Do you grow foliage and houseplants? If not, it might be time to consider it.
In a recent Today’s Garden Center magazine survey, of those garden retailers who carry houseplants, 54.3 percent report an increase in sales in 2013. Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses reports good news, as well, with a 5 percent increase within the foliage segment in the past year. So how does the operation plan to keep the good times rolling?
The formula for this grower includes marketing directly to the consumer through in-store materials, a loaded website and an active social media presence. But the message being broadcast through all these media is the same — to inspire the customer to create home décor designs and to educate with plant care tips that will turn timid gardeners into experts.
“We want to transition our product from a commodity item to a home décor item,” says Erin Leonard, director of marketing and business development for Hermann Engelmann. “Through the help of magazines and traditional retailers, like Crate and Barrel, plants are being incorporated more into design, where in the past they would use pillows and décor pieces as accents. With all that exposure, we see houseplants as a big trend moving forward.”
Developing Products For Aesthetics And Consumer Success
Leonard says that as home décor evolves, so does Hermann Engelmann’s product line. While plant packaging needs to have a great look for the consumer, it should also provide an environment that ensures a healthy plant.
“A good example is the Exotic Angel Plants brand dish garden program,” Leonard says. “We have lots of different styles of dish gardens, but we always keep longevity in mind, to make sure the plants all have the same light, watering and care requirements. If the components don’t work well together, then the product as a whole doesn’t work well. If it doesn’t work for us, it won’t work for our end consumer.”
Another recent example of a new aesthetic with an eye out for consumer success is the Clear And Simple line, which uses a lava rock medium and a clear glass container, allowing the user to see the roots and how much water is inside. The marketing materials for the line explain how much water to give plants (up to the fill line on the container) and help the consumer overcome the fear of over or underwatering plants.
Hermann Engelmann is constantly on the lookout for the newest and coolest containers that keep up with global color and design trends. The operation manages more than 50 SKUs a year in containers, in addition to the 450 plant varieties it produces. Leonard says that the global suppliers the company does business with must also meet the quality standards of Hermann Engelmann.
“It helps us build our relationships and keeps an open dialogue for communication, creativity and innovation,” Leonard says. “We want to work with vendors who have the same goals as we do — quality, innovation and creativity.”
Some container vendors have long-standing relationships with Hermann Engelmann, but working with some new vendors helps the operation continue to innovate.
Internally, Hermann Engelmann’s product development and IT departments also help to manage all those SKUs though a sophisticated, custom-built program to keep up with supply and demand and to ensure accurate inventory forecasting.
Marketing With All Generations In Mind
So how do you find your customers or potential customers to get them the gardening information they need? The strategy for marketing Hermann Engelmann’s Exotic Angels brand focuses on the role of the grower as the plant experts.
“Sharing knowledge on how to take care of plants so the end consumer will be successful — that’s the foundation of what we’ve always done,” says Sandra Kitain, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses. “It’s part of our marketing, whether it’s through social media, tags, labels or however we’re presenting our product to the marketplace.”
In-store offerings include, but are not limited to, care tags and QR codes supplemented by the Exotic Angels branded website and social media accounts.
“A care tag is only a two-by-two size, so you’re really limited in what you can say,” says Leonard. “Having that website provides an additional support piece for supplementary product information.”
One of the main goals for marketing, especially on the website, is to offer inspiration to the gardener. What you’ll notice when visiting the Exotic Angels Facebook page are the images — inspirational examples of gorgeous plant and container combinations. Some content is original to Hermann Engelmann and some are articles and photos shared from outside sources.
The venture into social media is new for the grower community, though it can be a great way to get feedback on products and to build a new community of gardeners, and it’s not only for Generations X and Y.
“Since 2010, we’ve doubled our social media presence for the baby boomers,” Leonard says. “It goes beyond targeting just the young consumer. It’s more about connecting with all our fans, no matter the age range.”
Though the younger generation can be marketed to through social media, Leonard says the type of product being promoted is just as important as the tools being used to promote it. The Back To School collection, for instance, will have a heavy social media push, as well as in-store marketing to focus on a younger demographic. A luxury, upscale item with a higher cost, however, will be targeted to boomers.
“The products help drive the marketing. From there, we use the support of our website, social media and any way to get the message out about that product to the end consumer,” Leonard says.
There are a few things that Hermann Engelmann avoids when it comes to social media — the hard sell or the one-sided conversation. The benefits of using social media are the feedback direct from the consumer and the one-on-one conversations that give a personal touch to interactions with the business.
Hermann Engelmann gathers data from Facebook and Google Analytics for demographics information on visitors, but to a larger extent, research is done through the operation’s own analytics and data departments to track which products work best for certain areas.
Leonard says that while this industry is just dipping its toes in the social media waters, ROI on these types of marketing efforts will beome more clear in the future.
“At this point, I feel like we’re more in an exploratory phase,” Leonard says. “It’s a great way for us to engage with our customers. We get really good feedback. A lot of times, you send a product out to a store or a customer and you never hear anything back again, so to get that feedback is really priceless for us.”
What’s The Future Of Foliage?
Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses wants to continue the sales increases in foliage and houseplants that it has seen over the last few years. And the way to do it, Leonard says, is to keep in touch with the end consumer.
“Foliage is up and that’s really a great sign for us,” Leonard says. “We want to keep innovating with that end consumer in mind. Even though we may sell wholesale to the grocery chain, large box or independents, we want to be sure that we stay in touch with that end consumer. That’s the way our company, in general, will continue to grow.”
And what about the industry overall? What will it take for the industry to continue to grow? Leonard says one way to do that is to continue to create a sense of community around gardening.
“Whether it’s through our social media or the next big thing — who knows what it could be. Really, we want to find that way to share information and be successful, starting at an early age. For any consumer, the key is to be able to grow that passion for gardening and indoor houseplants.”