If passion is something that can be grown like flowers, PlantHaven International has a botanical garden.
It starts at the top. Owners Geoff and Maureen Needham first met and connected over a love of horticulture, building a nursery and, eventually, an empire.
The husband-and-wife duo understood that marketing quality plants could be profitable. Twenty years later, PlantHaven represents more than 90 independent plant breeders, featuring a portfolio of plants bred in all four corners of the globe.
While still active within the agency they created, the Needhams have cultivated an environment that attracts passionate plant people. One of those employees is CEO Robert Bett. He believes this exceptional group is the reason PlantHaven has been so successful over the past two decades.
“It’s very much a team effort,” says Bett, who, fresh out of a new product strategic planning meeting, is bursting with excitement about the little bit of “crystal ball gazing” he did with an eye on the future.
“We are lucky to work with superior breeder clients and to have a diverse offering that includes everything from colorful shrubs and big shade trees to perennials and volume annuals.”
Connection-Focused Marketing Drives Innovation
This diversity also inspires PlantHaven’s cream-of-the-crop marketing campaigns and initiatives. Because every new project is essentially a blank sheet of paper, Bett explains, the agency can make new connections that influence how a product is promoted.
“I think that it is important to develop these connections,” he says. “If you’re only thinking about specific products, you have a restricted view of the market.”
It also limits creativity, another trait PlantHaven has in spades. It’s Cocktail Culture brochure is proof of its inventive spirit. Universally beloved at California Spring Trials, the brochure was designed for a standard business-to-business effort, creating a crop culture guide that growers would actually read. In it, producers learned the intricacies of the six plants PlantHaven wants to promote in 2017.
PlantHaven worked with marketing consulting agency BlueSkye Creative and Ventura, CA, restaurant Rumfish Y Vino to spice up the standard growing manual. Together, the teams decided to bring back a much-loved PlantHaven tradition and share it with the industry.
“Maureen, affectionately known as our Cocktail Queen includes a cocktail recipe at the end of our industry wide eBriefs that is called Maureen’s “Cocktail Corner,” Bett says. “These are missed, and their absence is commented on if they are not included from time to time.”
The culture guide revived it by pairing growing recipes with drink ones. A rum and prosecco spritzer was paired with the ‘Hillier Porcelain Blue’ corydalis; a dragon fruit and vodka drink paired with ‘Painter Romantic France’ dahlia. The resulting visuals — vibrant blossoms alongside perfectly color-coordinated beverages — were a big hit.
“We received so many comments about the culture guide,” Bett says. “Industry people told us it was the most creative thing they’d seen in a while.”
A New Approach Yields Results
In addition to marketing to growers, PlantHaven also works with retailers on initiatives that speak directly to gardeners and homeowners. In one particularly successful campaign, radio personality Delana Bennett talks about Kaleidoscope abelia, telling listeners that they can find this color-changing plant at The Home Depot and other independent garden centers.
“The Home Depot realized that customers were really paying attention to the ads,” says Chris Berg, President of BlueSkye Creative. “In California, one of our highest targeted markets with radio and social media, we’re getting several customers tagging us in their photos after purchasing the plants and then several notes from customers who couldn’t find the plant in their local store asking us for help.”
“It proves the campaign is driving sell-through,” he continues. “It makes The Home Depot more inclined to partner with us and make sure all the stores in our marketing zones have the plant.”
Customer Referrals Still Speak the Loudest
PlantHaven’s marketing efforts aren’t limited to traditional advertising mediums like radio and print. The agency also creates content for social media, films 360-degree videos using drones, and produces an interactive digital catalog. The best method, however, is no method at all.
“Our goal is for the plants to be massively successful for the customer,” Bett says. “We want them to feel like amazing gardeners and tell their friends and family about the plants by word of mouth.
“It’s the most powerful marketing you can get: People become product ambassadors,” he continues. “When the plant performs so well people are constantly requesting it, that plant becomes the industry standard and takes on a whole life of its own.”
That’s one of the primary reasons PlantHaven works with so-called “botanical artisans,” specialized breeders that hone in on one or two genera. By limiting their focus, these artisans produce crops with more desirable traits, such as fragrance, drought, and disease resistance, and other characteristics that give the plants a qualitative advantage over the competition.
“Some breeders focus on color and habit, but ours focus on overall better genetics,” Bett says. “If you think about getting a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day and they don’t have that enticing fragrance, you sort of feel short-changed.”
PlantHaven’s focus on the details — from working with top breeders to developing an innovative marketing campaign — is as embedded in the company’s culture as passion and creativity. This, too, came from the top.
“Geoff and Maureen never push the team to cut corners, they believe it’s best to do things right or not at all, even if it takes longer,” Bett says. “This philosophy has served PlantHaven well: People are very successful with our plants.”