The Right Plant At The Right Time

The Right Plant At The Right Time

In the hotbed of bedding plant producers of Cheshire, Conn., the staff and employees of N. Casertano Greenhouses and Farms keep their eyes fixed on the big picture of the market. The goals of the company constantly keep the home gardener in mind. That idea affects everything, including how the greenhouse helps its retailers, its stance on marketing and the products its offers. Reaching through to the end consumer is wrapped up in everything the company does and believes in.

“We no longer exist in the bubble of wholesale producer,” says John Casertano, vice president and general manager of Casertano Greenhouses. “We’re much more keenly aware what’s required to be on retail shelves and make our customers more successful.”

A Plant For Each Season

To give extra guidance to home centers and small regional chains selling their plants, Casertano Greenhouses breaks down its product mix into five mini-season umbrellas: early spring (pansies, groundcovers and early perennials), May madness (during which, Casertano says, demand is nearly limitless), summer (larger perennials, combos and larger annuals), fall (mums, cabbage, kale, millet and aster) and Christmas. This lets retailers know what they should have on their shelves each month of the year.

“Our philosophy to make retailers successful has been the right plant at the right time,” says Casertano. “We’re not interested in selling an A to Z group of annuals or perennials in early April, clogging up retail shelves and then waiting for a reorder.” This method keeps consumers coming back to stores to see what’s new and keeps the turn rates for both the retailers and Casertano Greenhouses high. The greenhouse’s head of sales Mike Joy credits Casertano with being a pioneer in this method of marketing and selling.

“He’s sold 15 to 20 varieties in bud and bloom in a two-week window and has tried to build the business in inventory turns and color in the perennial section of the garden center,” he says. “It’s created fast growth in the perennial section and has helped our retail customers develop repeat visits.” There are still some retailers who buy an A to Z menu from Casertano, but those who have converted to the five seasons have grown at least two to three times per season, according to John Kam, vice president of Casertano Greenhouses.

Growing New Gardeners

With many in the Baby Boom generation hanging up their gardening trowels in favor of landscapers, and a Generation X that isn’t sure what their place is in the gardening world, Casertano Greenhouse’s approach to reaching both audiences has changed recently. The company marketed its own line of branded products until 2003, when it came to the conclusion that there wasn’t strong brand recognition for its products and the investment wasn’t worth such small reward. So Casertano scaled down its own product brands and stepped aside for the big branding programs, like those from Ball and Syngenta, to push through Casertano and to the retailer.

“It seems to be much more effective than a lot of smaller, family owned businesses coming up with their own marketing programs that were creating a lot of gray mass and nothing emerging as identifiable,” Casertano says. “This has allowed some real brands to emerge.”

A joint effort–a marketing campaign, a slogan, a person who will act as a lightning rod for the industry–is a necessary effort, says Kam.

“If you look at us as a high-tech farming industry, some of our brethren out there have taken what used to be a generic product and turned them into differentiated, improved products,” he says. “We have ‘Got Milk,’ we have ‘The Other White Meat,’ we even have the beef industry out there now.”

This type of marketing effort would put more focus on getting more people into stores and buying gardening products rather than pushing one brand or product.

“It may not be the most worthwhile effort to spend money on branding if we can’t get our customers into the stores,” Casertano says. “We don’t want it [gardening] to become what skiing has become–too expensive and people are not interested anymore.”

Becoming more familiar with what appeals to the end consumer is the new responsibility of the grower, Kam says. The largest retail trend the company sees is sustainability, which Casertano Greenhouses plans to address with a 2008 sustainable perennial plant line.

“We were production operations,” Kam says. “Now we have to be in tune with what the gardening public is interested in and what they’re going to buy.”

N. Casertano Greenhouses & Farms

Owner: The Casertano family
Founded: 1929
Size: 400,000 square feet of greenhouse, plus 14 acres of outdoor production
Locations: Cheshire and Wallingford, Conn.
Main Crops: Annuals, perennials, groundcover, poinsettias and Christmas products (wreaths, kissing balls, decorative products)
Market: Home centers, small regional chains, independent garden centers and landscapers

The Growing Landscape

Another trend Casertano Greenhouses is working to satisfy is the landscaping boom. The astronomical increase in the professional and rewholesale business at Casertano in the last three to four years has led the company to begin work on a new rewholesale yard designed around the time crunch landscapers often face. The new yard will be a small area with a broad selection of products so landscapers can get in, see everything, make choices and get out fast.

This new trend, along with the diverse customer base the company supplies, is reflected in a diverse product line, which includes four perennial sizes and annuals in two styles of flats, 4 1/2-, 6 1/2-, 8- and 12-inch pots, 16-inch combos and 10-inch hanging baskets. Managing that product and customer mix also affects the greenhouse’s production setup. Everything is potted on a line with an overhead soil carrying system, but transplanters are not used. The operation propagates all its own perennials and groundcovers (3 million finish perennials per year), roots its own cuttings and germinates all its own seed.

“The setup we’ve created fits our needs well, because it allows us to run a broad spectrum of pot and flat sizes very easily,” Casertano says. “Because of our diversified customer base, we’re required to do that.”

Through all its retail customers, however, Casertano Greenhouse sees its biggest challenge as finding and exciting a new generation of gardeners. “We’re interested in and are marketing to the landscape industry and understand there is a do-it-for-me trend at the moment, but we’d be very disappointed if home gardeners and people who have traditionally bought our products continue to decline,” Casertano says. “We’d really like to focus our efforts on developing that new generation of gardeners.”

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