Perspective: Rick Vulgamott Of The John Henry Company

Perspective: Rick Vulgamott Of The John Henry Company

Greenhouse floriculture is largely an unchanging industry, but it’s one Rick Vulgamott argues must change. Vulgamott, who spent the bulk of his 25-plus-year career working for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, has spent the last three years at the John Henry Company as its national director of sales. Greenhouse Grower recently caught up with Vulgamott to capture his thoughts on specific changes the industry must make and how John Henry is helping growers achieve these changes.

GG: What keeps you up at night related to the greenhouse industry?

RV: It could be a half dozen things. One, of course, is the economy. We always have to look at the economy as a factor in every aspect of our business. For years, horticulture was deemed recession proof. If the economy was bad, people stayed at home and worked in their yards. For years, we thought we were bulletproof, but the last few years proved we’re as recession prone as any other industry. People now have a lack of discretionary income. And it’s not that they’re staying home to save money, but more that they’re staying home so they don’t lose money.

One of our biggest problems is too many times our industry does the same things over and over. I worry we get ourselves in this tight little box. If we don’t step outside of it, we gradually lose focus of the future. I really wake up at night wondering how we can somewhat reinvent ourselves based on our spectacular industry. How do we reinvent our beauty? Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

Even industry leaders sit back too many times. The tagging industry is a perfect example. For years, a tag was just a tag. It was a small piece of real estate that offered some care information, and that was it. When people get used to “a tag is just a tag,” that’s all they look for in tags. Really, tags should be billboards, and if both the manufacturer and the grower would step outside of that box, I think that’s the start of things to come.

So we’ve got to do something to repackage. It’s not like we have to continue to have new varieties every week. Genetics are a key part of what we’re doing, of course, but I think we can take what we have, repackage it and add incredible value with the things we currently have. Package sells, and I think we can do something with it without increasing costs dramatically.

GG: How important is it that growers wrap their heads around consumer education? What do you see as some of the ways to best educate consumers?

RV: Consumer education is key. If the consumer is not successful in gardening, they’re not going to come back and do it again. Whatever they purchase, we should make sure they’re successful through the period of time they need it, be it a holiday or a party. It’s our responsibility to make their gardening process a success.

One thing we have to do is not only educate consumers about the plant material they’re buying, but also what they can do with it. We feel strongly at the John Henry Company about that and developed a consumer website in Bloom IQ. It’s really a bank of images and industry information we gathered over the years through the printing of POP and lawn and garden material. It’s a true consumer website that allows consumers to get online or, more importantly, gather information on their phone through the retail establishment. Now consumers can say, “Here’s what I can do with that plant” or, “Here’s another plant that goes with it.”

It’s more than just taking care of the one plant we’re shipping or the one tag we’re producing for particular material. It’s more about us taking care of the participants who keep our industry alive. We have a hard enough time keeping the consumer shopping for five or 10 minutes in lawn and garden. They’re running in with an idea, and out the door they go. We want to keep them there longer but, more importantly, have them come back more than once.

GG: What specific roles should technology play at retail to help reinvent lawn and garden?

RV: Well, a tag is a tag. It’s incredibly important to the plant we’re selling to the consumer, but you can only present so much information. What we think we can do is expand the tagging opportunity so it does offer more than “small space” or “full sun.”

At John Henry, we took a QR code and Bloom IQ and offered it as a tool for consumer education on tags. Growers have already wrapped their arms around the idea to the tune of hundreds of millions of tags in the last 12 months. Growers and retailers now have the ability on any tag they purchase to add a QR code and link to a website about consumer education. But there’s also so much flexibility in where you can direct the consumer. You can take a QR code and direct it to a homepage on a website. If, at some point, the grower wants to change the message they’re offering the consumer, they can redirect that code to information on, say, window box gardening, container gardening or gifting ideas.

Now, growers and retailers can really follow through before the sale, during the sale and after the sale to offer a lot more to the consumer. There are no added costs because these are variable codes. Growers don’t have to throw tags away and produce a second one to deliver a different message.

GG: The technologies you describe are being used largely by young consumers, a segment our industry has struggled to reach. Should we actively be finding ways to reach these consumers or simply wait for them to come of age and assume they’ll embrace live goods?

RV: If we truly think we can sit back and they’ll gradually come into our industry, we’re extremely short sighted. We need to start educating younger people on the value of plant material. We need to educate them on plants and their role in the environment. Get them involved early so they understand and like what plants are.

