When you think of carnations, you probably think South
America. But before we started importing cut flowers from our neighbors,
Colorado was the leader in carnation production in the United States.
With such a carnation proliferation in the 1960s, many
growers strove to differentiate. Their reaction: branding their products as
better, unique and different. But you can only have so many one-of-a-kind
products — and this market went from being flooded with an unnamed to a
variously named commodity. Branding without quality control only served to
prolong the inevitable demise of Colorado carnation production; oversupply
caused low margins, marketing became too expensive and over time, growers
became saddled with an unprofitable product.
At this point, you are probably
wondering what this history has to do with Welby Gardens, the runner-up for the
2002 GPN/MasterTag Marketing Innovation Award, especially if you know that this
Colorado-based grower does not grow cut flowers. The most important thing about
this digression is not how carnations were once strong but why they became weak
— and why branding is the reason. According to MasterTag consumer
research, Welby Gardens’ brand is recognized by 51 percent of consumers
in the Denver area — more than Blooms of Bressingham, Wave Petunia and
Welby Gardens developed their Hardy Boy logo in 1976.
They’d been in business for nearly 30 years and had witnessed the
carnation catastrophe. The Gerace family wanted the logo to be easily
identifiable and distinguish plants as easy for consumers to grow.
According to Alex Gerace, “We saw that if there
wasn’t some way to establish quality and recognition of your plants, you
were forced to take what the market could bear. We felt that by branding our
product — standing behind it and guaranteeing it — we would
establish ourselves in the market. We saw the demise of the carnation industry
and what happened when things became commodities; we see today what happens to
garden mums, which are offered by everybody at the lowest prices — that
you can’t establish both quality and price.”
Welby realized from the very beginning that they could not
just unleash a brand with a cute logo and expect it to work. They knew it had
to be nurtured and controlled at every step, from the greenhouse to retail.
“You have to have some kind of control over the product,” explained
Alex, “because logos in dead plants are not good advertising.” How
did they secure that control? By being choosy about their customers,
exclusively independents. “We knew that we had a good form of marketing
through independents,” he said. “They’re going to make sure
that someone takes care to water the plants because their profits are at risk.
A good portion of our success is who we choose to market to.” In short,
having committed retailers is directly related to your performance. “If
you’re not able to influence retailers, then all your work can be
destroyed,” Alex added.
Later, Welby tightened their control by funding newspaper ad
campaigns that helped customers increase profits. The campaigns began in local
papers and expanded to other critical markets where 4-6 retailers carried the
brand. “We placed ads for them, using their logos style="mso-spacerun: yes"> and identifying the retailers and the
locations where consumers could find Hardy Boy plants. It was very similar to
co-op; we basically paid the cost of the ads and they were required to buy a
minimum of the product in the ad,” said Alex. Individual retailers kept
track of their responses, and when they got 150-180 ad coupons in one weekend,
they had tangible evidence that the ads were working.
Welby’s Hardy Boy can be seen on annuals, perennials,
ornamental grasses and vegetable starter plants in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona,
New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Mississippi and Iowa — but
it’s to their line of Herbs that they are given special recognition.
The company’s goal with this line was to eliminate
confusion about whether herbs were hardy or tender. Herbs are designated as
“Exotic Alpine,” “Exotic Old World” or “Exotic
Tropical” based on their hardiness zones.
“Exotic Alpine” herbs will withstand frost and
are primarily perennial in Zones 4, 5 and 6. Picture an herb on the peaks of
snow-capped mountains; Alpine plant tags depict just such an image, which helps
consumers feel they can purchase gingko, oregano, thyme, Echinacea, mint, sage,
valerian, ChasteBerry Tree, Beton and blueberry without worrying about frost.
“Exotic Old World” indicates climates of the
Mediterranean and England. These plants — bay, citrosa, chamomile,
rosemary, licorice, stevia, society garlic, lavender, tarragon, fennel and
curry — are semi-hardy in Zones 7 and 8 and can withstand cold but not
frost. The blue sea and old-world architecture is what consumers see on these
tags, providing the visual cue that these plants thrive in temperate climates.
Tender herbs make up “Exotic Tropicals,” which
includes black pepper, vanilla, sarsaparilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lemon
grass, sugar cane, gotu kola, allspice and basil.
The Welby program has been awarded runner-up status,
according to MasterTag’s Joe Fox, based on the creative way it represents
the plant segments. “It draws on emotional appeal to the consumer and
goes beyond a traditional representation of specific plant
characteristics,” he explained.
Welby crafted an entire program around these herbs and
themes that includes information about the herbs — from mythological to
practical uses. Visuals and P.O.P. materials include plant tags, a
double-sized, 14- x 16-inch placard, banners and literature. When the program
was first launched, Welby placed newspaper advertisements listing all the
retailers involved and the various promotional activities that would be taking
place, including in-store contests for the best herbal recipes. Individual
retailers were able to give winners a full day at an herbal spa. One week
featured herb container planting, where customers came to the stores and either
bought or brought in their own containers for planting. The most impressive of
the contest prizes was a trip to one of the Caribbean spice islands. Employees
could even get involved. At some locations, there were as many as 13 staff
entries for herb recipes; the winners received Hardy Boy bedding plants or
Alex Gerace believes there is a definite benefit to grower-branded product: quality control. “If you have a nationally branded product,” he said, “it could be a good item but grown poorly. The good-looking plant will always perform the best.” Welby also has control over the types of plants they brand — they aren’t just new and unique, but proven to perform. Welby chooses items that perform well in the area they are shipping, running a 1-year trial on each plant to make sure they are actually able to withstand the end-market climate.
“If you’re going to brand, you have to be critical of your product, critical all along the way, not just until you get it out the door,” Alex advised. “If you see yourself as just one of everybody else, that you can’t do anything to your product to make it any better, then
you’re not going to be successful.” This is the moral of the
Colorado carnation — one that you, like Welby, can benefit from.
Successful branding is more than just a name and a logo — it’s having quality control and commitment to support that image. That’s how a little boy with overalls and a cap earned Welby Gardens the title of runner-up for this year’s marketing innovation aw