Becoming Consumer-centric

June 20, 2002 - 12:41

Editor’s Report

You might be wondering what’s going on here at GPN
that we have a dinner party on the cover of the magazine. Just bear with me for
a few minutes, and everything will be clear…

A couple of months ago during my Pack Trial tour at Proven
Winners (see pages 24 and 100 for part one of our coverage), Director of
Promotions and Product Development John Gaydos asked a question that plagued me
the remainder of the week and has been on my mind since.

He pointed to five colorful, distinct Bracteantha varieties
and asked if I thought the market could support another variety. Our eventual
consensus was not could it but would it. Let me explain.

I loved gardening before I became part of this industry, but
back then, a trip to the garden center was a different experience. I walked
around amazed at all the beautiful plants, trying to decide which of the
offerings I needed for my garden. Now, I walk in looking for a particular
variety — because research has shown that x verbena has better mildew resistance
or that y impatiens can take more sun — and I am inevitably disappointed,
as even the best garden centers never have all of the varieties I want. Which
brings me back to the question: would the market support more varieties?

My very scientific “gut” feeling is yes. When
officemates get a glimpse of the annual seed catalogues that are packed with
plants and varieties they’ve never seen, the ones that you and I take for
granted, they go crazy. I hear over and over, “Where can I buy
this?” They ask me to write down the variety name so they can ask for it
at their garden center. Chances are, they’ll be disappointed.

So would a new Bracteantha make these gardeners happy?
It’s hard to say in light of the fact that half of what’s already
available never makes it to the end consumer. We can’t keep turning to
the breeders for new introductions to make gardeners happy when over half of
what they already offer never sees a retail bench. Example, there are easily
100 pansy varieties on the market, and when you include panolas and violas, the
number becomes staggering.

How many of those make it to retail? Is it because the
consumer won’t buy them? No, the pansy market has shown double-digit
growth for years. Is it because we need another new introduction? No, new
colors or habit improvements are always welcome, and always coming, but the
core was in place a long time ago. The only reasonable solution is that growers
aren’t making the varieties available.

The Challenge

Folks, you’re clogging things up. Breeders put plenty of
new varieties into the system, and consumers lap up anything that they’ve
never seen before. The bottleneck is right here with the growers. I’m not
advising you to add something to your line just because it’s new. Why
make yourself learn how to grow a new variety if it doesn’t offer some
return either in growing ease or price point. The breeders are doing their
part. Look at PanAmerican’s new Easy Wave (culture information on page
104) as an example. The Wave is a great seller at retail, and PanAmerican has
made it easier for you to grow by improving its bench performance.

So, here’s your challenge: You’ve got to start
thinking more about the consumer. What does the consumer want? How much of it
do they want? How much will they pay for it? How can you make them want your
plants?

That’s what this year’s GPN/MasterTag Marketing
Innovation Award winner did four years ago, and now they’re on the verge
of taking their idea national. Deena Altman, Altman Plants, Vista, Calif.,
considered the industry’s sagging herb sales and wondered what she could
do to make consumers want to buy more herbs — how she could make it easy
for them. What resulted is a marketing program based on usage, an award-winning
promotional campaign and the June cover article. I immediately loved this
picture because it is a graphic representation of Altman’s motivation
— consumer use. (Does it make sense now?)

Before anything as progressive as marketing campaigns or
awards can happen, you’ve got to get more in line with the consumer. So
here’s what I’m really asking you to do: Trial at least five new
crops and 10 new varieties each year. Determine what would benefit your
operation, what’s easiest to grow, what requires less chemicals, what you
can make more money with, and make those varieties part of your offerings.
You’ll definitely see the return once the consumers see all the different
plants you can offer.

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