Food for Thought

May 21, 2007 - 10:15

Tune in to Training

In an effort to turn out productive workers as quickly and efficiently as possible, some companies have started using video iPods to train new workers and provide continuing education for existing workers. In February, one Tennessee and Virginia fast-food outlet began using iPods for training in its 20 restaurants. Chuck E. Cheese started testing the technology a few months ago, and it is reported that retailers, banks and pharmaceutical companies are considering using it for clerks and salespeople.

The technology uses short video clips to show new hires how to perform various tasks. Unlike videos or DVDs, iPods can be quickly and cheaply updated by downloading new content as it is needed. Portability of the iPod allows training to be done on the job, in multiple locations and by employees who travel or telecommute. The areas being addressed include normal production activities along with customer service, ethics, troubleshooting, marketing and preparation for upcoming promotions.

Even though experience has been limited, the few companies using this training method report that training time has been significantly reduced and employee effectiveness increased. Companies also speculate the “cool” factor of the iPod has improved the company image with workers and facilitated recruitment.

The obvious application for floriculture would be training for daily production activities like watering, potting, pinching, spraying, etc. Imagine how quickly and accurately new employees could learn their jobs if they could watch proper techniques while doing the tasks.

But what about employees like higher-level growers who need to keep abreast of the new chemicals, production techniques or crop threats? For them, an iPod could be a portable library, a refresher course they can take at any time. And what about merchandisers? This technology could be an effective way to show in-store personnel how store sets and displays should look, what new products are available and at what stage of deterioration plants should be removed. For sales and marketing people, the portable, real-time product images, catalogue information, inventory listings and sales/promotional tools are almost invaluable.

Before you laugh off iPod training, remember that just 15 years ago there were few cell phones in our industry and just five years ago almost no Blackberrys or Treos!

 

Playing to the House

Though relatively new to green goods, the battle between national brands and store (generic) brands has been waged for many decades in general consumer products, particularly food. The private label message was always that the store brand of canned corn or aluminum foil was just as good as Green Giant Niblets or Reynolds Wrap only cheaper. To convey the quality of the better-known brands, the store brand’s packaging looked very similar to the national brand, trying to borrow from its familiarity while undermining its appeal.

This was pretty much the formula until Publix, an 878- store grocery chain in the Southeast, completely redesigned its store brand. Instead of mimicking nation-al-brand designs, it sports a clean, clever look with lots of white space and simple, crisp typography that looks upscale. Canned vegetables show a spoon with a few peas or corn kernels; boxes of garbage bags have pictures of dogs sniffing a garbage can; and aluminum foil boxes depict images of various foil animals.

For all of this, Publix has won praise from publications like Package Design magazine and Private Label Buyer and was awarded “In-House Design Group Of The Year” (2005) by HOW, a graphic-design business magazine. HOW usually recognizes rarefied design involving unique materials, limited production runs or goods from stores like Target that are associated with design. Boxes of store brand aluminum foil don’t usually get their attention.

So what does this mean for plant producers?

1. You can be very successful with an alternative brand.
2. Since the house and national brands are similarly priced but inputs aren’t, you can increase margin.
3. A unique house brand discourages store buyers from comparison shopping.
4. A well-designed house brand usually results in increased sales.

 

It’s a Dilly of a Dollar

The Canadian dollar has been surging ahead of the U.S. dollar, rising almost 50 percent in recent trading. So a U.S. $3 price tag that used to give a return of about $4 Canadian only translates to about $3.20 now. Obviously, this speedy increase has caused problems for businesses that export the bulk of their products to the United States, companies like many growers along the U.S./Canadian border. The unfavorable exchange rat coupled with high fuel costs for transportation and long delays at border crossings makes U.S. producers more competitive. If you have lost sales to Canadian producers or have potential customers who purchase from Canadian producers, it is probably time to make a sales call.

 

From Boring Bar Code to Brand Reinforcement

Customized bar coding from Japan (Are you surprised?) is coming to a label near you, and it may well be the next big branding frontier. Design Barcode (www.barcoderevolution.com), a Tokyo company that specializes in customized barcodes with an advertising message, has partnered with Seattle-based Pacarc, LLC to bring its concept to the United States.

The concept is to design fully functional barcodes that are incorporated into a picture. Many apparel makers in Japan use the technique to reinforce their messages to consumers: A package of sunglasses might sport a barcode with a winking eye.

Would U.S. consumers notice bar codes with logos or images? A trend toward self-checkout counters will put millions of eyes on the codes, allowing companies another opportunity to connect with customers. Imagine using a greenhouse, flower or some other floriculture inspired shape on your container. It would let you cleverly disguise a necessary part of packaging as a decorative accent and reinforce your brand message.

 

Financing Dreams

Home Depot has been quietly diversifying its holdings with the recent purchase of another catalog and an Internet site. And if its latest prospect, EnerBank USA, joins the company, “there will be virtually nothing the chain will not be able to provide consumers and professional customers,” argued George Anderson of Retailwire, a Web site that examines the retail market.

A state chartered bank in Utah, EnerBank specializes in home improvement loans to consumers referred by building contractors. Typically, these customers are unable to get loans elsewhere, and without that financing they would be unable to make their desired renovations or upgrades.

Offering lending would be a step beyond offering credit, already a feature at many retailers, including Home Depot. Most of the loans would be for much higher amounts than credit card limits, and although the loan money could be spent anywhere, Anderson said, “it is very, very, very likely that the proceeds of the loan would be used in Home Depot. The benefits are obvious.”

The possibilities for garden sales are obvious as well. With outdoor landscaping among the highest rated home improvement projects and more emphasis being placed on entertaining outdoors, it seems likely that at least part of the loan money would be spent on landscaping. Surely Home Depot is hoping the EnerBank acquisition will increase sales of high-dollar items such as appliances, cabinetry and the like…but it might also lead to a few new flower beds and more hanging baskets.

 

Grow Someone Else’s Sales

Ad Age magazine recently named some of the top promotional products of 2005-06, and who would have guessed that two floriculture products are among the five most unique? No longer satisfied with a logo t-shirt or coffee mug, companies are trending toward the more exotic in promotional products, and our product evidently fills that bill.

Plants that grow with logos on them and logo-printed roses were identified as great new ideas, but less technical devices such as pot covers or tags printed with a marketing message could also be effective methods of tying floriculture products to the $17.8-billion promotional products industry. With this market growing 5.1 percent per year for the past three years and competition coming from the before-and-after plastic surgery mug, promotional plants seem like an opportunity worth checking out.

About The Author

Jim Snyder is a partner in The Visions Group. He can be reached at snyderjim@alltel.net.

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