Creating Market Equalizers

Hort Couture founder and grower-retailer Jim Monroe is absolutely right to be concerned about the independent garden center channel getting left behind when it comes to new product development in plants and packaging.

It used to be the hot trends and cutting-edge varieties began with the independents and were later copied by large chains. More recently, box store buyers have been working with the entire supply chain on new product development. This has helped them bust out of the commodity trap, differentiate and even capture premiums.

A month before Spring Trials, breeders had a separate event just for box store buyers to choose their exclusives before the market had a chance to see them. This is why Monroe started Hort Couture just for the independents. “Breeders and suppliers are jumping the independent and that’s not a good dynamic,” he says. “It’s a numbers game. We have to be less independent and come together to provide enough business for them to pay attention to us.”

Several leading brands are available to both channels – Wave petunias, Burpee Home Gardens and Proven Winners. All three offer resources independents can take advantage of to tap into a national brand. While some retailers distance themselves from anything that will appear at a box store, I’d argue no one can do these brands justice and create a real destination the way an independent can.

I was at Green Circle Growers a week before Mother’s Day and was floored by all the fantastic stuff that was ready to be shipped to Walmart and Home Depot. The diversity in types, styles, shapes, colors and textures in plastic patio containers was just astounding. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t see anything like this at my local independent garden centers. To get a similar look, the combinations would have been in much pricier and heavier containers. I hope buying groups who serve the independents are looking at these new plastic styles, because without buying power, they won’t be offered to independents.

So here we have the great divide: The box store channel is becoming more fresh and innovative, but for the most part, we’re just seeing more of the same at the independents. Large retailers are embracing “masstige” – classy looking offerings at a lower price point. Regardless of whether it’s handbags or patio pots, most of us are “masstige” customers. Hort Couture is delivering just that with its fashion-forward but affordable brand. Monroe is a market equalizer.

He also was one of the first to jump on the 2D tag/QR code craze with MasterTag last year, which brings me to my next market equalizer – tag companies developing high-quality, universal engaging content to support plants being sold. While MasterTag has partnered with Learn2Grow.com, The John Henry Co. has developed BloomIQ.com.

John Henry created the website last summer after its promotion for veggies with AllRecipes.com was such a big hit at the 2010 Spring Trials. Growers said they wanted something like this to help consumers with flowers. There’s only so much you can put on the tag itself, but the QR code links consumers to information related to plants they purchased and a whole new world of inspiring projects and more plants to add to shopping lists. Collections are especially popular – deer tolerant, drought tolerant, sun, shade, etc.

The next step is to capture market intelligence on the site users via surveys and tracking where they go online. Proven Winners has found this type of information to be highly valuable with the audience it has grown. Consumers are often sounding boards before marketing decisions are made.

Because Bloom IQ is not tied to specific varieties or products, it could be our industry’s Got Milk campaign, John Henry’s Brenda Vaughn says. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she’s right. It’s just up to us to drive the traffic and engage more consumers collectively.

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2 comments on “Creating Market Equalizers

  1. “A month before Spring Trials, breeders had a separate event just for box store buyers to choose their exclusives before the market had a chance to see them.”
    So ultimately, IGC owners will simply stop going to spring trials.

    “Several leading brands are available to both channels – Wave petunias, Burpee Home Gardens and Proven Winners.”
    Except that IGC’s consider those big box brands now.

    “I hope buying groups who serve the independents are looking at these new plastic styles, because without buying power, they won’t be offered to independents.”
    We don’t want them. That isn’t how we sell things.

    “…. for the most part, we’re just seeing more of the same at the independents.”
    No, we are seeking out small growers who have unique stuff that will never be seen at big box stores. As I tell my customers now: if you see it advertised nationally, you’re less likely to find it at an IGC. Every big grower that develops a heavily-marketed line eventually ends up going the big-box route. So we aren’t interested. If my wholesaler has PW plants, I might buy them, or not. I certainly won’t be seeking them out.

    Kudos to Jim Monroe for recognizing the schism that has developed in our industry, and for doing something about it.

  2. The quandary is how does the IGC stay pertinent in this fast paced, ever-changing economy. Box stores spend incredible amounts of money and time to study their customers and what drives their willingness to purchase. Difficult to compete as an IGC but not impossible. In recent discussion it was noted that rather then Box store vs IGC, it really is a question of different channels for plant material to be sold. Every retail store must figure out what makes it unique and worthy of a customers attention and time to visit. The IGC must continue to differentiate with product, friendly and knowledgeable service, availability of product, and above all quality material at a fair price. Just as the grocery store has learned with selling food, it is not all about just selling the components to make a good meal. Many people do not have the time or talent to cook, so they choose to spend a little more and get a prepared meal at the Deli or from a frozen or refrigerated prepared meal. Notice how the grocers and suppliers have adapted to meet the consumer demands. We must do the same to keep our customers satisfied. We must figure out ways to package our products, inform our customers of the benefits, and help them overcome time constraints and lack of plant knowledge. They want to know that we are most interested in them having a succesful experience with our products not just in making the sale.

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