocket Farms, a producer of orchids and other flowering potted crops based in Half Moon Bay, Calif., promotes its locally grown potted flowers in select Bay Area Pottery Barn stores, says Jason Kamimoto, the operation’s vice president of marketing. Costa Farms has also reached out to a number of retailers like these, but Costa’s Consumer Marketing and Digital Specialist Justin Hancock says the retailers haven’t fully committed to a program yet.

“We do collaborate in other ways, though,” he says. “We have worked with West Elm (a catalog and online retailer), for example, to provide plants for their photography.”

Show Consumers How To Use Plants
Costa has furthered its efforts to help consumers be successful with plants by offering easy-care plants like its Plants Of Steel and Water Wick lines.

“Our Plants Of Steel collection represents some of the best, no-fail indoor varieties for consumers of any skill level — especially those who are new to the category,” Hancock says. “We’ve also launched a product called Water Wick that helps consumers water their plants more easily. We believe this will increase consumer confidence in growing plants indoors. Our consumer insights show that right up there with being easy to care for, shoppers want colors beyond green so they can use plants as décor elements in their homes.”

In addition to looking out for colorful, eye-catching varieties, Costa is also investing in upgraded pots, Hancock says. “Many consumers don’t have the confidence or inclination to repot from a traditional grower’s pot to something that matches their look and style.”

Promoting plants for home décor would be easier for growers if they change their view of plants to see them more the way consumers do, Hancock says.

“Consumers don’t buy plants based on pot volume or genera; they buy them based on how they look, how easy they think they are to care for and how they’ll fit into the home,” he says. “The way we present plants at retail is definitely one aspect to getting plants into homes, offices and schools. As growers, we need to keep that in mind as much as retailers.”

Create Interest And Reduce Intimidation By Sharing Ideas And Information
Social media is an effective medium for educating consumers about how to use plants in interior decorating. Both Costa Farms and Rocket Farms have extensive campaigns to provide their customers with ideas and inspiration.

Rocket Farms promotes information about plants and ideas for how to use them on its website, RocketFarms.com, and posts about specials, new ideas and upcoming events on Facebook and Twitter. The operation uses Pinterest to provide event photos and present design ideas and inspiration.

“We begin the conversation with our direct customers through our digital and social media platforms, and eventually roll out the benefits — the idea that tropical plants are long-lasting and decorative with universal appeal, which makes them perfect options as home décor items,” Kamimoto says.

Costa publishes new stories monthly on CostaFarms.com, and sends out a monthly eNewsletter, packed with tips and ideas for using plants as home décor. Costa uses Facebook and Google+ to provide tips and photos, and constructs boards on Pinterest to show consumers how to select and use plants.

CostaFarms.com also presents inspirational tools like slideshows, and a unique web app allows a consumer to upload photos of her room and superimpose houseplants on it to envision how they’ll look before she buys them. Information sources like OrchidsAreEasy.com help reduce the intimidation consumers may feel for these perceived finicky plants.

“Our mantra is educate and inspire,” Hancock says. “By showing consumers pictures of how plants can make a room feel more lively and fashionable; by presenting plants better at retail; and by providing information that will make them feel comfortable and confident trying a plant, we’re promoting plants as décor items.”

Breeders Are Reaching Out To Consumers To Promote Patio Tropicals, Too
With more new tropical varieties coming on the market, plant breeders are improving their efforts to create consumer demand. Plants Nouveau is working with Costa Farms to introduce its new elephant ears and dwarf cannas to the big box stores. It has partnered with Netherland Bulb Co. to sell the colocasia bulbs in packages that are easy for consumers to carry out of stores, Treadwell-Palmer says. The company is also introducing its plants to specialty retailers like Whole Foods and Terrain.

“We like to sell our plants as an instant tropical oasis for your patio,” she says. “These elephant ears and cannas grow fast and they make gardening easy — even for non-gardeners.”

Plants Nouveau advertises on Facebook with good results, Treadwell-Palmer says.

“We get tremendous feedback from those posts and ads,” she says. “Just about everyone loves a tropical plant and there are crazy collectors who must have every variety, too. We reach all kinds.”

Tropical plants have long been attractive to consumers because they last and are easy to care for, says Delilah Onofrey, who represents Suntory Flowers through Flower Power Marketing.

“Messages that promote longevity, performance and easy care will help consumers make the choice — that’s the value proposition,” Onofrey says. “Costa’s Tropic Escape program is good at capturing the feelings consumers desire for their homes. Sun Parasol is part of that program.”

Suntory Flowers has deeply invested in marketing Sun Parasol mandevilla and Sunvillea bougainvillea varieties through a mix of consumer media. It has a new interactive digital publication app called Easy Gardening Tips — Revealed by the Breeder, which includes Sun Parasol and Sunvillea, and it includes tips for creating large patio planters. Suntory’s Virtual Combo Designer app also includes Sun Parasol as one of the choices for mixed plantings and how the plants will grow. The breeder also plans to become more active on Pinterest, and has a YouTube channel featuring all of its videos, says Onofrey.

Suntory has also produced a series of home makeover videos. The breeder advertises varieties like Sun Parasol in leading lifestyle and gardening magazines and their digital counterparts.

Communicate The Many Health Benefits Of Plants
What’s the best way to get customers to buy indoor plants? Promote their health and well-being benefits. Generation Y consumers are especially attuned to information about health and the environment.

“Inform and excite consumers by showcasing studies that speak to the environmental and emotional benefits of potted plants,” Kamimoto says.

Grower and industry campaigns have been underway for years, supporting the message that plants are essential for improved health.

National Indoor Plant Week was established to increase public awareness of the importance of indoor plants and their many attributes. The celebration is typically held during the third week of September and relies on its supporters to drive participation, including interiorscapers, greenhouses, retailers and florists. Costa Farms, Plants Nouveau, Oglesby Plants International and several other companies are strong supporters of this campaign.

Costa Farms launched its O2 For You program with the sole purpose of educating consumers about how efficiently plants clean indoor air. Information is on CostaFarms.com, O2ForYou.org and on plant tags, and the operation promotes it heavily with public relations efforts.

“We need to make sure people realize they need plants,” says Treadwell-Palmer. “Not only are they pretty, but they provide clean air, shade, food for pollinators and many other things. Caring for them is therapeutic and provides good exercise, as well. We need to convince people that plants make them and their surroundings happier and healthier, not that they are just pretty things to decorate with.”

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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