Recently I spoke with a retail florist who was lamenting about the demise of his sales over the past few years. After researching some of the data available in the American Floral Endowment/Ipsos-Insight Consumer Tracking Study, it was evident that, in his market, there’s been a tremendous shift from sales in the florist channel to the supermarket channel.
We started talking about the reasons for this dynamic change in consumer behavior, and the florist pointed out that, with all of the corporate downsizing that’s taken place in his area over the past few years and the high work ethic that is prevalent in his market, most consumers have been working increasingly longer hours and, if they wanted to purchase flowers before or after work, the only place that was open was the supermarket. Knowing this, his store hours were still 9-5 on weekdays, 9-2 on Saturdays and closed Sundays. And he wondered why his sales were off? Maybe he needs to start operating for the convenience of his customers and not himself. Adapting to the changing needs, wants and desires of his customers, it was apparent that his competition already had and the numbers validated it.
Though I wasn’t able to attend the California Pack Trials this year, I’ve talked to many people who did, and I’ve read many of the press releases and introduction flyers that the breeders put together about their new lines and products. The general consensus was that there weren’t very many new and innovative varieties introduced this year. Sure, there was a lot to see, but very little that was truly new…lots of line extensions, filling in the holes or rounding out existing series, some new colors, etc., but nothing revolutionary that will “set the world on fire” and create the explosive consumer interest we look forward to each year to help drive sales.
Think about it…do we really need another red geranium or pink petunia? Is there really a difference between red, velvet, crimson and all the other hues that are available today? Can you tell the difference; more importantly, can the consumer tell the difference, and do they really care about all of the subtle shade variances? Why can’t we do a better job of marketing the products we already have, rather than attempting to introduce new varieties?
I agree with the need to develop products that generate grower benefits…varieties that are more disease resistant, germinate faster and with a higher yield rate, products that mature faster, etc. These are critical to increase productivity, control costs and turn faster — all essential to meeting the needs of a cost-competitive market and a cost-conscious, retail-driven business environment. But rarely do I ever hear about the features of these new introductions that benefit the consumer. Do these improvements increase the enjoyment for the consumer; reduce the watering and maintenance requirements; improve their chances for success with the product; or make it easier for them to use the products? The fact is that some of the genetic “improvements” that we’ve made over the years to benefit the growers have actually been at the expense of the benefits that the consumer sees. For instance, to obtain disease resistance, we’ve had to compromise or sacrifice the fragrance of some of the flowers that the consumer enjoyed, one of their initial reasons for buying our products in the first place. To increase short- and long-term consumption, we need to start focusing on breeding that benefits the consumer, not just the producers.
When consumers purchase a certain make and model car, they have a realistic expectation that the vehicle will perform identically, no matter what color they elect to purchase. When we expand a series of a successful (by consumer standards and performance) flower type by rolling out additional colors, do all of the new introductions perform as well as the initial introduction the consumer positively responded to? For example, this past Christmas season, I know of a retailer who directed their grower to put together a mixed bowl of novelty poinsettias made up of different colors of the same series. The concept was great…but the reality was that the red, pink and white varieties in the series each had their own distinct growing habits, grew to different heights and matured at different times. Bottom line, the grower ended up with a finished product that was unsalable at retail. I am empathetic to the challenges breeders face, but we need to consider how the consumer will view these new introductions or line extensions in context of the performance of the product they’ve already purchased and enjoyed; unless we do, all we are doing is setting ourselves up for consumer dissatisfaction.
Over the years our industry has made huge strides in breeding, production and technology, much of it researched, developed and funded by breeding companies, universities and industry groups. And as it has yielded tremendous benefit primarily to the growing community, it is definitely a good thing and needs to continue. But somehow, over time, we’ve lost focus on the fact that, at the end of the day, all of these improvements we make ultimately have to demonstrate benefit to the consumer, making their experiences with our products more enjoyable, easier, more fun, making them more successful with their purchase. I’m not suggesting that we jettison the work we’re doing to improve productivity and grower success, but rather, strike more balance so the consumer benefits are considered in the work that we do.
Why do we do the things we do? As you examine the answer to this question, hopefully the consumer plays some part in your equation…
Consumers are the end buyer of the product we sell in this industry. Why not try to work together to make them more aware of the things we can do for them?