The 2006 recipient of the GPN/Nexus Intern Scholarship, Alina Lovelace, realized she didn’t want to be a grower after completing her first internship, which led her to a second, marketing-focused internship.
Often a person’s intended path is not always the one that works: Alina Lovelace, recipient of the 2006 GPN/Nexus Intern Scholarship, experienced this firsthand. She always believed she would be a grower, but after completing a growing internship, she realized the career wasn’t right for her. Not one to sit still (she’s involved in numerous activities), Lovelace sought another internship opportunity with Deroose Plants, Apopka, Fla.
Throughout her 3-month internship, Lovelace learned a lot about marketing and even more about the floriculture industry. “She just grew with this internship,” said Lisa Hall, Lovelace’s academic advisor at the University of Florida. “When I went to see her, she had the biggest grin on her face, and it would never go away. She was just happy to be there and thrilled with her experience.”
Lovelace’s journey into horticulture was a byproduct of being disciplined: “In middle school, I was nice at school but then would go home and complain to my mom about this and that,” explained Lovelace. When she couldn’t say anything nice, her mother, Lucinda, had her weed the yard. Describing herself as stubborn, Lovelace explained how she had to weed again and again.
After weeding the flowerbed completely, Lovelace got the idea to plant flowers there, too. She went to a local nursery with her mother. “I think my mom knew which [plants] were going to grow taller than others, but she let me do it all,” said Lovelace. “I really enjoyed watching all the hard work turn into a beautiful landscape.”
Her enjoyment of working with plants led to a Master Gardener program during her senior year of high school and eventually to the environmental horticulture program at the University of Florida, where she excels academically while participating in many additional activities. Lovelace is a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences ambassador, which means she is a face for and gives presentations on behalf of the university. She has been involved in the environmental horticulture club for four years and is currently the club’s president. She also has participated in the Professional Landcare Network’s (PLANET) competition for two years with the college’s competition team. In addition, Lovelace works in the university greenhouse and continues to complete projects for Deroose. “She’s been a great student, a great model for our program, a great peer leader,” Hall said.
Lovelace feels each activity is beneficial to her in different ways. She can communicate with her peers and be involved in the college through the horticulture club; the ambassador position helps to hone her public speaking and professional skills; and the PLANET competitions are opportunities for hands-on experience.
Lovelace fulfilled her department’s internship requirement at Lake Brantley Plant Corp., Longwood, Fla. She describes her first internship as a great experience where she learned many things — including the fact that growing is not what she wants to do. “Growing is not for me, and I always thought it was,” explained Lovelace. “I thought I was going to have my own nursery and be a grower.”
After discussing her first internship experience and work interests with a professor, Lovelace started thinking about marketing. She explained her decision: “If a friend has an essay that needs editing, I’ll edit it. I really like doing that and saying what needs to be improved. I always knew I needed to be in management, and I think marketing really helps me to maximize on those qualities that I have.” “I hadn’t seen the sales and marketing side of the industry. If this is really what I want to do, I needed to get my feet wet,” said Lovelace. So instead of choosing to take it easy her last summer before graduation, Lovelace looked for another interning opportunity.
Last February, Hall sent an E-mail about a sales and marketing account manager opening at Deroose Plants, Inc., Apopka, Fla., that was directed toward alumni and graduating seniors. Though the opening was not for an intern, Lovelace decided to contact the company any way and ask to be hired as an intern for a few months as Deroose looked for a full-time employee. After meeting with some representatives from Deroose, Lovelace was offered an internship that started in May 2006.
Hall encourages all her students to do an internship that focuses on their desires and aspirations. “I have had a few students who go out and fit [an internship to] what they want to do,” she said. “I also encourage them to speak to whomever the internship supervisor is going to go and talk to them about doing the kinds of things they think will help them professionally.”
