Inspiration to Innovation By Carrie Burns

Which would you rather do: Sell a few roses to thatindependent down the street or sell a whole program that consists of POPmaterials, double the amount of roses and even some hibiscus? The latter,right? That’s exactly what Hines Horticulture is doing with its The InspirationGuide.

To make an end consumer understand product and purpose,retail needs to understand first. The Inspiration Guide was designed to allowthe retailer differentiation in product offerings. And this is why the guidehas been chosen as runner-up for this year’s marketing innovation award.

Who is Hines Horticulture

Hines Horticulture, a subsidiary of Hines, produces anddistributes horticultural products through two operating divisions — a nurserydivision and a color division — that make up the green goods business. Anational supplier of ornamental shrubs, color plants and container-grownplants, Hines’ commercial nursery facilities are located in Arizona,California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolinaand Texas, where its products are marketed to retail and commercial customersthroughout the United States. Hines produces approximately 4,100 varieties ofornamental shrubs and color plants and, since 1993, has added numerous plantvarieties to its product line. Apparent in The Inspiration Guide, thisexpansion has added new products to both the color and nursery divisions.

“We designed the guide with the idea that it would be asales tool and an educational piece for both our sales team and our customersto help them see not only what products and services we are offering but howthey could help them turn more product,” says Tom Doll, strategicinitiative manager/marketing at Hines Horticulture.

History of the guide

This isn’t the first year Hines Horticulture has produced aguide much like the winner, and it won’t be the last. In 2001, Hines created acollection of different programs, with a binder full of banners, posters andsell sheets. Last year was the first year of The Inspiration Guide, when theconcept was born with Hines’ customers and end consumers in mind. “Wewanted to develop a tool to help our independent customers be more successful,and that has always been our guiding principle,” says Ted Pasternak,contracts and communications administrator at Hines Horticulture. And withtheir success comes success for Hines by pushing sales of product. “If itdoesn’t help them sell product, it’s not going to help us any,” he says.

While the 2002 guide was an innovative idea, there is alwaysroom for improvement. This year focused on making programs’ features andbenefits clearer to the retailer. Hines hired professional photographers toimplement clearer and more attractive photos of product, and the merchandisingsection was enhanced with photo shoots at actual garden centers. And now theinspiration guide is going to be annual, so the improvements will be ongoing.

Inside the Guide

The team begins working on the guide one year prior to itsrelease. “We probably spend a good 2-3 months determining programdevelopment and what the new products will be,” says Pasternak. “Wetry to shoot for a release date — to be printed and in the hands of our reps– toward the end of June. So, we work pretty steadily from March through themiddle of May with a team of about 4-6 people.”

About 7,000 guides were printed for 2003, which havemultiple uses throughout the year. “We deliver them by hand through ourç sales consultants, and they’re handed out at trade shows aswell,” explains Doll.

The guide is broken down into three sections: PromotionalPrograms, New Products and Merchandising.

Promotional programs.This section outlines the numerous programs Hines offers, such as Fern Creek,which provides a full-color banner and custom labels for a multitude of fernvarieties. For better marketing strategies, customers are encouraged to buy thewhole program verses one product, and Hines does have minimums on some of theprograms. “We think retailers need to do that sort of quantity in order tohave nice displays in their garden centers. And those kinds of displays, alongwith the POP material that we supply with some of the programs, is what willdrive impulse sales at the garden centers,” says Pasternak.

New Products. Thesecond section in the guide highlights Hines’ new products. With the guide nowbeing done yearly, this section will allow customers to see more of the linesand have more choices. Photos and cultural information of the new products isincluded in this section.

Merchandising. Themerchandising section helps garden centers with display tips from displaylayout examples to checklists for merchandising planning to the USDA PlantHardiness Zone Map. This section will encourage customers to keep the previousyear’s guide for reference, therefore keeping the Hines name constantlyvisible.

Results

So, how has the guide been accepted? “We have done anactual survey that asks the questions: How are you using [The InspirationGuide], and is it advantageous?” reports Doll. “We’ve gotten a gamutof positive feedback indicating that The Guide has been used for everythingfrom product reference for our new products to a training tool, especially forthe merchandising section, which [garden centers] actually use with some oftheir new hires or mid-level management.”

“We’ve had some customers we’re very familiar with whowe talk to on a regular basis not only express great interest but also relatethat the guide has been a helpful tool to them and that they’ve been able tosell additional product through the promotional programs we’ve provided in theguide,” continued Doll.

In 2002, sales to the customers who worked out of theinspiration guide and participated in the promotional programs was upapproximately 11.5 percent. “The feedback we’ve gotten is that the salesof those categories at independent retailers who participated in thoseprograms, whether they be the rose program or the fern program,increased,” added Doll.

Your own marketing

If you are looking to apply Hines’ ideas and strategies toyour own marketing, Doll has a few suggestions. “Stay very focused on whatthe end consumer will respond to. It’s easy for us as growers to get swept upin the comfort of either what we have to sell or would really like to sell, butideally, our focus needs to be on what the end consumer is going to respond toin retail.”

Hines keeps in mind the thought, “Sell-to has becomesell-through.” “The days of production-driven planning — providingplant material that our customers bought because we had it — has now become,how does the end consumer react to it, what is the demand for it and what arethey willing to pay for it.”

Doll suggests keeping up-to-date on consumer trends.”Look around; look at your end consumer. According to a National GardeningSurvey that recently came out, our primary demographic is a 35-year-old femaleor male — the males continue to increase in the demographics — look at the35-year-old to 55-year-old female with an average household income of somewherenorth of $70,000 a year. Where are they shopping? What are they responding to?What sort of tools are retailers using to cause sales? The green goods industryis still fairly fragmented, and the opportunities are wide and abound in frontof us to help organize the consumer into making purchasing decisions.”

Carrie Burns

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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