Looking For Garden Leaders

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Looking For Garden Leaders

Hundreds of new flower varieties are introduced to the market each year but which ones really perform? This was a question Gary Grimes felt needed to be answered back in the 1980s, soon after he purchased the H.G. German Seed Co., which is now Grimes Horticulture, a national distributor serving growers from Concord, Ohio.

A lot of the new seed annuals that were bred for earliness and greenhouse pack performance were fizzling in the garden. “I started asking breeders about this and they said you can’t have both, the plant will either be late in the greenhouse or early in the pack,” Grimes says. “When consumers take the plants home, they blame themselves and say, ‘I don’t have a green thumb.’ But if they’re successful in the garden, they’ll come back.”

Grimes had a strong consumer orientation from years working for General Mills, Gillette, Spalding and other consumer product companies. He decided Grimes Horticulture would build its business around plants that perform under the Garden Leaders brand backed by a guarantee. Business partners in this vision are Bill Watson, Rod LeDrew and Robert Reed, who just joined the organization as sales director. Reed is new to horticulture but has an extensive background in publishing and agricultural fair management.

“Garden Leaders was the first brand name introduced into the bedding plant industry, but since Garden Leaders have no royalty, we have never had the extra margin and profitability to carry out extensive marketing and advertising that has been done by Wave and Proven Winners,” Grimes says. “Those brands have the bucks behind them and have more of a share of mind than Garden Leaders do.”

Vibrant In Veggies

Grimes Horticulture has positioned itself well in edibles by making herbs and vegetables part of Garden Leaders. Grimes’ trials include vegetable growing and tasting. Subbrands within the Garden Leader vegetable offerings are Tasty, Patio and Monster.

Grimes has partnered with garden celebrity Don Langevin, who is known for growing giant pumpkins and vegetables in the Northeast. It’s all part of a new hobby called Extreme Gardening, which ties in nicely with Monster veggies. There’s a cult following around these giant pumpkins, which can reach more than 300 pounds.

Grimes had a veggie booth at the OFA Short Course this summer and is publishing its first vegetable-only catalog. “We are well positioned to take advantage of growth in the vegetable business under the Garden Leader brand,” owner and founder Gary Grimes says. “From the grower’s perspective, it’s a fast, high-margin product. The expertise required is not as high compared to a pH-sensitive calibrachoa. Veggies offer the ability to make money and turn the greenhouse multiple times while maximizing space. It’s also encouraging that kids are seeing their parents grow vegetables again.”

Partner Rod LeDrew has been developing new products, including rooted potato sprouts that can be produced as a quick crop and sold alongside peppers and tomatoes. “Usually, consumers plant potatoes from eyes. They take eight or nine weeks to get started and are not uniform,” he explains. “A bedding plant grower can finish a 4-inch crop from rooted sprouts in four weeks that is table-top uniform. Consumers can get a jump on their gardens and produce potatoes in five or six weeks.”

The potatoes include novelty varieties in purple, orange, red and blue–colors you wouldn’t find at the grocery store. The new Quick Sprouts will ship weeks 9 through 26. Week 15 sold out in three days, LeDrew says.

Hindsight being 20-20, Grimes says if he could turn the clock back, he would have incorporated a small royalty to fund promotion. “We sell Proven Winners and Wave, which are very successful,” he says. “We’re a company that likes brands.”

The Garden Leaders brand has been used primarily by grower-retailers and wholesale growers who serve independent retailers and smaller, regional chains. Grimes Horticulture offers an assortment of merchandising materials, including 10-inch “Super Tags,” signs, banners, bench tape and logo pots. The signature color, yellow, stands out. “It really pops in the garden center,” Watson says. “If you miss that, God help you. We watch people in garden centers. Whenever there’s brightly colored POP (point of purchase materials), they go right to them.”

Watson wishes more growers and retailers would use brands and marketing at point of sale. “I’m amazed at the number of growers and retailers with no branding program,” he says. “The majority of the brands in our industry have been positive for consumers. Brands have been good for the industry, our independent grower customers and at improving our collective image in the marketplace. If you don’t promote your own brand, we would like you to use Garden Leaders. Our goal is to get consumers to buy quality products from quality displays.”

Big On Selection

Beyond branding, 20 years later, Grimes takes pride in the wide selection of more than a thousand varieties under the Garden Leader brand spanning annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs. Grimes conducts plant trials and evaluates plant performance in field trials throughout North America. Plants must perform in the pack for growers, as well as in the garden for consumers.

Being in the broker position between breeders and growers, Grimes Horticulture has formed a Garden Leader Brand Alliance of international breeders and growers. Breeders include Benary, PanAmerican Seed, Floranova and Suntory. Growers include Bartlett’s in Massachusetts (also a breeder); Buckley Growers in Illinois; Florida Plant Specialists and Speedling in Florida; Pinter Brothers Greenhouses in Michigan; and Shreve Greenhouse and Patchwork Gardens Greenhouses, both in Ohio.

“We continue to invest in the brand and work closely with our Garden Leader Alliance partners,” Grimes says. “Our development work on Garden Leaders never ceases.” Plants under the Garden Leader banner have been divided in groups that communicate benefits to growers, retailers and consumers. For instance, LoGro are plants that have a naturally compact habit but still offer full-sized flowers without chemical plant growth regulation. HiGro plants are taller and more vigorous to make a statement in landscapes. EZGrow plants are low maintenance and practically fool proof, like gomphrenas and Dragon Wing begonias.

“We spend the time doing the research anyone can do, but what grower can do that? What homeowner can do that?” LeDrew asks. “The whole idea behind Garden Leaders and its subbrands is we’ll do the work and point you in the right direction. We stay out ahead of the grower and do the research. It’s what we owe the industry. Otherwise, we’re nothing more than seed peddlers.”

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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