Inspiration to Innovation

May 8, 2003 - 09:36

This year's runner-up proves that inspiring customers can benefit everyone.

Which would you rather do: Sell a few roses to that
independent down the street or sell a whole program that consists of POP
materials, double the amount of roses and even some hibiscus? The latter,
right? That's exactly what Hines Horticulture is doing with its The Inspiration
Guide.

To make an end consumer understand product and purpose,
retail needs to understand first. The Inspiration Guide was designed to allow
the retailer differentiation in product offerings. And this is why the guide
has been chosen as runner-up for this year's marketing innovation award.

Who is Hines Horticulture

Hines Horticulture, a subsidiary of Hines, produces and
distributes horticultural products through two operating divisions -- a nursery
division and a color division -- that make up the green goods business. A
national supplier of ornamental shrubs, color plants and container-grown
plants, Hines' commercial nursery facilities are located in Arizona,
California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina
and Texas, where its products are marketed to retail and commercial customers
throughout the United States. Hines produces approximately 4,100 varieties of
ornamental shrubs and color plants and, since 1993, has added numerous plant
varieties to its product line. Apparent in The Inspiration Guide, this
expansion has added new products to both the color and nursery divisions.

"We designed the guide with the idea that it would be a
sales tool and an educational piece for both our sales team and our customers
to help them see not only what products and services we are offering but how
they could help them turn more product," says Tom Doll, strategic
initiative manager/marketing at Hines Horticulture.

History of the guide

This isn't the first year Hines Horticulture has produced a
guide much like the winner, and it won't be the last. In 2001, Hines created a
collection of different programs, with a binder full of banners, posters and
sell sheets. Last year was the first year of The Inspiration Guide, when the
concept was born with Hines' customers and end consumers in mind. "We
wanted to develop a tool to help our independent customers be more successful,
and that has always been our guiding principle," says Ted Pasternak,
contracts and communications administrator at Hines Horticulture. And with
their success comes success for Hines by pushing sales of product. "If it
doesn't help them sell product, it's not going to help us any," he says.

While the 2002 guide was an innovative idea, there is always
room for improvement. This year focused on making programs' features and
benefits clearer to the retailer. Hines hired professional photographers to
implement clearer and more attractive photos of product, and the merchandising
section was enhanced with photo shoots at actual garden centers. And now the
inspiration guide is going to be annual, so the improvements will be ongoing.

Inside the Guide

The team begins working on the guide one year prior to its
release. "We probably spend a good 2-3 months determining program
development and what the new products will be," says Pasternak. "We
try to shoot for a release date -- to be printed and in the hands of our reps
-- toward the end of June. So, we work pretty steadily from March through the
middle of May with a team of about 4-6 people."

About 7,000 guides were printed for 2003, which have
multiple uses throughout the year. "We deliver them by hand through our
Á sales consultants, and they're handed out at trade shows as
well," explains Doll.

The guide is broken down into three sections: Promotional
Programs, New Products and Merchandising.

Promotional programs.
This section outlines the numerous programs Hines offers, such as Fern Creek,
which provides a full-color banner and custom labels for a multitude of fern
varieties. For better marketing strategies, customers are encouraged to buy the
whole program verses one product, and Hines does have minimums on some of the
programs. "We think retailers need to do that sort of quantity in order to
have nice displays in their garden centers. And those kinds of displays, along
with the POP material that we supply with some of the programs, is what will
drive impulse sales at the garden centers," says Pasternak.

New Products. The
second section in the guide highlights Hines' new products. With the guide now
being done yearly, this section will allow customers to see more of the lines
and have more choices. Photos and cultural information of the new products is
included in this section.

Merchandising. The
merchandising section helps garden centers with display tips from display
layout examples to checklists for merchandising planning to the USDA Plant
Hardiness Zone Map. This section will encourage customers to keep the previous
year's guide for reference, therefore keeping the Hines name constantly
visible.

Results

So, how has the guide been accepted? "We have done an
actual survey that asks the questions: How are you using [The Inspiration
Guide], and is it advantageous?" reports Doll. "We've gotten a gamut
of positive feedback indicating that The Guide has been used for everything
from product reference for our new products to a training tool, especially for
the merchandising section, which [garden centers] actually use with some of
their new hires or mid-level management."

"We've had some customers we're very familiar with who
we talk to on a regular basis not only express great interest but also relate
that the guide has been a helpful tool to them and that they've been able to
sell additional product through the promotional programs we've provided in the
guide," continued Doll.

In 2002, sales to the customers who worked out of the
inspiration guide and participated in the promotional programs was up
approximately 11.5 percent. "The feedback we've gotten is that the sales
of those categories at independent retailers who participated in those
programs, whether they be the rose program or the fern program,
increased," added Doll.

Your own marketing

If you are looking to apply Hines' ideas and strategies to
your own marketing, Doll has a few suggestions. "Stay very focused on what
the end consumer will respond to. It's easy for us as growers to get swept up
in the comfort of either what we have to sell or would really like to sell, but
ideally, our focus needs to be on what the end consumer is going to respond to
in retail."

Hines keeps in mind the thought, "Sell-to has become
sell-through." "The days of production-driven planning -- providing
plant material that our customers bought because we had it -- has now become,
how does the end consumer react to it, what is the demand for it and what are
they willing to pay for it."

Doll suggests keeping up-to-date on consumer trends.
"Look around; look at your end consumer. According to a National Gardening
Survey that recently came out, our primary demographic is a 35-year-old female
or male -- the males continue to increase in the demographics -- look at the
35-year-old to 55-year-old female with an average household income of somewhere
north of $70,000 a year. Where are they shopping? What are they responding to?
What sort of tools are retailers using to cause sales? The green goods industry
is still fairly fragmented, and the opportunities are wide and abound in front
of us to help organize the consumer into making purchasing decisions."

About The Author

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN. She may be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at cburns@sgcmail.com.

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