At the beginning of her internship, Lovelace sat down with Deroose’s commercial director, Kristoff Baeten, and together they outlined her goals for the entire internship. Lovelace noted that a lot of the projects involved industry research, and, being new to marketing, she wasn’t sure how to proceed at first. “It was a lot of self-teaching,” she said.
Her specific responsibilities included profiling markets that Deroose was interested in expanding into, developing a list of national trade shows that have a floriculture component to them and opening relationships with advertising mediums that Deroose had not previously used.
To help with her research, Lovelace began using the University of Florida as a resource. She was enrolled in a marketing course beginning that fall and contacted the course professor early for advice. At the same time, she was reaching out to the industry to learn more about the different trade shows.
Ginger Goff, a sales manager at Deroose at the time Lovelace was hired, worked with Lovelace during her internship. “She spent her time looking through magazines, advertising capabilities and trade show possibilities for the company,” explained Goff. “She was unrelenting throughout the day, exploring different aspects of the industry via E-mails, Web sites and phone calls. On top of her daily inquiries, she took the time to improve the in-house catalogue, where she was able to organize and detail it enough to allow the sales team to hand it out at trade shows.
“She is an incredibly dependable and talented young lady who always does a detailed job on any task she is given,” said Goff.
Though she enjoyed all of her projects at Deroose, Lovelace pegs attending the Super Floral Show in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the best aspect of her internship. “I went out there and was really able to see trade shows from behind the scenes,” she said and described herself as a “kid in a candy store” during the event.
Attending the trade show gave Lovelace the opportunity to see her research in action: “The trade show brought to life how the floriculture market is structured and how some companies in the industry are vertically integrated in the market,” she wrote in her scholarship essay. She watched how the exhibitors interacted and listened to the different issues that industry members were talking about. Lovelace also learned more about the selling process, said Goff, by interacting with customers in a professional manner.
One of the specific lessons Lovelace learned was about value-adds. “I always thought you had to put something on the product to make it more value added, but then, especially at the trade show, I realized that people were adding value through different customer service things that they did. They may charge a little more, but you are going to have a salesperson who is going to help a grower at any time that they need them,” she said.
After the trade show, Lovelace created a report of her experiences at the show and suggestions for how Deroose can improve its marketing and target key audiences. She is currently still working with Deroose on projects to help reach the company’s advertising goals.
Lovelace also found that her internship at Deroose made her more cognizant of national and global industry issues. From speaking with people at Super Floral to interacting with Deroose clients and employees, Lovelace was able to understand how many issues, such as pay by scan, really affect the industry.
She realized, as the floriculture industry continues to face new challenges, technology is becoming increasingly important to embrace, both for businesses to expand and for younger generations to find interest in the industry. “As somebody who is of that generation, that new audience, I see that if these growers aren’t going to start making new programs that are going to start involving [technology] to reach us, our industry is going to go downhill fast,” she explained. “Honestly, my friends are like, ‘Plants? Oh, they look so pretty, but I don’t know how to care for them. There’s no button that I can push to make sure they can get taken care of.’ So educating the new audience in a manner that’s suitable for them is important.”
Lovelace also saw the industry on a global scale for the first time. A supporter of U.S. agriculture interning at an international company (Deroose is based in Belgium), Lovelace began to realize the difficulty international companies face in the U.S. market. “If there is a grower who is growing foliage plants from Florida and another from Belgium, I would tend to pick the one from Florida, personally. There are issues that [international companies] are going to face with that,” said Lovelace. Her internship helped to open her eyes to what international companies can offer and made her see the importance of looking to other cultures for help in developing products.
Lovelace’s interning opportunities have helped develop her love for the industry even more. After earning her undergraduate degree this spring, she is considering getting her master’s in agribusiness: “I could just do it in business, but I really want to do agribusiness, because it encompasses the biological factor that we’re dealing with, and it really focuses on agriculture and horticulture and our industry and targets it,” she said.
And that marketing class Lovelace took after completing her internship at Deroose? She said she did very well, and the class served to confirm everything she learned about marketing during her time at Deroose.