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...
Joey Wiseman-2015

October 3, 2015

4 New Hires And Promotions In Horticulture

Management restructuring and growth expansion have prompted several companies in the horticulture industry to bring on more help and promote qualified employees to new positions over the few several months. Here are four that have occurred during the months of July 2015 through September 2015.

Read More
BallSeed New Website September 2015

October 3, 2015 Goes Mobile-Friendly is now mobile-optimized. A new update features responsive design, quick access to WebTrack, an enhanced product search and more. Mobile-Friendly content and clear navigation make information more accessible to customers on-the-move and in the greenhouse.

Read More

October 2, 2015

N.G. Heimos And Dan Schantz Poinsettia Trials Planned For November

Two poinsettia trial open houses are planned for November that showcase hundreds of varieties from top poinsettia breeders. Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses will hold an open house on November 12, and N.G. Heimos Greenhouses will hold its open house on November 19.

Read More
Latest Stories

September 25, 2015

Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association Announces Early…

According to an August 31 survey of members of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), whose members represent approximately 95 percent of all North American peat production, the peat harvest season has been adequate, but not strong, and could cause shortages and potentially higher transportation costs. Down To The Dirty Details The survey inquired about the status of CSPMA members’ 2015 Actual Harvest (including an estimate of what can be expected to be harvested for the remainder of the season) as a percentage of their 2015 Expected Harvest. The lack of a strong harvest overall may challenge peat availability. The Prairie Provinces (Manitoba 98 percent, Saskatchewan 88 percent and Alberta 94 percent), experienced early favorable weather conditions and a strong start to the year. This helped to minimize periodic, negative, weather-related conditions during the balance of the harvest season, and the harvest numbers are close to achieving the expected amounts. […]

Read More

September 23, 2015

New Crop Protection Products And Label Updates

Here are some of the most recent products released and label updates for crop protection agents in the greenhouse and nursery market. Fame Fungicides (FMC Corp.) FMC Corp. has introduce Fame fungicides, a family of FRAC 11 group (Strobilurin) products that delivers fast-acting, patented fluoxastrobin protection against major soil and foliar diseases. Rainfast in 15 minutes, Fame fungicides can be used on most greenhouse and nursery plants and provide fast foliar and root uptake. “Proven by university research, Fame fungicides offer fluoxastrobin action, which ensures a high degree of systemic activity to provide very rapid disease protection and stop further growth of established disease,” says Naimur Rahman, strategy and fungicide marketing product manager for FMC. The Fame fungicide family includes: • Fame SC: a suspension concentrate fungicide containing fluoxastrobin that controls major diseases, including anthracnose, downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab and leaf spot. It provides rapid foliar and root uptake […]

Read More
Offshore farm profiles Dummen Orange Las Mercedes Solanaceas GH

September 8, 2015

Dümmen Orange Implementing Consistent Standards On All …

Owning and operating several locations can be a challenge in maintaining consistent quality and cleanliness across the board. This is true of both breeders and growers. But those who do it right have invested in technology and practices that ensure that plant quality matches, no matter where their plants are shipped from. That’s the goal for Dümmen Orange. Now the world’s largest producer of unrooted cuttings, the company has a combined 150 hectares or 370 acres of production space worldwide, dedicated to cuttings production. Recent acquisitions of product portfolios, both this year and in the past few, has raised the company’s cuttings production expectation to more than 1.4 billion, including 350 million in North America. It has farms all over the world (see the 2015 Top Cuttings Producers ranking to see where), and produces cuttings for its own genetics, as well as collaborating with more than 30 third-party breeders across all […]

Read More
Bill Lewis grower manager at Delray Plants

August 31, 2015

Delray Plants Takes Preventative Approach To Pest Contr…

Trying to control pests effectively on a wide variety of crops is a major undertaking. Delray Plants in Venus, Fla., has been using biological controls as a part of its pest control program for more than 10 years. It operates 300 acres, which includes covered structures and 7 acres of outdoor field production.