It’s a difficult task. The easy thing for us to do is get parents involved with gardening for their children. If we also market somewhat to a younger crowd, we’re going to get the younger group more excited about planting a tomato or harvesting particular crops. If we get them excited at the age of 12, then they’re automatically into it at the age of 25. If we wait until they’re 35 or 40, we may not be on the top of their priority list.

We have to start talking their talk and walking their walk. Kids today understand and are using QR codes and smartphones. My kids are 13 and 14, and they understand how to work apps. I watch my kids in stores, and they’ll take pictures of QR codes on various items just because they can. If they don’t have an app for that particular code they’ll spend 30 seconds downloading it right there.

Technology is their thing. If this is what the younger generation does and they’re so adept at using this kind of technology, why not embrace it and bring it into our industry?

GG: Growers could be doing more to upsell commodities as gifts or more premium items. Are growers missing a big opportunity related to plants as gifts?

RV: There’s so much you can do with packaging but you can’t sell the sizzle unless you have the steak. A bad plant with nice packaging is still a bad plant. We’ve learned over the years that we want to be creative at John Henry. We really feel strongly about creativity and putting together good packaging opportunities for our customer and, ultimately, the consumer. But you’ve got to have a good foundation before you do that.

Offer a bow, a gift card or some form of pot with it and, all of a sudden, a simple geranium turns into a gifting item for themselves, a party or something else. We have to think about adding value so consumers want to purchase.

Look at Europe: They’ve made horticulture what agriculture is in the United States. It’s critical to their livelihood. Everybody has plants in and around the home. They understand the value it adds to their lives. If we continue to show value, it’s going to catapult our industry into a bigger and better place.

It’s all about value. If consumers see value, then they have no problem buying more than one. Too many times we give plant material away for nothing. Too many times we price product way too low and, ultimately, it hurts our industry.

GG: Every now and then someone throws out a national marketing campaign idea, which never really gets a whole lot of traction. Should we instead be trying to broadly market through other avenues?

RV: A national advertising campaign is always a tough one. If we had the funds to do it, I’d say jump on it in a second. Whether we like it or not, our industry is somewhat disjointed. It’s really hard to justify the costs involved and put the funds toward the appropriate “buckets.”

We have to continue to look from a grassroots perspective and allow the consumer to understand what we’re all about that way. We have to educate them more. Don’t just show them the same plant they just purchased and how to water it; show them what they can do with it so they want to buy four more. We know enough about this industry that we can guide them down a path that truly gives them gardening success.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Perspective: Rick Vulgamott Of The John Henry Company

More From Crop Inputs...

April 1, 2015

Philadelphia Flower Show Draws More Than 250,000 Attendees With Disney Pixar Movie Theme

With more than 250,000 consumers attending the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show in March each year, it's a great opportunity to get flowers and gardening products into the public eye. This year's show displays took on family favorites at the movies, with a focus on Disney and Pixar films. Check out some of the highlights in our slideshow.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Peace Tree Farms Grows Its Customer Base

Over the past five years, Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, Pa., has concentrated on growing its business by providing plant material for the displays at the illustrious Philadelphia Flower Show. We caught up with Peace Tree Farms’ Lloyd Traven to ask about how the Flower Show figures into his business plan.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates Horticulture Industry Professionals

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 31, 2015

Manufacturers Are Taking Biologicals To The Next Level

Through acquisitions and new products, many crop protection companies are making firm commitments to the future of the biocontrols industry.

Read More
OxiPhos_BioSafe2

March 23, 2015

BioSafe Makes Label Changes To OxiPhos And ZeroTol 2.0

There have been some recent label changes made to the BioSafe Systems product OxiPhos, a systemic bactericide/fungicide that reduces downy mildew spores when tank mixed with ZeroTol 2.0.

Read More
Nufarm_logo

March 23, 2015

Nufarm Fungicides Now Registered For Use On Edible Crop…

Nufarm Americas announced label expansions for two of its fungicides that will provide more pest management options for the ornamental industry. The Cleary 3336 F and EG fungicides are now registered for use across a wider range of edible crops, including select greenhouse vegetables and transplants, herbs and backyard fruit.

