Tackling The Tag Room

Ed and Gail Overdevest

Ed Overdevest is working toward a solution for a problem that is a thorn in the side of growers everywhere — thousands of dollars of unused plant tags sitting for years in the tag room. By implementing a plan that includes in-house printing for tags that take more than two years to use up and commercial printing for only high-turnover, high-volume plants, Overdevest is slowly whittling down his tag inventory as well as the carrying costs involved in storing many years’ worth of unused tags.
     “The cost of in-house printing is pretty significant on a per-unit basis compared with a comparable tag printed commercially,” Overdevest says. “But when you factor in carrying costs, the money invested in tags just sitting there in inventory is pretty significant, and the waste we have in the case of tags that are obsolete is considerable. We also wrestle with relevance issues when tag style or content changes become necessary.”
     Overdevest, who with his wife, Gail, owns Overdevest Nurseries, a 60-year-old, 210-acre operation in Bridgeton, N.J., says all these factors are minimized when they print their own tags. This eliminates the need to commit to large print minimums for the many trial varieties they grow. Nor do they have to worry about running out of tags in the middle of shipping. However, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers.
     “We don’t have it down to an exact science. We just know given the slow turn we have on the low volume of some of the plants we produce, along with the fact that there’s a decent percentage of plants we ultimately discontinue before we use all the tags, there’s a definite savings there,” Overdevest says.
     While Overdevest grows annuals as part of some of their programs, the majority of his material is perennials, trees and shrubs, in containers ranging from 1 gallon to 15 gallons.
     “We’re not talking little stick tags,” he says. “In our case, tags are 4- to 6-inch rectangles for some of the larger plant material, and costs can be anywhere from  $.08 to $.25 per tag.”

“The Tag Room Is The Enemy”
     Bob Lovejoy, president of HIP Labels, which designs and prints custom labels and tags, says, “The tag room is the biggest problem for every grower in America. It’s the biggest problem because it’s probably the biggest chunk of money that goes unused. I have seen tag rooms with hundreds of thousands of dollars of unused tags — some of them ten years old.”
     Lovejoy feels it is his company’s job and any responsible suppliers’ responsibility to work with growers on solutions, because excess inventory doesn’t do anyone any good.
     “Our enemy is the tag room, not our printing competitors,” he says.
His answer is to offer programs that allow growers to order quantities closer to the time when when they are needed, rather than in the preceding fall when they are guessing what they might need.
     “Smaller, more frequent orders that are affordable will allow our customers to a better job of buying not only tags and labels, but wraps and all types of packaging,” Lovejoy says.
     Gerry Giorgio, marketing director for MasterTag, agrees that managing tag inventory is a huge problem — especially for large growers. Another big concern is having the tags on hand at planting time. MasterTag offers inventory management as one of its services.
     “We say to growers, you do plants really well, we do tags really well. Why don’t you let us manage your inventory? When you need them, we send you the tags,” Giorgio says.

Cutting-Edge Technology Means More Information For Consumers

Because of new products just around the corner, consumers will soon be able to have access to videos, photos and see what their garden will look like with a given set of plants just by pointing their phones at a tag or entering a code. Here’s what HIP Labels and MasterTag have in the works for the not-so-distant future:

     Gerry Giorgio of MasterTag is most excited about a new technology called Augmented Reality (AR). This app will allow a customer to point at any place on a tag and get videos, links to websites, animations, growing information and more.
     “Unlike virtual reality, which totally replaces one reality with another, AR takes your current experience and changes it slightly. For example, you point your phone at the image on the tag, and we can give you a video — that image can come to life. Then when the video is done, we can have other information there. If you click any of it, it will take you to different parts of a website for more information. We can also do animations where a customer might be able to see what their garden might look like with a certain plant in it.
     “As a matter of fact, we have one of those projects in place. Because we have a major retailer and grower involved, I would say Augmented Reality is reality.”

     Bob Lovejoy of HIP Labels says he is focused on solutions-based selling.
     “It’s our job as providers of printed packaging to help the growers inform consumers how easy it is to get into gardening and plants,” he says. Through the use of advanced printing technologies, Lovejoy is able to, for instance, print a banner image of a garden made up of plants suitable for a specific region.
     “A consumer with a smartphone keys in a code and the size of the area to be planted, along with the plants she wants to include, and the site calculates the number of plants she needs to create the desired garden. If the plants are right there in front of the customer, she buys them and maybe goes home with a code that’s printed on the tag so she can scan it and get planting instructions, so there’s no guesswork. We’re not just selling plants, we’re selling ideas.”
  

Timing is also an important consideration for Overdevest as they continue to move into their “hybrid” commercial and in-house printing program.
     “During this transition, we have come to realize the true costs associated with in-house printing. Equally important, we now have a very real sense of the time that would be involved with printing all our tags in house, especially if we tried to print on-demand as orders are pulled and loaded,” Overdevest says. “All this has shaped our current strategy to one where we purchase pre-printed tags for our higher volume plant varieties and print in-house for the others, where tag inventory would otherwise turn too slowly.”

Platform Tags Reduce Waste, Costs
     Overdevest and Lovejoy came up with another solution to help with tag waste and cost — the concept of a “platform” tag. Overdevest compares it to auto manufacturers using a common chassis for several different models of cars.
     “We purchase a standard platform tag for our Footprints program (more on that later) and another for our generic program,” he says. “These convey the respective messaging for each program. Then the specifics, including plant name, picture, cultural info, QR code etc., are printed, either commercially or in-house, on a separate tag that attaches into the platform tag to create the uniqueness for each plant. We have some fine tuning to do to achieve a consistent, commercial-quality presentation, but we see this as our best way to build some efficiency and flexibility into the increasing complexity of today’s marketing opportunities.”