Read More
Bob’s Market and Greenhouses’ Ron Morris pours Stockosorb into the hopper for distribution on the conveyor line

August 13, 2015

How Bob’s Market And Greenhouses Improved Growing…

My father started our company 45 years ago growing bedding plants, mainly early season production and finished plants for our West Virginia market. It was in the early 1980s that we started growing earlier spring production and shipping materials to southern markets, and by the late 1980s, we also produced pansies for fall. We started using hydrogels when they first came on the market in the early 1990s and found that they really helped with our production by keeping plants healthier for these new markets. Over the years, we’ve grown to be a large young plant producer and have a sizable business growing finished plants in cell packs, 4 1/2-inch pots, 6-inch pots, gallon containers, hanging baskets, multiple sizes of large containers and large baskets for municipal use. Creating The Ideal Soil Mix With our old system, it took several workers to mix pre-made soil with slow-release fertilizers in cement […]

Read More
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

August 12, 2015

Selecting Fertilizer Rates For Several Spring Bedding P…

Fertilizing bedding plants can be difficult due to the differing needs of the large variety of plants that we grow. Many operations do not grow enough of any one crop to cater the fertilizer specifically for each crop. Therefore, grouping crops with similar fertilizer requirements and having two to three fertilizer strengths available is a practical way to ensure plants are getting the fertilizer they need. With many new plant varieties on the market, we wanted to conduct a trial at Cornell University to determine best fertilizer rates for several common bedding plant crops. 22 Bedding Plants Studied To Establish Fertilizer Rates Plugs and rooted liners of 22 crops (Table 1) were transplanted into 4-inch (500 mL volume) round pots with a commercial peat/perlite based substrate. The plants were grown in a glass greenhouse at Cornell University during the spring season at a spacing of one plant per square foot. Heating set […]

Read More
Feature image The Aphid Guard Aphid Banker Plant, coming soon to the market, supports beneficial insect populations.

June 21, 2015

The Latest In Crop Protection

Protecting your plants from the latest threats is no easy task, but new product lines promise to safely and effectively eliminate a wide range of pests and diseases, without harming your employees or the environment.

Read More
Bee On Flower

June 18, 2015

Pest Management And Marketing Strategies For Bee-Friend…

Michigan State University Extension shares pest management practices to produce plants that are safe for pollinators and marketing strategies for clearing up confusion about bee-friendly plants.

Read More

June 13, 2015

UMASS Fertilizer Trials Recommend Nature’s Source Organ…

In a recent online fact-sheet at its Extension website, the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment lists Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as “the best liquid organic fertilizer,” according to Dr. Douglas Cox, Stockbridge School of Agriculture. It is called-out by the Extension after a number of years of studying the use of organic fertilizers for growing commercial greenhouse crops. The trials evaluated traditional water soluble and granular slow-release chemical fertilizers. Dr. Cox recommends Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as a liquid fertilizer that is readily available, cost effective, OMRI-listed and with good label directions for greenhouses. He also mentions the ease-of-use in how it mixes well with water and can pass fertilizer injectors. “Nature’s Source is currently the best liquid organic fertilizer,” Cox wrote in his article “Organic Fertilizers – Thoughts on Using Liquid Organic Fertilizers for Greenhouse Plants,” “I have seen no foliar chlorosis yet with this fertilizer. Nature’s source is widely available and a great […]

Read More

June 10, 2015

BASF’s Sultan Miticide Receives California Regist…

BASF Sultan miticide recently received registration in California, giving ornamental growers a new rapid, targeted mode of action for mite control. Sultan miticide, with active ingredient cyflumetofen, offers ornamental growers targeted knockdown of all life stages of tetranychid mites, with long residual control. It has practically no toxicity to beneficial insects, including predatory mites and pollinators. Sultan miticide offers a new mode of action to combat cross-resistance with other commercial miticides, and is compatible with integrated pest management programs (IPM). “The long-awaited California registration of Sultan miticide is exciting news. Greenhouse, nursery and landscape professionals in the state now have a new class of chemistry that gives them fast control over all life stages of plant-damaging mite populations,” says Joe Lara, senior product manager for BASF. “Sultan miticide now provides California growers with a much needed new first choice for miticide resistance management programs that won’t disrupt populations of beneficial […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

