Getting Savvy About Tags

August 9, 2002 - 10:46

Spring Meadow Nursery is trying to change the way gardeners think about flowering shrubs. With a pull-through marketing technique and attractive, self-selling tags, consumers, retailers and growers are taking notice, even if they don?t produce woodies.

There's been much ado about annual and perennial
marketing these days, from P. Allen Smith representing the Flower Fields to
Proven Winners' Pikmin and partnership with The Weather Channel. It would
appear that every gardening application the consumer needs to know about has
been covered, from bedding plants, to fall plantings, yes"> to container gardens?except for one thing. Can you
hear that sound? That's the sound of money in a consumer's pocket
as she leaves the garden center. That's the sound of plants that
you grew but your customer couldn't sell.

A recent statistic says that 78 percent of consumers only
enter the color portion of the garden center, where they find annuals and a few
perennials. No problem, right? The majority of your product is right there.
Wrong. This way of thinking is going to send you the way of the dinosaurs. The
more your customer sells, regardless of what department it comes from, the more
able they are to expand and buy more product from you.

Realizing this interdependence between departments, Spring
Meadow Nursery Inc., Grand Haven, Mich., is introducing a new tag that devotes
valuable space to selling plants they don't grow.

Marketing times three

Aware of the void in good marketing for trees and flowering
shrubs, Spring Meadow Nursery developed ColorChoice, a program for introducing
new plants to the marketplace that integrates the widespread marketing of these
new introductions and a tagging support program that features colorful
photography and usage information. The tags drive consumers back to the
colorchoiceplants.com Web site for plant care information, where they can also
view other Spring Meadow plants and find out which retailers in their state
carry the plants. Tags for the complete product line were launched in 2002.
"We saw offering tags to the product line as a way to fill a void, and
the ultimate goal is it will increase sales," said Steve VanderWoude,
licensing director for Spring Meadow.

Using a three-pronged advertising approach, Spring Meadow is
attempting to attract the attention of all parts of the production/consumption
chain. They've published advertisements in industry trade magazines for
wholesale growers; in magazines such as GPN's sister publication, Lawn
& Garden Retailer, for retailers; and in consumer magazines such as Garden
Showcase. The objective is pull-through marketing: to encourage consumers to
ask their retailers to start stocking the plants they see in magazines, to
prompt retailers to put in orders with Spring Meadow growers, to enthuse
growers enough about the product that they will buy more plant material and
persuade retailers to place orders for it.

VanderWoude considers garden writers to be a great vehicle
for publicizing the ColorChoice program. Spring Meadow gives out 300-500 plants
each year to garden writers to encourage them to write articles about the
plants. "We did a piece this year on "Wine &
Roses" and it got picked up by over 130 newspapers across the
country, 50 of the top 100 markets, reaching 3.8 million consumers,"
VanderWoude said. "To me, that's pull-through marketing."

The power of a tag

Though the ColorChoice program dates back nearly six years
now, Spring Meadow recently revised its tagging program to reflect the
industry's needs and to add more sales-friendly features. What was once a
long strip tag that attached to the plants via adhesive and folded around them
got a facelift this past June. The new, rectangular tags now attach with
a string and feature seven, easily identifiable icons on the fronts for
consumer reference: sun, part shade, shade, attracts butterflies, attracts
hummingbirds, fragrant and cut flowers. The backs of the tags feature bulleted
characteristics of each plant, as well as facts about exposure, season of
interest, hardiness and size.

One of the best features of the new tags is a suggestive
selling component Spring Meadow calls Perfect Pairs: other plants that will
complement the current selection. "My thought process with Perfect Pairs
is that the consumer needs some direction," said VanderWoude. "It
could become part of a whole merchandising program for the retailer, who could
create an endcap with some of the combinations. My goal was to give consumers a
couple of ideas of what to pair with this plant so they'll go buy another
one." For example, one of the Perfect Pairs listed for Wine &
Roses is Rudbeckia hirta.

Spring Meadow sells more than 400 varieties of flowering
shrubs to wholesale growers in 49 states, and boasts slightly more than 3,000
customers. Growers pay, on average, a $0.38 royalty on each plant purchased
from Spring Meadow, which includes the cost of the tag; Spring Meadow requires
its growers to apply the tags as part of the licensing agreement. Some
licensees, like Monrovia, have been approved to use their own tags, while
non-licensed growers who buy individual liners must use the ColorChoice tags.
Spring Meadow channels 30 percent of its royalty cost back into marketing.
What's unique about Spring Meadow's program is that an additional
30 percent of the royalty cost goes back into the program, for such purposes as
identifying new plants for the ColorChoice line.

While the program is geared toward independent garden
centers, Spring Meadow does not tell its licensees that they cannot sell to
mass merchandisers, and to that end, VanderWoude has seen Wine &
Roses at Lowes. This does not mean, however, that independents do not
have the opportunity to make a premium on these plants. The challenge,
according to VanderWoude, is getting growers and retailers to understand that
this program is made for independent businesses. "You can sell them for
more money because they are premium plants, and the opportunity is really in
the first 3-5 years," he explained. "Get in, promote it, market it,
merchandise it--it's going to yield benefits to you."

Performance Worth Merchandising

Spring Meadow's goal is not to flood the market with a
dizzying array of new flowering shrubs, but to provide consumers with unique
plants that are guaranteed to perform and with adequate marketing and tagging
to support them. They have accomplished this through trialing. Three acres of
display gardens on Spring Meadow's property showcase well over 800-1,000
varieties of plants; by comparison, there are only 43 new additions to the
company catalog this year. Tim Wood, horticulturist and product development
manager, and Dale Deppe, owner, travel the world in search of new plants,
including Korea, Belgium, England and The Netherlands. For a variety to be
selected, it must be something different than what's currently available
on the market, and it must evoke excitement in the consumer. It must also show
good form, flower for a relatively long period of time and be attractive and
"sellable" even when not in bloom, among other judging factors. Spring
Meadow invites all of its licensees to come visit the nursery as often as they
please, for two reasons. "First, it gives them the chance to get an idea
of what we may introduce in the next couple of years," said VanderWoude.
"And second, it gives us an opportunity to get feedback from them."

VanderWoude has visions for the way he'd like
retailers to merchandise ColorChoice plants, visions that he believes could
help them sell more. How? First, he suggests that we stop the segregation of
plant categories and think more in terms of cross-merchandising.
"There's almost nobody in the country integrating shrubs and
perennials," VanderWoude said. "I think as long as we maintain
these double yellow lines between departments, it only increases the confusion
for the consumer. Imagine a garden center that has delineated sun and shade
[departments], and plants that can be grown in both areas are located in both
areas. Maybe there's a nice, weeping red Japanese maple positioned on the
bench or on an endcap display, wrapped with hostas and whatever else. Right now
we sell all the Japanese maples out in the tree lot in full sun, and so we, in
essence, increase the amount of information our staff must share, while
reducing the ability to sell plants because we make it more confusing."

It doesn't have to be confusing with the right
merchandising. Spring Meadow has provided the tools with tags and is driving
demand through advertising--with some effort, the potential to maximize
your sales is in your hands.

About The Author

Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor of GPN.

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