Differentiate With Sustainable Tags
     Overdevest Nurseries’ Footprints line is primarily herbaceous material, perennials mostly, with some annuals. It is a recently developed regional brand designed to appeal to the emerging interest in sustainability.
     “It embodies the considerable commitment we have made over the years to conservation and eco-minded efforts, such as recycling water, energy efficiencies and IPM practices,” Overdevest says. “At the time, those practices were instituted solely with the intent of ‘doing the right thing.’ Now, along with our recent certification by Veriflora, they allow us to truly claim that our plants are sustainably grown.”
     The name refers to the carbon footprint, and the labels and pots stay true to the message. Not only does Overdevest use the platform tag with this line, which reduces his costs and produces less waste in unused tags, the tags themselves are made from recycled milk jugs. The plastic is an HIP product called MilkMade, and it is itself recyclable. The insert tags are biodegradeable. So are the pots, which are made from rice hulls.
     “It’s a little bit more costly than the conventional option. The tags cost more and the pots cost more. But those people who are concerned about sustainability obviously appreciate it,” Overdevest says. “And once those who maybe aren’t as active from that [environmental] perspective understand the program, they appreciate it as well.”

What’s The Real Purpose of Tags And Labels?

Ed Overdevest says growers’ circumstances are all different; what works for one may not work for another. Even experts have differing opinions on how to best use the limited space on a label:

     “The tag or label needs to be the salesperson, especially in today’s world. It needs to convey not only what the plant’s going to look like and how to take care of it; it should convey a feeling of quality and give consumers a sense of confidence and value. Most people are willing
to pay more for that product. That’s our job.
     “I’m a strong believer in the fact that we should be helping our customers — the growers — provide a consumer with solutions. We should be focused on helping consumers select a set of plants that help them accomplish their purposes.
     “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of top-notch growers today who grow top-quality products, but if you set them side-by-side, consumers can’t tell the difference. You need to tell a story. Packaging is one very important way to tell that story. It’s not the only way, but it’s an inexpensive way to lead that consumer to your product versus someone else’s.”

— Bob Lovejoy, president, HIP Labels

     “The main purpose of a horticultural label is to communicate good information to gardeners. I think branding has a place, but I think people can be deceived by brands. We have marketing research that shows even the most dominant brands in our industry are barely recognized by most consumers. We see customers who feel if they get their brand or their store identity on there, that there’s some kind of connection with the consumer — that they will recognize the brand and go back and buy that plant again.
     “I don’t think people behave that way. Growers could be better served by giving up their brand and giving gardeners something of high value right there at the point of sale. In other words, if you’ve got a program that actually helps them solve a problem, that should go on the tag.
     “For example, we’ve got a perennial program in which the tag colors relate to the bloom period, i.e., if you buy the red one, it will bloom in spring, blue blooms in summer, yellow in fall. Now I’ve branded the plants, but not with a store identity. I’ve given it the identity of a solution. That’s what’s going to make a customer buy it. If I am an inexperienced gardener and don’t understand perennials, you’ve just solved a problem for me, and I’m buying your product.”

— Gerry Giorgio, marketing director, MasterTag

Pot Wraps Offer Brand Flexibility
     Along with being open to change regarding his tags, Overdevest isn’t afraid to try other new marketing concepts. The Garden Splendor program, which includes more than 600 varieties of perennials, shrubs and trees is designed to simplify the selection process for not only his customers, but for the eventual consumer. Adopting the tag line, “The Best of the Tried and True and Most Promising of the Exciting and New,” the program was launched 12 years ago. From its inception, the program placed high value on partnering with retailers, and Garden Splendor plants are actually presented as the retailer’s own brand. Each garden center is allocated a territory in which they have exclusive marketing rights.
     Initially, pots printed with each retailer’s name were used. But then Overdevest was presented with another option — pot wraps branded with both the Garden Splendor name as well as the retailers’.
     “Bob Lovejoy approached us with a new concept he was promoting — pot wraps. We instantly saw this as a great way for our retailers to put their name on the product and present the brand as their own. Coupling this with some other unique Garden Splendor packaging elements allows them to offer a differentiated plant line that separates them from their competitors across the street or down the road. As this helps them succeed, we succeed.”
     “Ed has a set of about 40 retail customers who know their name has great value in their local area,” Lovejoy says. “They are not only happy with the product, but participate directly in the cost of the packaging.”
Lovejoy says wraps allow greater flexibility than printed pots. When the plants are gathered before loading, that’s when a sleeve or wrap is put on.
     “You might have 10,000 Hosta ‘Patriots,’ and want to put a different brand on them depending upon the recipient. You can’t do that if the plants are in pre-printed pots. With a sleeve you can change it any time you want to,” he says.
     Overdevest knows that solutions are not one-size-fits-all, but stresses that growers should give careful consideration to packaging.
     “Every grower is different, so I would suggest they focus on their needs and unique circumstances. What works for one might not for another,” Overdevest says. “Nonetheless, we all need to realize how important presentation/ marketing has become in this industry. Packaging helps to bring out the personality of that presentation.”                     GG
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