Marketing, Branding and Proprietary Varieties, Oh, My! By Roger C. Styer

Where do growers fit into the new system of pitching programs directly to the big boxes?

I was reading through a trade journal last month and came acrossa one-page announcement for Easy Wave petunias from Pan American Seed.According to the article, Easy Wave petunias are selected for growing in?premium packs.? The article went on to say that Easy Waves areearlier to flower, more compact and easier to control with chemical growthregulators, but still fill out just like regular Waves in the landscape. Havingworked a great deal with many of my clients on growing Wave petunias, I thoughtthis new series was a great idea. But then I read further.

The ?Easy? name would not be promoted beyond thegrower level, so stores and consumers would just see the Wave petunia series ina newly designed handle flat with colored packs, only this new series would beminus a few critical colors available in the regular Wave series.

Now, I thought this program was a little like putting thecart before the horse, so I decided to talk with some of my larger clientsabout Easy Waves. Some of them had received some seed for trialing this pastspring, but no one was able to follow the trials to see if the Easy Waves wouldbenefit them. I asked key personnel whether they had been consulted aboutlaunching the Easy Wave program with their key stores. Most had not even heardof the Easy Wave program unless they were out at this year?s CaliforniaPack Trials.

However, the thing that really disturbed me was a commentfrom one of my clients who sells to Lowes. He said that Lowes was specificallyasking for the Easy Wave program. So, how did Lowes get hooked on Easy Waves?Let?s see, maybe they were out at the Pack Trials and Pan American talkedwith them. Good chance!

Our Marketing History

I don?t mean to pick on Pan American Seed about theEasy Waves. I think it will be good for growers. I just don?t think programssuch as this should be introduced without more grower involvement and trialing? and definitely not pushed to the retailers ? which leaves mewondering about marketing, branding and proprietary varieties, particularlywith big box stores.

Competition is intense between Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Martand, to a lesser extent, K-Mart, Meijer?s and Frank?s. Typically,big box stores focus on price and much less on marketing programs and evenproprietary varieties. If Lowes can have something different from Home Depot,they will readily sell it.

As margins erode, seed and plant suppliers have to sell moreof their products to maintain profits, and we are seeing more of the suppliersgoing directly to big box stores with brands, marketing programs and, to someextent, proprietary varieties. Brands such as Proven Winners, Simply Beautifuland The Flower Fields are fighting it out for shelf space. Some suppliers workmore closely with one chain or another, and may work out a limited-timeproprietary variety agreement to be sold exclusively through that chain.

Growers want to sell more plants at better margins. To dothis, they concentrate on store-specific marketing and branding, hoping thatthey can perform better than their competition and remain the number onesupplier for that chain in that area. How many different programs can thegrower keep coming up with every year? Once a program becomes successful, itgets copied, reducing its exclusivity and profitability.

Becoming Partners

It?s hard to say how well all of this is working. Oneof the best successes in developing and marketing a brand is certainly Wavepetunias. Even in big box stores, people will ask for them by name. Time willtell if Proven Winners works for the big box stores, but it certainly works forindependent garden centers. Price points may determine the success or failureof this program in the boxes. A great failure has to be My Favorite Mum. Thisprogram and brand was pushed to certain growers as a high-margin product butwas never priced or displayed properly in the box stores.

For store-specific programs, branding and promotions to workwell in our industry, growers need to become more involved from the start.Communication with key chains should focus on what is available, when to sellit, what package it should be sold in (pot, label, etc.), how it will bedisplayed in stores and price points.

I am really afraid that box stores focus so much on pricethat many premium products will not make it because of their higher productionand shipping costs. Trialing of the new products or programs should be done intest markets first, then rolled out nationally if that is what the supplier andchain want.

The key is for growers to become involved. If you want a sayin it, then you better get involved now! Work with your key suppliers, developnew programs, get out to Pack Trials and start testing new introductions.

Roger C. Styer

Roger Styer is president of Styer?s Horticultural Consulting, Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208- 0542 or E-mail at

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