Read More
ColeusDMLeafSporulation_Daughtrey

March 11, 2015

Research Gives Clues For Preventing Coleus Downy Mildew

Maintaining awareness of coleus downy mildew is more important than ever to safeguard these attractive plants for reliable garden performance.

Read More
Rose Rosette on Knockout rose, May 2013. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 2, 2015

Rose Rosette Disease Fight Gets A Boost From Government…

In 2014, $4.6 million was awarded through the Farm Bill to tackle rose rosette disease, a devastating pathogen that affects one of the industry’s most important crops.

Read More
Fig 1 Leafy Gall On Leucanthemum Becky

March 2, 2015

How To Prevent Leafy Gall Before You Lose Plants

Leafy gall is a nasty disease that can go undetected until plant damage is done. Take these steps to protect your crops from infection.

Read More

February 17, 2015

A New Look At Biological Control: Can Plants Affect The…

The success of a biological control program depends on a number of factors including quality of natural enemies, timing of release, release rates and environmental conditions. However, what is typically not taken into consideration is how plants can affect the performance of natural enemies, including attack rate and searching ability. Biological control agents work hard to protect plants, but plants have ways to help themselves, too.

Read More

February 1, 2015

New Pest Control Products For Your Toolbox

Add one of these new insecticides to your IPM program for successful pest control.

Read More
IR-4_profile_Feb2015

January 29, 2015

IR-4: A Pest Management Resource For Growers

Almost 40 years ago, IR-4 (Interregional Research Project Number 4) began serving the ornamental horticulture industry, helping to facilitate the registration of pest management tools. IR-4 does this primarily by surveying growers about their pest management issues and then hosting workshops to review survey results and set priorities for the coming years. Most recently, IR-4 coordinated a meeting of researchers and industry members on pollinator health and neonicotinoid chemistries to start a discussion on the needed research. The next step will be to get the outcomes from that workshop out to the public.

Read More

January 28, 2015

Biocontrols 2015 Conference & Tradeshow: Peace Tree…

Lloyd Traven, a speaker at the upcoming Biocontrols 2015 Conference & Tradeshow, was one of the industry’s early adopters of biocontrols in the greenhouse. Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farm, is evangelical about the technology as an effective tool for resistance management, as well as improved plant quality that contributes to a grower’s bottom line.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Southwest Perennials Improves Production, Shortens Crop…

A father-and-son team find LEDs deliver a higher rooting rate for cuttings propagated under the lights.

Read More
Wainwright-web-620x349

January 22, 2015

Quality Control With Biocontrols

Make sure the shipment of beneficials that just arrived is viable and ready to go to work in your greenhouse, nursery, or field. Here are five steps you can take to ensure success with your biocontrols.

Read More

January 9, 2015

6 New Fertilizer Products For Healthy Plants

These five products add even more options for delivering nutrients to the root zone.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Fertilizers And The Future

As growers look for new ways to cut costs and conserve resources, fertilizer and equipment companies are offering products that strive to save water, reduce toxic runoff and keep chemicals out of the equation.

Read More

December 31, 2014

Gain Greater Control Of Fertilizer With Automated Ferti…

University researchers look at integrating irrigation and fertilization with the help of water sensors to reduce fertilizer treatments and improve application timing.

Read More
As directed by EPA, the bee hazard icon appears in the Directions For Use for each application site for specific use restrictions and instructions to protect bee and other pollinators.

December 9, 2014

Fact Sheet: The Value Of Neonicotinoids To Turf And Orn…

An extensive study of the diverse turf and ornamental industry (“The Green Industry”) reveals that neonicotinoids are the top-rated products used by professionals to control their most important pests in greenhouses, landscapes, lawns, nurseries and trees.

Read More
As directed by EPA, the bee hazard icon appears in the Directions For Use for each application site for specific use restrictions and instructions to protect bee and other pollinators.

December 9, 2014

New Study Finds Neonicotinoids Are Top-Rated Products F…

According to results of a survey by AgInfomatics, professionals in the turf and ornamental industries fear the loss of neonicotinoid products would reduce the quality of their plants and services, increase costs and negatively impact their ability to manage pest resistance.

Read More

December 2, 2014

Grow-Tech Announces BioStrate, Its Newest Hydroponic Gr…

Grow-Tech LLC recently announced the release of BioStrate Felt, a biobased textile specifically engineered for the growing of hydroponic microgreens and baby salad greens.

Read More