And the Winner is...

June 12, 2003 - 11:04

This year's winner solves the number-one consumer problem, while answering some other desired questions.

I know it's difficult for you to imagine being in consumers'
shoes as they wander through the garden center, but just try it -- try seeing
things through their eyes: "I like the color of that plant ...I wonder
what it is...it would look really great on my porch...I'm buying it." What
she didn't know was that the plant she selected needed full sun and her porch
has an awning that only allows four hours of sun to reach it.

It's the simplest idea for you -- you know that sun or lack
thereof and proper regions are very important, and you know what plants work
best where, but consumers don't. And this seems to be a pretty big problem. But
Novalis Inc. has found a way to solve that problem in a clear and
understandable way in its Plants That Work (PTW) program, and this is why we
are naming them the GPN/MasterTag 2003 Marketing Innovation Award winner.

Some Background

First you should know who Novalis is -- a team of four
nursery professionals based on or near the East Coast, Carolina Nurseries,
Moncks Corner, S.C.; Conard-Pyle Nurseries, West Grove, Pa.; Imperial
Nurseries, Granby, Conn.; and Willoway Nurseries, Avon, Ohio, working together
to bring exceptional plants to the market. Novalis, derived from the Latin word
meaning to cultivate, which is what the company prides itself in.

The PTW program was first introduced in 2001 as a program to
enable the consumer to pick up a plant, knowing right away where she can plant
it in her garden or around her home. The line of plants is divided into shade
or sun plants and is clearly displayed as such with colorful POP. Two
retail-ready racks, which together hold 160 "six packs" (80 shade and
80 sun), are supplied to the garden center. Pot sleeves -- with bright, clear
photos and understandable care information -- and handles are able to be
customized with the garden center's name, logo and Web site.

Novalis conducted research to determine its POP components.
"In many cases, companies provide signs, and they can't get the busy
workers to put the signs with the product. We were looking at studies from Kip
Creel [of NQuery] that said products on fixtures were selling faster than
products on the floor; with signs on the fixtures, the turns increased even
more," said J. "That led us to believe that if we could put our POP
on our fixtures, they couldn't lose it. It would be all tied together and our
product would fit on there."

Let There Be Light Or Shade

Though Linda Guy, director of new product development at
Carolina Nurseries and Novalis, and J.'s wife, had this idea in her head for
years, it finally took off in 2001 with a lot of planning and hard work.
"We spent quite a bit of time with market studies to help us really
understand what the consumer does want and need," she said.

While in the beginning stages, the program was just carried
by Carolina Nurseries and included strictly perennials. "It was just a
program we were running some perennials in, and now we're seeing what I call
the gray areas," says J., "where everything is washing together,
where what's in bloom sells, and we're mixing perennials with annuals."
And now the other three Novalis growers are contributing, which is necessary
since the program has grown in customers from 30 independent garden centers to
more than 250 in just three years. "This year, we are in over 250, and
that's pretty much in the footprint of the East Coast--Chicago, Tennessee River
Valley, Atlanta up through Connecticut. On this side of the Mississippi, we're
touching just over 250 nurseries," said J.

The colors chosen for the POP only makes sense -- green for
shade and yellow for sun. "We're just trying to go back to simple
marketing. As growers, we make it too hard for the consumer, and they were
saying can't you just do the simple ABC," says J. "So, we pretty much
said those were the colors. We never thought blue or brown."

And, the name? None other than horticultural guru Dr. Allen
Armitage from University of Georgia, who was helping out with a different
perennial project, came up with the name after a long, grueling meeting between
Linda, J. and Allen. "I hated it [at first]," said J. "But some
of the best ideas don't start off as good ideas."

Not Just Sun or Shade

While the issue of sun or shade alone might have won Novalis
the 2003 Marketing Innovation Award, the program actually answers some other
important consumer questions. "What we might call a perennial [in
Carolina], Tom Demaline at Willoway Nursery in Ohio might call it an
annual," said Linda. "So, there is a really confusing message going
out to the consumer." As PTW expands to other regions of the United
States, zone- and area-specific plant material will be more readily available.

Linda intentionally designed the PTW program broad to
include plant materials from Zones 4-9. It is then broken down to what works in
different sales regions. "You see plant material, and well-grown plant
material, from all over the country, but there hasn't been a lot of
responsibility taken for putting it in the right areas," Linda says.
"So the end result is success all around. And, you know, that's the only
way we're going to build great gardeners -- providing [gardeners] with the
tools to make them successful."

Garden Center Reactions

Nervousness is always lurking when introducing a new program
to the industry. There are skeptics out there, which can actually make your
product even better. PTW was no exception. "Some didn't like it (the
idea); some loved it," said J. "There are early adapters and the
latecomers." So, if possible, meet them somewhere in the middle.
"Some customers said the big rack didn't fit in their stores, and we came
up with a smaller half rack for smaller stores or wall areas." Pleasing
the customer is always a good idea. Á

Since good ideas don't always sell plants, we asked two
garden centers how the program is working for them. "People generally like
them [the perennials in the program] a lot. They have some neat varieties, some
that were a little out of the norm, and there were some pretty good deals. For
example, [PTW's] quart gingers sold for $4.99, and our gallon gingers were
almost $20 a piece," said Cheryl Aldrich, assistant manager at Habersham
Gardens, Atlanta, Ga. "And, we were real impressed with the quality."

"The plants are so good (high quality) that they almost
sell themselves," says Heike Franzen, perennial buyer at Hicks Nurseries,
Westbury, N.Y. "The program is easy for people who have no knowledge about
perennials at all. The program is really good, but I would recommend it more
for smaller garden centers, maybe in the $1 million per year range." In
just the perennial market alone, Hick's does more than $1 million, and smaller
garden centers will have a little more time and help to restock the fixtures
and/or shelves.

Future

"There are no limitations," says Linda. She is
hoping that someday PTW will make it out West, but it will come with a lot of
work. "As we move out that way, I'm going to have to work closer with
people from those areas to understand their specific needs, just like we are
doing further north."

There are also no limitations in the type of material
carried by the program. "We do some what I call 'softies' and we also
include flowering shrubs," says J. "I know Tom [Demaline] has some
spireas and weigelas for foliage color and texture. We are also looking for
blooms of the season, so we're installing some roses. So Plants That Work is
broadening out."

Marketing Advice

While you probably don't want to admit it, you've found
yourself looking at your competitors and thinking of ways you could make their
programs yours but make them even better. Use some of that strategy. You can
take a few good ideas or successful pieces and implement them into your own
marketing program or strategy. "Your Á competition forces you to go
out and do something. We all do that as growers -- look at what the other guy
is doing -- and it makes you do what I call 'play up,'" said J. "We
saw some successful programs, and I guess we were envious, and it motivated us
to try and do something better."

You can't really market a poor product well. Linda's advice
is, "Grow the very best product possible for whatever marketing scheme
that might be. Provide as much information as possible -- not just what zone
the plant is comfortable in or whether it's sun or shade, but what other
companion plants work well with these plants, how to use them, what form they
are when they mature, because it's very hard to look at something in a pot at
retail and know."

Congratulations Novalis from GPN and MasterTag on being the
2003 Marketing Innovation Award winner.

About The Author

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN. She may be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at cburns@sgcmail.com.

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