Europe’s Grower Marketing

June 11, 2002 - 11:02

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 plant
material on display — is the variety of plant marketing programs.

Three very different programs from three different grower
groups illustrate both the diversity and the sophistication of European
marketing programs for live plants. All programs were designed for a complete
year’s selling season with specific products and members of the supplying
groups designated to supply each selling season. Not only does the retailer
know what plants to expect for delivery but also from which member of the group
the plants will be coming. Year-long marketing programs designed to encourage
customers to shop all the selling seasons are an integral element of both sales
and customer relations between the grower group and the garden center buyer.

Living Colours, Hausserman’s MaxPlant and Master
Stauden’s marketing programs are based on the desire of the grower group
to establish a relationship with their garden center customers and to provide a
wide enough range of products to allow the garden center to reduce the number
of sources from which it buys. Both of these goals are central to the Total
Quality Management program first introduced by C. Edwards Deming in Japan and
later in America. Of Deming’s Fourteen Points, these two loom large: the
importance of relationships between supplier and customer and the value of
fewer 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 multiple
seasons is the business basis for these programs. But, how do these companies
justify the considerable investment in in-store merchandising materials and in
unique packaging? That’s also a three-time, same-answer from the
participants, “It’s how we set our product apart from everything
else 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’s
not one fence banner to be found in any of these programs! Á

While each program represents a wide range of plants, with
many of the same products represented, each of the three marketing programs is
completely unique — from the sophistication of Living Colours to the
cartoon-like fun of MaxPlant to the traditional appeal of such garden
collections as Master Stauden’s Mein Englischer Garden and Der
Japangarten. 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 most
sophisticated, both in product presentation and in graphics. Perhaps the use of
a 5-part, silver candelabra in the trade show booth to represent the five
participating companies influenced me. The in-store merchandising premise is
simple — create masses of color without regard to plant variety. Color is
the logo. Living Colours delivers its plants trollied by color and the
participating retailer displays by color. The trade show booth was a visual
magnet: masses of red alongside masses of purple alongside masses of yellow
alongside masses of white. As Mike Berns at Bern’s Garden Center in Ohio
has proved, masses of color focus the customer’s attention. Living
Colours has branded this concept. Clearly, product turn and fresh restocking
are essential. Graphically, Living Colours offers the retailer a logo pot and
tags. In addition, the retailer has the option of using very sophisticated
Living Colours signage to create a department. Living Colours is available to
single- and multiple-location garden centers.


In contrast to the product-based sophistication of Living
Colours, MaxPlant is pure fun. With a season-spanning product line, MaxPlant
represents each product category with a version of their cartoon character,
Max. Max is shown in a variety of poses and outfits to convey various product
categories. Considering the aging customer base of the U.S. market, Max might
be just the right positioning to appeal to a younger market. The merchandising
materials include a cookbook for use in creating in-store events relating to
cooking and herbs. The company will even help the garden center develop events
related to their products. Company representatives explained how the marketing
program helped to solidify relationships saying, “Help them and they will
stay with you.” The MaxPlant program is currently exclusive to
single-location garden centers.

Master Stauden

The most traditional of all the marketing programs at the
IPM show is the gardening collections from Master Stauden. Preprinted leaflets
show the consumer how to put together an English garden, a Japanese garden and
other traditional garden looks. In addition, the program also shows a companion
planting for a rose bush, a culinary herb garden, a blue garden and such
traditional European gardens as a heather collection and a grave planting
— pretty simple stuff. The program is also delivered trollied but with
point-of-purchase signage attached right to the cart. Although the marketing materials
were very traditional — simple collections of plants — the
simplicity of the program coupled with year-round selling made it highly
desirable to the retailer. The Master Stauden program is available to both
single- and multiple-location garden centers.

The Facts

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

Maybe the Europeans are content with super-serving a smaller
market with fresher products. Maybe there’s more emphasis on environmental
issues, or maybe gasoline just doesn’t yet cost enough in America. But
here’s the fact: The European marketing programs were sophisticated and

About The Author

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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