Fashion-forward plant brand Hort Couture has streamlined its supply network for spring 2010 by partnering with select breeders, brokers and propagators.
Instead of supplying a national market through a network of finished plant growers, three brokers will be the exclusive channels–Eason Horticultural Resources, Fred C. Gloeckner & Co. and McHutchison. At the propagation level, Raker will produce Avant Garde Annuals and Culinary Couture Urban Vegetables and EuroAmerican Propagators will produce Sunny Succulents and Runway Ready Grasses. Agristarts will supply tissue cultured Tres Chic Tropicals. Cuttings will be produced by Floraplant in Mexico.
“Before, we had accessibility issues with the program. Retailers have had a hard time sourcing the plants,” explains Hort Couture’s founder Jim Monroe. “Now that we’re selling through brokers, anyone can grow Hort Couture. We’ve been doing a lot of plant evaluation and will have our own genetics of vegetative annuals from A to Z. We will have 130 proprietary varieties for 2010.”
Key breeding lines include lobelias and calibrachoas from Westhoff, bacopas and scaevolas from Amerinova, petunias bred by David Kerley in England, gerberas from Lekkerkerk and diascias and nemesias through PlantHaven. Series names will support a fashion theme with Catwalk calibrachoas, Diva diascias and Panache petunias.
Raker’s Gerry Raker says he likes that this group is open to doing things differently. “We’re trying to build from the retail perspective up instead of the plant out,” he says. “Yes, genetics are important and we want to make sure we have great stuff. We’re not proving we have the best plants but presenting marketing that inspires women to buy plants. It’s really for independent garden centers to commit space to it and build displays for a year-round program. It’s going to be a complete collection of plants, not just spring annuals. The idea is it’s fun and sophisticated and will bring you pleasure, not anxiety on how to grow or make you feel you need to be an expert.”
He also likes that Monroe is open to Raker developing the processes to deliver. “We can produce in our tray sizes and use our box with a Hort Couture skin. It’s not, ‘Here we have a program, here’s how you do it.'” Raker says.
Monroe owns Greenbrier Nurseries in Virginia and West Virginia. While most brands originate with breeders or propagators, Hort Couture was established with grower-retailers like himself in mind. When he presented the Hort Couture concept at OFA’s Short Course two years ago, he never imagined the response would be so strong.
“I never expected an instant hit,” he says. “In our first two years, we have established a level of market acceptance. We sold several million plants the first year and have our POP (point-of-purchase) materials in hundreds of garden centers. We spent the first two years working the kinks out with pots, designs, varieties and vendors. We’re ready now!”
Hort Couture has streamlined the packaging side, too. “For the first time, when you order plugs through Raker, you can get the pots and tags in the same shipment,” Monroe explains. “For Raker, the pricing is all inclusive. The plant, delivery, tag, marketing royalty and pot are all in the price. POP will ship, too, but in a much more orchestrated way for the grower-retailer to experience the brand. I like to call it branding made simple.”
Elaborating on pricing, Raker says, “If you’re holding an 80-cent liner in your hand, then you just need to calculate the cost of the media and the cost to finish the crop to figure out the sales cost and if you’re going to make money on it.The pot is provided as part of the liner cost.”
After ironing out the supply issues, Monroe is looking forward to pursuing innovative marketing concepts. These include bringing digital television content to enhance the retail experience online and in garden centers and partnering with gardening celebrity Rebecca Kolls as a spokesperson.
“Gardening TV will launch at the IGC show this summer,” he says. “Hort Couture is the key content partner in this. It has been very successful in the United Kingdom in garden centers. We’re also in negotiations with a major cable provider as a loop into their news broadcast nationwide. We want to reach the Gen X customer in all of our media ventures.”