May 27, 2015

Industry Associations State Their Support Of National P…

AmericanHort, Society of American Florists, American Floral Endowment and Horticultural Research Institute joined together to embrace key aspects of the federal government’s recently announced National Strategy for the Protection of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The long-awaited strategy has three major goals: reducing honey bee colony losses, increasing Monarch butterfly populations, and restoring or enhancing millions of acres of land as pollinator habitat through public and private action. According to the statement, the associations are studying the details, but they agree that the overall approach appears balanced and mostly sensible. The rest of the statement reads as follows: “The national strategy’s overarching goals dovetail well with the focus of the ongoing Horticulture Industry Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Program. Under that initiative, we have directly funded several priority research projects, and collaborated on additional research funded by others, to provide critical scientifically sound guidance for professional horticulturists. We are developing a grower […]

Read More
Bee On Flower

May 20, 2015

White House Task Force Releases Pollinator Health Strat…

An interagency Pollinator Health Task Force commissioned by President Obama released its “Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” on May 19. The strategy, released in accordance with the Presidential Memorandum issued last June, is accompanied by a Pollinator Research Action Plan, which outlines needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health. The recommended actions will be supported by a coordination of existing federal research efforts and accompanied by a request to Congress for additional resources to respond to losses in pollinator populations. Pages 47 through 52 specifically address pesticides and pollinators. The report calls out plant production, native plants, mosquito control and all urban uses in its Pollinator Action Plan. RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) says it supports the goals of improving pollinator health and habitat contained in the White House Pollinator Task Force’s release of its National […]

Read More
r3bv2 disease

May 20, 2015

SAF And AmericanHort Ask Government To Take Ralstonia O…

The Society of American Florists (SAF) and AmericanHort want Ralstonia solanacearum, Race 3, Biovar 2 (R3Bv2) taken off a list of animal and plant diseases that the federal government has determined could be misused as terrorist weapons. SAF and AmericanHort submitted formal comments together on the horticulture industry’s science-backed position on the matter. According to Lin Schmale, SAF’s senior director of government relations, extensive research has proven R3Bv2 does not belong on the government’s list of animal and plant diseases that can be misused as terrorist weapons. Every two years, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requests a public review of the Select Agent list, asking for comments on whether plant or animal diseases should be taken off the current list or added to it. In the floral industry, R3Bv2 can have a devastating impact on geranium (pelargonium) crops, Schmale says, and both the potato and tomato industries also could be adversely affected by introduction […]

Read More
Two-spotted spider mites, adults and eggs

May 18, 2015

Beware Of Spider Mites In Bougainvillea And Mandevilla …

Greenhouse growers need to scout for spider mites on bougainvillea and mandevilla and use appropriate treatments that minimize pesticide resistance.

Read More

May 14, 2015

Pollinator Health 2015: What’s Next For Horticult…

The news on pollinators and neonicotinoids continues to fluctuate between good and bad. Research and outreach efforts backed by the Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Initiative help move the industry in a positive direction.

Read More

May 13, 2015

BASF’s Empress Intrinsic Fungicide Is Approved Fo…

BASF’s Empress Intrinsic brand fungicide received supplemental labeling, providing California growers with an effective drench fungicide for disease control and plant health. The supplemental labeling is for use on herbaceous and woody plants in greenhouse, nursery container and field production in California. Empress Intrinsic fungicide provides protection against the four major root and crown disease pathogens: fusarium, phytophthora, pythium and rhizoctonia. Research shows Intrinsic fungicides control the broadest range of ornamental diseases while improving plant resilience to quality and reducing stresses that commonly occur during commercial production, handling and transportation. “More and more growers across the country are discovering the benefits of Empress Intrinisic brand fungicide treatments at propagation for rooted plugs, cuttings and seedlings, and in drench applications on transplants during the production cycle to protect against the major root diseases,“ says Joe Lara, senior product manager for BASF ornamentals. “A BASF fungicide program utilizing Pageant Intrinsic and Empress Intrinsic […]

Read More
Green Mum Basket

April 21, 2015

Growers Face Dilemma In Managing Plant Growth

Whether you’re applying plant growth regulators, manually pinching plants or using automated trimming, the most important thing is to find the right balance.

Read More

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offe…

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More