Europe’s Grower Marketing By Judy Sharpton

Three companies introduced programs at IPM and proved that there can be sophistication, fun and traditional appeal in marketing.

The most exciting parts of the Internationale Pflanzenmesse,or IPM, in Essen, Germany — beyond the variety and profusion of plantmaterial on display — is the variety of plant marketing programs.

Three very different programs from three different growergroups illustrate both the diversity and the sophistication of Europeanmarketing programs for live plants. All programs were designed for a completeyear’s selling season with specific products and members of the supplyinggroups designated to supply each selling season. Not only does the retailerknow what plants to expect for delivery but also from which member of the groupthe plants will be coming. Year-long marketing programs designed to encouragecustomers to shop all the selling seasons are an integral element of both salesand customer relations between the grower group and the garden center buyer.

Living Colours, Hausserman’s MaxPlant and MasterStauden’s marketing programs are based on the desire of the grower groupto establish a relationship with their garden center customers and to provide awide enough range of products to allow the garden center to reduce the numberof sources from which it buys. Both of these goals are central to the TotalQuality Management program first introduced by C. Edwards Deming in Japan andlater in America. Of Deming’s Fourteen Points, these two loom large: theimportance of relationships between supplier and customer and the value offewer suppliers for the efficiency of the buying process. In interviewing representatives from these groups, each of the three spokespersons, without knowledge of the comments of the other two, described this desire to build relationships with the garden center as a primary objective of marketing programs. It’s what the sports announcer would define as “the intangibles.” In sales, as in sports, the intangibles tend to be very tangible to the bottom line. Earning more of a customer’s business by supplying more products over more selling seasons certainly makes sense. It also makes dollars.

The value of the wider range of products over multipleseasons is the business basis for these programs. But, how do these companiesjustify the considerable investment in in-store merchandising materials and inunique packaging? That’s also a three-time, same-answer from theparticipants, “It’s how we set our product apart from everythingelse vying for the garden center customer’s attention.”That’s an English paraphrase of what I heard in several European accents.And what’s most amazing about all three programs is that there’snot one fence banner to be found in any of these programs! Á

While each program represents a wide range of plants, withmany of the same products represented, each of the three marketing programs iscompletely unique — from the sophistication of Living Colours to thecartoon-like fun of MaxPlant to the traditional appeal of such gardencollections as Master Stauden’s Mein Englischer Garden and DerJapangarten. It seems some garden designs are a big hit in any language!

Living Colours

Of the three programs, I found Living Colours to be the mostsophisticated, both in product presentation and in graphics. Perhaps the use ofa 5-part, silver candelabra in the trade show booth to represent the fiveparticipating companies influenced me. The in-store merchandising premise issimple — create masses of color without regard to plant variety. Color isthe logo. Living Colours delivers its plants trollied by color and theparticipating retailer displays by color. The trade show booth was a visualmagnet: masses of red alongside masses of purple alongside masses of yellowalongside masses of white. As Mike Berns at Bern’s Garden Center in Ohiohas proved, masses of color focus the customer’s attention. LivingColours has branded this concept. Clearly, product turn and fresh restockingare essential. Graphically, Living Colours offers the retailer a logo pot andtags. In addition, the retailer has the option of using very sophisticatedLiving Colours signage to create a department. Living Colours is available tosingle- and multiple-location garden centers.


In contrast to the product-based sophistication of LivingColours, MaxPlant is pure fun. With a season-spanning product line, MaxPlantrepresents each product category with a version of their cartoon character,Max. Max is shown in a variety of poses and outfits to convey various productcategories. Considering the aging customer base of the U.S. market, Max mightbe just the right positioning to appeal to a younger market. The merchandisingmaterials include a cookbook for use in creating in-store events relating tocooking and herbs. The company will even help the garden center develop eventsrelated to their products. Company representatives explained how the marketingprogram helped to solidify relationships saying, “Help them and they willstay with you.” The MaxPlant program is currently exclusive tosingle-location garden centers.

Master Stauden

The most traditional of all the marketing programs at theIPM show is the gardening collections from Master Stauden. Preprinted leafletsshow the consumer how to put together an English garden, a Japanese garden andother traditional garden looks. In addition, the program also shows a companionplanting for a rose bush, a culinary herb garden, a blue garden and suchtraditional European gardens as a heather collection and a grave planting— pretty simple stuff. The program is also delivered trollied but withpoint-of-purchase signage attached right to the cart. Although the marketing materialswere very traditional — simple collections of plants — thesimplicity of the program coupled with year-round selling made it highlydesirable to the retailer. The Master Stauden program is available to bothsingle- and multiple-location garden centers.

The Facts

Although all three of these programs have in some way beenexperimented with by American growers, the most remarkable aspects of theEuropean programs was the clear commitment of the entire sales team tocommunicate the features and benefits of these programs to the retailer. No onewas selling plants; everyone was selling the program with great enthusiasm.Secondly, all programs were year-round selling programs. Even though theEuropean market is aware of spring as an especially important season, allprograms focused on all selling seasons. Finally, the grower groups had made adecision to super-serve a regional market. Every program served a specificgeographic area. In the case of the Master Stauden program, additional regionalgrower groups were buying into the program with their own year-round sellingprogram, but those developments were just in the making at the show.

Maybe the Europeans are content with super-serving a smallermarket with fresher products. Maybe there’s more emphasis on environmentalissues, or maybe gasoline just doesn’t yet cost enough in America. Buthere’s the fact: The European marketing programs were sophisticated andregional.

Judy Sharpton

Judy Sharpton is owner of Growing Places Marketing, Atlanta, Ga. She can be reached by phone at (770) 457-0608 or E-mail at

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