The Grow Initiative

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Understanding Plant Nutrition: Calibrachoa

The Grow Summit
Nineteen innovative thinkers representing multiple facets of the ornamentals industry gathered in August for the Grow Summit. The goal was to begin creating solutions to re-energize our industry and help put it back on a path to consistent growth and success. The roster for the meeting included:

Marc Clark  Rocket Farms  Large blooming potted grower
Tom Smith  Four Star Greenhouses  Young plant grower
Danny Gouge  Willoway Nurseries  Woody ornamentals grower
Carole Barton  Barton’s Greenhouse  Smaller grower serving independents
Bob Barnitz  Bob’s Market & Greenhouse  Grower-retailer
Ed Kiley  The Perennial Farm  Perennials and landscape grower
Chris Buchheit  Everiss  Fertilizers
Dave Watt  Express Seed  Brokers
Joe Farinacci  IHA  Hard goods distribution
Rick Vulgamott  The John Henry Company  Tags and marketing
Jeff Warschauer  Nexus Corporation  Structures
Chuck Snyder  Summit Plastics  Plastics
Chuck Buffington  Syngenta Flowers Pro  Live goods
Bob Dolibois  ANLA  Trade association
Michael Geary  OFA  Trade association
Peter Moran  SAF  Trade association
Jim Faust  Clemson University  Research
Delilah Onofrey  Formerly, Greenhouse Grower  Media
Bob West  Greenhouse Grower  Media

THERE was just one ground rule at The Grow Summit: we weren’t allowed to talk about problems. Just ideas for solving problems.

For two days in Cleveland last August, Greenhouse Grower gathered growers, industry suppliers and allied representatives for a roundtable meeting we called The Grow Summit. Our goal was to start a process that generates solutions to the issues we all face and re-energizes the greenhouse industry.

You know the challenges. The economy. Housing. Fewer
gardeners. Our industry isn’t broken, but it’s not growing at the healthy clip it once was, with nothing but blue skies ahead.

We can’t change the macro factors affecting our business. We can, however, change the way we react to them. That’s why we assembled a group of  innovative thinkers to work through what those reactions should be.  

The Grow Summit covered a lot of ground in those two days. In the end, the group compiled a list of priorities it thought we, as an industry, should address. You’ll be seeing much more about that as the group continues its work in the coming months. But we’re getting started now.

The staff of Greenhouse Grower was in the room throughout the Grow Summit. We left energized and excited, and ready to promote these ideas. We boiled the Summit’s list of priorities down to five primary points we’re calling The Grow Initiative:
1. Drive Consumer Success
2. Cultivate New Customers
3. Demand Quality
4. Sharpen Business Management
5. Invest In The Industry

We believe by focusing on these priorities, the greenhouse industry will put itself in a position of long-term, profitable growth.

Drive Consumer Success

With innovative genetics, technology, and production research, today’s growers produce amazing plants. But if the consumer doesn’t have a good experience with our products, isn’t confident enough to try them, or doesn’t even consider us among their options when spending money, it’s all for naught.

We must understand what matters to consumers. How do they want to use our plants? How can we make their lives better? And how can we deliver them in a way that fills those needs? We should look at the opportunities provided by technology. Smartphones, 2D tags and tablets are becoming common information resources for today’s consumer, but few companies in greenhouse floriculture are using these tools to help them.

And we must simplify success. “Trader Joe’s has it so you don’t have to be a skilled cook to succeed,” said one Summit participant. “It’s all but done for you. People don’t know how to cook; do you think they can garden? How can we do that?”

Cultivate New Customers
We’ve spent years debating whether new generations will garden when they reach that perfect age. All things being equal, Generation X might. But all things aren’t equal.

With the housing and economic situations and new options for their time and disposable income, we can’t wait and hope they will come. We must aggressively create new consumers.

As individual businesses and as an industry, we must market outside our comfort zone. We need to branch out from the big box and independent garden center channels and find opportunities in new places, be it non-traditional retail options or even novel uses for our products.

And we need to listen. We must be willing to look past personal preferences about what makes a good plant or variety in favor of what a potential customer tells us they want to buy, and how they want to buy it.

Demand Quality

Ask any grower, supplier or retailer and they will tell you quality is their number-one focus. But if we’re being honest, we know we don’t always reach our own lofty goals. In an atmosphere where we need to give customers every opportunity to succeed, providing the best possible plants, specifically selected to thrive in a specific region, is a must.

Offering consistently better product–and marketing it in ways that make it clear it’s better–opens the door to pricing that accurately reflects its value. Retail benches full of commodity flats set an expectation in the consumer’s mind. Change the focus from price to how beautiful and unique the product is. Top quality at all times should be a demand we make of ourselves, in addition to the expectation we place on others.
 
Sharpen Business Management
In a mature market like greenhouse floriculture, game-changing developments are few and far between. The art of profitable growth shifts to focused management of all factors that go into producing and selling a crop. That means honing the numbers for your business. It means working closely with your partners, both up- and downstream, to find arrangements that allow everyone to succeed. And it means looking at how other industries have approached similar business conditions and continued to thrive.

As one participant in the Grow Summit said, “This shouldn’t be so complicated. Our failure is we have not managed our businesses in relationship to what the market will accept. Grow excellent product. Merchandise stores as deserved. Manage cost of sales, production and distribution effectively. Profits are available under any conditions if we manage our businesses that way.”

Invest In The Industry
The future of the greenhouse industry rests on our shoulders. Regulatory issues make operating increasingly difficult. Mass-media marketing for our products is virtually non-existent beyond the efforts of the big boxes.

Funding for university research shrinks year after year in state after state. Fewer young people look to floriculture as an exciting career opportunity.
Left unchecked, each of these issues could drag us down. If that happens, we have no one to blame but ourselves. No one has as much interest in the success of our industry as we do. As a group, and as individuals, we must devote time and money to turn these potential problems into opportunties for growth.

What You Can Expect From Us
In this issue, you’ll find illustrations of each of these points. We enlisted voices from throughout the industry to tell the story of The Grow Initiative. Some were part of the Summit. Others simply have a great story to tell. All are aiming at solutions. And as we go forward, the Grow Initiative will shape the editorial choices we make. We will emphasize content that helps you deliver quality plants, ensure consumers are successful, create new customers, be better business managers and invest resources in the future of our industry. Everyone knows the challenges we’re facing. Now is the time for action. GG

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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