Some growers think of merchandising as the act of physically setting up a display in the retail environment. While that’s part of the definition, Lisa Wenke Ambrosio argues there’s more to merchandising than setting up a showy vignette.
“When we are designing all of our packaging, from the pot color to the tag shape to whether we’re dealing with a tall or a short pot, we think about merchandising,” Wenke Ambrosio says. “You have to visualize what your product is going to look like at the store. I think all growers do this to some extent, but not to the extent that they should.”
Many growers attempt to help their retail customers plan displays by sharing photographs of product in the greenhouse. This is a good start, Wenke Ambrosio says, but growers should consider taking their greenhouse photographs a step further.
“A lot of growers send out pictures, but a lot of the time they aren’t very professional-looking pictures,” Wenke Ambrosio says. “You may see all the dirt on the floor or maybe a hose. There’s nothing wrong with those pictures
necessarily. But for us, we started to send out pictures last year of what the product looked like merchandised at the retail store.”
Top-notch merchandising starts with selection, but delivering on selected products is key to the merchandising process, as well. Wenke is taking a new approach this year, showcasing a few items and ramping up production of them. This way, featured products have a longer lifespan in retail stores.
For 2012, Wenke has about 20 featured products. Some are single items like ‘Redhead’ coleus. Others are part of programs like Papa Joe Vegetables.
“The challenge has always been to have production match sales and sales match production,” Wenke Ambrosio says. “We want to have enough production in place to support those.
“In the past, we’ve found that problems arise after you’ve created posters but all plants have sold. Yes, we sold more of those plants because of the posters, but it’s a problem if you’re running out of those plants.”
Part of the change is that Wenke selects featured items on its own, encouraging retail customers to buy and promote the pre-selected products. The shift to retailers buying closer to spring pushed Wenke in this direction.
“Rather than wait for retail customers to tell us what they want, we can say these are the ones we are producing a lot of, and these are the ones you should promote,” Wenke Ambrosio says.
To make things easier for retail customers, Wenke has developed a “hot sheet” with all the information and photos they’ll need about the varieties in their stores. Wenke’s retail customers can easily build their own eNewsletters with this information. Customers can also link to YouTube videos Wenke has filmed to promote its own products.
“We have product videos you’d watch at home and QR code videos,” Wenke Ambrosio says. “We made our QR code videos pretending as if the plant is talking. SunPatiens is one plant we’re doing. If you scan a QR code, the video will pop up and say, ‘Hi, I’m a SunPatiens and here’s what’s really neat about me.’”
Wenke is producing its own videos and going the extra distance with photos because retail customers truly need help selling. The era of selling based on plants being pretty is over, Wenke Ambrosio says, so growers must adapt their businesses to help retail customers in areas they historically have not had to.
“We not only have to help retailers sell, but help ourselves to be more profitable,” she says. “It sounds kind of silly, but we ought to promote plants that are good for the consumer but also good for us.”