About a half dozen Top 100 Growers are located within 90 minutes of Lloyd Traven’s Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pa. The finest poinsettia grower Traven says he’s ever seen (Lederer’s Greenhouses) is also nearby. So growing a large volume of the standard 4 ½-, 6 ½- and 8 ½-inch poinsettias really wouldn’t be a wise move on Traven’s part.
While Peace Tree does grow a few poinsettias in those respective sizes, its approach with poinsettias is to supply some of the most unique forms around. In this interview, Traven explains why Peace Tree is looking away from 4 ½ and 6 ½ inch and creating new poinsettia looks that consumers are unlikely to find anywhere else.
GG: Is the industry effectively driving consumer success around the winter holidays with such a large volume of commodity poinsettias being made available year after year?
LT: Well, I see potential in some commodities where other people just see commodities and nothing more. Poinsettias are one plant like that for me. Years ago I looked at ‘Winter Rose.’ It’s really a dorky-looking pinched plant. But all of a sudden it dawned on me that with its habit, I could make it into a very small tree. So I talked to [Ecke Ranch’s] Jack [Williams] about it, and we started to explore at that point what we thought were the tiers of poinsettia topiaries. We did one that we called the Tabletop Tree. It’s about 24 inches tall, but it’s at the same scale as the big one. The following year, we rolled out the Desktop Tree.
The idea for consistently scrunching these down came from an ad in the trade magazines 10 to 15 years ago. It was from SePRO. It was an A-Rest ad. There’s this guy, and he’s holding in his hand what looks to be this tiny poinsettia in a 1- or 2-inch pot. He’s looking at it like, “Oh, what have I done?” It was probably a 6-inch pot they had scaled down. But I’m looking at it saying, “Oh my God, I can sell this.”
Last year, we did a [poinsettia] wreath for the first time. They were OK. The ones that were bad were hideous. So I said, “Let’s refine the wreaths, but I need to do something new.” Now, we’re going with the tree form even smaller. That’s the 3-inch Elfin Tree. It’s been a huge success. They’re completely sold out. I probably could have sold a couple thousand more of them, but this was the first time we ever tried it.
GG: Because you have unique poinsettia items you have a unique poinsettia price structure. Would you say the majority of growers are pricing poinsettias effectively, and are they filling the market with enough unique poinsettia items?
LT: When we tell retailers the price of our wreath, some people get it right away. It’s $25. It’s because we’ve got a clay pot on there; we have to do something to that plant every week as a grower.
The consumer wants it. They want to be the only ones who have this stuff. We don’t do millions of them. We do an appropriate number. But it’s the retailer who’s the bottleneck. The smart retailers are putting them as an impulse item near the register. Or they’re putting them in a fairy garden; or in a tiny cute pot or a tiny bag – something that sets it apart. You can’t just put the plant out there and expect it to fly. It’s not going to look good next to a 6-inch poinsettia.
There’s an exceptional retailer, Ed Bemis at Bemis Country Farms. He really gets it with poinsettias. They get packaging and display. He says, “I can’t give away a 4 ½-inch poinsettia, but I can put it in a wooden sleigh with berries and some pine.” That’s how independent garden centers make their money. You’re not going to compete with Home Depot.
GG: Can you share your vision of what growers and retailers should respectively be doing to further drive consumer success?
LT: Our job as a grower is to provide the palette that allows the retailer to be inspired. In other words, I make no claim that I have any kind of design sense whatsoever. In fact, I claim I have none. No clue!
But what I do know is whether or not an item is something a retailer should be able to use; whether or not it’s something that’s really cool and that consumers are going to look at and say, “Wow.”
As an industry, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re not selling product. That’s what we’re doing now. What we’re really selling is success and passion. Consumers should tell us what they want. They drive the bus.
We have people who look at our wreath and say, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like that. Then, to have a buyer say, “I don’t know.” Well, you’ve already decided the value of it. Retailers have already decided what the price point is, and then they buy to that price point.
GG: How can growers overcome the stubborn retailer hurdle?
LT: You can’t. So what we do is whittle down the numbers of the $3 [wholesale] 4 ½-inch poinsettia. We used to do 5,000 of them; this year we did 1,500. Then, people will be hungry for more of them.
What we’re doing is exposing retailers to the weird stuff – colors, configurations. Our Elfin Tree is a $4 wholesale item. The Desktop Tree is a $6 wholesale item. Why would I sell a single 4-inch plant for $1.75 and fight [a big grower] when I can sell something unique that I grow for $6. I’m not going to sell 10,000 of them, but I do sell 1,500 of them.
GG: We’ve talked completely about poinsettias to this point. Do you apply the same business sense to your spring crops to ensure success for retailers and, ultimately, consumers?
LT: We do not sell regular zonal geraniums. We do not sell New Guinea impatiens. Those are some of the top-selling items out there. We just do not sell them.
Instead, we have a tremendous selection of tropicals and succulents. We’ve been the herb specialists and the edible ornamental grower. You start going through this greenhouse in the spring and we are truly looking for unique items.
We’re growing the stuff retailers should position in a 20-foot square in front of their stores, and we’re going to show them plants they’ve probably never seen before. Our theory is that when a customer comes into a store – a new customer – they have about a 10-second span in which they can be impressed by you. After 10 seconds, they’ve already made a judgment about your store.