View: Scullin On The “Family Feud” At OFA

View: Scullin On The "Family Feud" At OFA

Laurie Scullin, a Greenhouse Grower marketing columnist, recently chimed in on the back and forth between past presidents and current leaders of OFA in a letter to us. He suggests the industry needs a national organization to act as the voice on issues affecting growers. Could OFA be that voice?

It very well could be, Scullin suggests. Here is his letter in full:

I have read with some interest some of the correspondence of the OFA family feud. I was intrigued by this conflict on several levels and thought it would good to share those thoughts.

First, how great to read about someone else’s “feud” rather than one I had started. As someone who lives on the “bleeding edge” of marketing, I have from time to time gotten into the middle of this type of stress. The hard part of leading the charge to any new destination is that some of the team you lead has a different idea of where to go, and as such there is stress. It is the price one pays to “lead” and to “change.”

Second, I know most of the folks on both sides of the debate, respect all of them and am enjoying listening to thoughtful professionals differ in opinion. Truthfully, this has been more interesting and better presented than any of the televised presidential debates.

Finally, I would like to offer an opinion. These past few years have been amazing to watch in our category. We have experienced massive changes in the housing market–in both directions, we have seen the impact of consolidation of growers, expansion of big box stores, the growth/death/growth of the dot.com retail space, Gen X and Y buying homes and an enormous bull/bear/crisis market on Wall Street.
 
The upshot to all this change is that as we enter into the 2009 spring market, most of us don’t have a clue how the spring will turn out. We do not know the impact on the average bedding plant or floral purchases from the homeowner who has been pummeled by falling home equity and mutual fund balances and who feels “poorer” by some six-figure amount than a spring ago. Add in the concern over job loss as businesses tighten their spending and next spring is the most uncertain any of us have ever faced.

Back to OFA: What is needed in this type of fast-moving environment is a trade association that can keep up–or even better, stay slightly ahead–of a changing market. Can OFA be nimble and flexible enough to help growers, to help garden centers, to help all the allied members who help make this a great organization?

As many retailers are now “national” and growers ship throughout the U.S., we need a trade association that has a national outlook. Can OFA speak and act in a way to help all growers deal with national problems?

We do need to lower costs. We have always needed to lower costs. In a big box-dominated marketplace, product manufacturers in all categories look to lower cost and improve margin. But we also need to look to increase sales, both for us and for the retailer. Looking at USDA data for the past five years, all I see is less dollars of total sales despite a gain in total units. Last I looked, we pay our staffs and ourselves in dollars and not units. Can OFA look to help growers not only reduce costs, but look to help shrinking national sales and work with growers on the “sell” side of the equation?

Taking this one more step: With the market shrinking, pressure on margins and national issues affecting all growers, can OFA remain relevant as a trade association in the face of a “new” market reality?

The consumer is changing. Our product “value” to that new consumer is changing. How do we sell petunias to a Gen Y homeowner in 2009 to whom bedding plants may not carry the importance or relevance they did to her Baby Boomer mother?

When Frank Zaunscherb and I looked at the business environment regarding our new marketing company, we felt strongly that “Relevance in Hort” was the correct tone. We, as marketers, had to help clients reposition themselves and their products to face this new market reality.

I suggest that OFA is in the same situation. All the questions being raised by the “family feud’ should be put through the same market reality screen:

- Does this change make OFA more nimble?
–Does it give OFA a more national approach?
–Does this allow OFA to help growers reduce costs?
–Does this allow OFA to help growers improve their product relevance to consumers?

If we get four positive checkmarks on this list, then I suggest that is the appropriate direction for the association.

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