Education for All

February 28, 2003 - 07:04

Growers, buyers and end consumers, too.

This is the time of year when I am finishing up a lot of
training seminars for my grower clients. I conduct in-house seminars and
training sessions on a number of growing topics about which the growers want
more information. We get a chance to work with plants they are growing in the
greenhouse and discuss some of the newest information and how it relates to the
basic concepts of growing.

Having someone conduct a personal seminar for your operation
that is based on your needs, questions and uses for your facility, and that
targets your mission statement, is the best way to get education, but it's not
the only way. Growers are able to attend regional meetings and conferences
where they pick up good cultural and other information. I find that growing
operations that allow their growers to continually upgrade their skills with
seminars, conferences, trade shows or just visits to other greenhouses keep
their growers longer and improve their product quality.

Growers and owners have a number of very good regional
conferences and trade shows, and one big one in the Ohio Short Course. How
often do you have your growers attend a conference where they can improve their
growing knowledge? For my clients, I challenge the growers attending a
conference or trade show to come back with 3-5 key ideas, suggestions or new
products that can be incorporated into the growing operation and will improve
their product or methods. Each attendee has different assignments, so there is
no need for overlap. Soon after the conference, before everyone gets too busy
again and forgets, they make sure to review what was seen or heard and what
written information was picked up.

We have a lot of opportunities to pick up good information,
but I see a lack of interest from managers and owners to improve their business
and management skills, even though talks are offered at the conferences. The
same challenge I give to growers should be for managers and owners. What 3-5
new ideas or suggestions can you bring back to improve your business and
management skills?

Bringing it all together

But what about the rest of the floriculture industry? Who is
educating the store buyers or independent garden center operators? And what
about the end consumer? We can continually improve our growing skills, but if
the rest of the market chain does not improve, what good will this do us?

I think the biggest gap we have in the educational process
is between growing operations, store buyers and end consumers. The better we
can put together programs and services with stores and garden centers, the more
product we can sell for higher margins. Often, I hear about growing operations
that deal with the “big boxes.” You get an appointment for a
certain date and time to meet with the Wal-Mart buyer in Bentonville, Ark., to
present new programs and what you have to offer for the next year. They say yes
or no, and push you for a lower price. But how well do those buyers really
understand the plant products we are promoting? Do any of them attend the same
conferences, trade shows or trials we do? Without a better understanding of our
products and how to promote them to the end consumer, it is impossible to
increase value with better prices, sizes and quality.

On top of all this, I see continued problems when the main
office drives box store programs and regional differences are ignored. The
battle that Home Depot and Lowe's are engaged in with guaranteeing they have
the lowest prices is not helping our cause either. When marketing decisions are
driven by egos and not common sense, we all suffer. How can you, as a producer
for box stores, get the buyers back to offering their customers good value
without losing your shirt?

Finally, let's not forget about educating the end consumer.
We are trying to do this with POP, fancy labels, pots, tags and even booklets
in the stores. Do the chain stores you deal with maintain good displays and POP
to help sales? And how many different POP displays can a store handle without
confusing the consumer and themselves?

Good independent garden centers will offer in-house seminars
to educate their consumers on different products and trends, along with having
open houses to show off their products. Some even offer landscape design and
installation services. But how many will make house calls to help plan the
consumer's installation or help with a problem? The personal touch is what many
upscale consumers are looking for, and they are willing to pay an extra charge
for that service.

Education for the end consumer is more than just articles in
magazines or the local newspaper. When you consider your buyer as a consumer,
you will find there are ample opportunities to educate them about the value of
the products you sell. Remember, education is a never-ending process for the
different segments of our market. Why should growers have all the fun?

About The Author

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

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