Planting Potential

If you believe your business and our industry would benefit from collective marketing, now is the time to act and show your support. This could be supporting a locally grown program in your state or metro area, embracing a national marketing program or both.

Laurie Scullin presented a strategy that would not be expensive at all compared to the traditional “Got Milk”-style mandatory promotion order that raises millions of dollars through assessments. It could begin with a slogan and an investment in creative talent and resources. This slogan could appear on plant tags and existing marketing materials, the way “Five A Day” has promoted the produce industry.

While Scullin’s proposal speaks to individuals about how plants can positively impact their lives, America In Bloom is making plants very visible in cities and towns from coast to coast. Blocks of hanging baskets and median plantings on Main Street are a lot more visible and inspirational than your typical neighbor’s yard. AIB puts plantings front and center as a celebration of civic pride that spills over into parks and commercial and residential areas.

AIB is a national campaign, contest and revitalization program housed and managed by OFA in Columbus, Ohio. Floriculture and nursery industry members launched it in 2001 to raise awareness about the value of landscaping, and of course, to sell more plants. AIB has made significant progress as a grassroots initiative on a very limited annual budget of about $200,000. I’m one of the founders and have served on the board since its inception.

To date, AIB has engaged more than 170 communities in 38 states, ranging in population from a few hundred people to millions. While most of our entrants are communities with populations less than 25,000, we’ve had very large cities participate, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Boston, St. Paul, Milwaukee and even business districts in New York City.

Many growers and garden centers have approached their cities to get involved. While some are in a supporting role, others are leading the charge. I was thrilled to see grower Rick Webb of Webb Perennials in Logan, Ohio, receive the first John R. Holmes III Community Champion Award presented at the recent AIB awards symposium in Hershey, Pa.

Dave Williams of Williams Nursery in Westfield, N.J., led his community’s efforts this year and shared the results with his customers through his e-newsletter and blog. One wrote back, “You guys are truly the best! Proud to learn and buy from your wonderful family!” This kind of goodwill is just priceless.
When an industry task force organized to launch AIB nine years ago, it was on a leap of faith. Naysayers didn’t think it would last more than three years. Now we have eight years of experience working with the cities and the quality of the program we are delivering keeps getting better. 

What’s frustrating is so many people who are looking for an industry marketing program seem to have forgotten about AIB. We’re impatient and want an instant bang for our buck. But true grassroots movements are not overnight successes. The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City program is 33 years old. Keep America Beautiful’s tidiness/anti-litter campaign began in 1953.

In 2002, AIB had about 40 founding stewards who contributed the seed money to get started. Today, there are only 28 stewards and contributions are considerably less. All you have to do is walk the floor at Short Course to realize how many more companies could be contributing. You can support the cause by becoming a steward of the program and promote your business’s leadership. Now also is the ideal time to approach towns in your market for the 2010 program. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.             

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