The Top 100 Growers were production-driven businesses just a few years ago. Many grew seemingly endless products and had the good fortune of finding buyers even in a pinch. Discounting was an option to keep product moving, and margins were favorable.
Fast forward to today’s Top 100, and it’s a sales-driven group that talks largely about tighter margins and the need to have the right product on the right shelves at the right time. The truth is today’s industry is vastly different than the one many of the Top 100 originally experienced. And the strongest growers are the ones adapting their operations and tailoring products to the retailer’s needs.
“You just can’t overproduce something today,” says Randy Gilde, an owner at Delray Plants. “You can move some of it, but generally if your product isn’t positioned at the right time and place for the store and its customers, you can’t sell it. And you can’t discount anymore because everyone is working off thin margins.”
These are realities growers like Gilde have come to accept. Gilde and others would probably love to return to the golden days of simply growing and selling. To be a Top 100 Grower and maintain the high-volume customers many of the Top 100 have, however, it’s critical growers evolve as marketers to ensure sell-through for retailers and success for consumers.
“Years ago you didn’t have to do the marketing,” says Gilde, whose company serves Walmart and Home Depot. “Many of the big boxes, independent garden centers and grocery store chains did a lot of the marketing for you. Today, growers have to do it. You either do it or you have to get a new career.”
Rather than pursue a new career, Gilde chose to adapt his business about five years ago when he ramped up Delray’s focus on marketing. Marketing used to be a function of sales at Delray. Now marketing and sales act as their own entities.
Part of Natalie DiScascio’s job as marketing coordinator at Delray Plants is to develop programs that tell a specific story to consumers. Here are three programs DiScascio and the marketing team have developed.
1. Direct To Dirt. Launched last year for Earth Day, this program features sustainably grown products with a rice hull pot that’s fully plantable and biodegradable. Direct To Dirt is available in four-pack carriers. “This is an Earth Day program but it can go in stores anytime throughout the year,” DiScascio says.
2. Green Greetings. Delray came up with this program after receiving a unique pot cover that resembles a coffee cup. After a brainstorming session, the team decided to print messages across them for holidays and other special occasions. Delray already shipped Green Greetings to Home Depot and Walmart stores for Valentine’s Day, and it planned to ship more there for Mother’s Day.
“It’s a greeting card and plant all in one,” DiScascio says. “In our research we found out there are 7 billion greeting cards purchased in the U.S. alone. You really can’t get a greeting card for less than $3.99 anyway, and these are 4-inch plants that are less than $4.
Delray developed six designs for Mother’s Day. Each holiday will have a Green Greetings available in Spanish, as well.
3. Breath Of Fresh Air. Expected to launch in stores last month, Breath of Fresh Air is focused on educating consumers on houseplant benefits. Delray has selected 6-inch foliage varieties that purify the air.
“We took those varieties and applied it to this program,” DiScascio says. “It’s visually appealing and it’s in a sleeve.”
Natalie DiSciascio was hired nearly two years ago as a marketing coordinator to lead the company’s effort in telling consumers the stories behind each plant Delray grows. DiSciascio’s hire allowed sales manager Cherie Velez to focus exclusively on sales. Gilde, as general manager, contributes to both camps.
“The workload at Delray became more demanding because we have been growing so much that Cheri’s role with sales and marketing really needed to spearhead sales,” DiSciascio says. “Marketing was kind of being put to the backburner, but the company understood that marketing is just as important.”
Delray’s customers, Walmart and Home Depot, expect their vendors to build programs that draw the customer’s attention. At the same time, Delray and other growers are expected to offer added value through packaging, price or another factor. Many of these responsibilities are new for growers who are used to focusing strictly on growing.
“We have to reinvest in ourselves constantly,” Velez says. “We have to find ways to take the products we have and make them a new product. I agree companies like Home Depot and Walmart expect us to do more, but it’s really in our best interest to do more. We have to do more to maintain our customer base.”
Direct Consumer Contact
For Delray, maintaining its customer base means interacting directly with consumers. Today, Delray positions most of its plants on the garden center floor itself – as do many Top 100 Growers. Delray takes an active role in weekend events at stores, and it uses social media regularly.
“Social media has been groundbreaking for us,” Velez says. “Our new line of YouTube videos is something we’re putting a lot of effort into. A consumer who may not have known how to grow a croton or what this plant is used for now gets the message we want to deliver to them. Social media has allowed us to form a real partnership with the retailer.”
Video in particular has been a huge project for Delray. DiScascio produces video in both English and Spanish. She and her staff handle on-camera speaking roles, and the company’s IT department edits the videos.
Video can be an overwhelming project from planning to shooting and editing, but it’s a great way to connect with the next generation of gardeners with whom growers struggle to reach.
“Everything is iPhone and Android with this younger generation,” DiScascio says. “We try to include a video on each of our programs for YouTube, whether we’re featuring a product or someone talking in the greenhouse about a trend.”
Producing video and connecting directly with consumers may not be your number one priority. But the way DiScascio sees it, no one knows your product better than you. So it makes sense growers should be the ones on camera and the handlers of such projects.
“The goal is to reach the end consumer and help them reach a point where they aren’t intimidated about your product,” she says. “In the end, we’re really teaching the end consumer more about plants. There’s no downside to it.”
Quantifying Your Investment
Well, one potential downside from a business standpoint of producing video, managing Facebook and taking on responsibilities that some argue should be the retailer’s is that it’s difficult to quantify a marketing investment. As Gilde says, he can send a team to IPM Essen or HortiFair for new ideas that will help Delray develop programs and products for its customers – but he only knows his costs in such a case and not the return on his investment.
“When you buy a potting machine, you know exactly what it has to do to pay for itself,” he says. “That’s part of the problem with marketing today. But sometimes you just have to do those things.”
Velez agrees. “I think more than anything our long-term goal is to make sure consumers understand our plants and how to use them,” she says. “We have to put a lot of effort into that end experience for the consumer. Yes, this is a challenge. But we look at every challenge as an opportunity. “We’re having a lot of fun trying to figure out what the new frontier of our industry is.”