Monday, April 25, 2011 A Grower’s New Frontier

My hometown newspaper, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, published an interesting story last week about a grower-retailer who went from a traditional family grower-retail business to one that generates about 70 percent of its annual sales from I've heard mixed stories over the years about growers who've tried e-commerce, but this particular grower-retailer, Hirt's Gardens, has found Amazon to be a great fit.

Alan Hirt, 63, says his company originally tried to sell products on its own website, but sales through it and eBay weren't enough to support Hirt's seven employees. Hirt always thought of Amazon as a book website first, but he found an opportunity for his own businesss there. Hirt's has grown tremendously over the last five years.

Sales are now $3 million, Hirt says -- 300 percent times what they were in 2006 -- and average orders are around $20. Hirt's Gardens doesn't just sell plants through Amazon, either. It sells other garden products and gifts.

"It didn't take long for us to realize that it's very expensive trying to drive people to your website with Internet advertising," Alan Hirt told The Plain Dealer. "Overnight we expanded our customer base to include the whole country."

The Plain Dealer indicates Hirt's Gardens is the only grower Amazon is currently working with.

Visit Hirt's Gardens on its Amazon Web store.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trees, Flowers Add Character To MLB Parks

I came across an unusual story this morning about 14 black spruces at the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins had 14 black spruces planted in center field for their inaugural season at Target Field last season, but the trees were recently removed for 2011 because batters found them distracting as they tried to follow the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand.

Fortunately, those trees have a temporary home at Bergen’s Greenhouses, a Top 100 Grower, and they’ll eventually be relocated to state parks and other parts of Target Field.

I’m a huge baseball fan and I’ve always believed the trees, shrubs and flowers you find at ballparks across the country add tremendous character to them. Here in Cleveland, Progressive Field had the Davey Tree Backyard Picnic Area for a number of years, and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (pictured above right)and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia have flower boxes atop their outfield walls.

I haven’t seen Minnesota’s Target Field yet but the article I read on the Forest Lake Times online indicates Bergen’s is putting geraniums and pansies in the outfield there this season.

“Hopefully they’ll make it to the postseason and we’ll have postseason mums,” says Kevin Johnson, co-owner of Bergen’s Greenhouse.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Blue Orchid

One of the most-talked about products unveiled at last week's Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was Silver Vase's blue orchid, 'Blue Mystique.' You've probably seen 'Blue Mystique' by now and cast a hate-it or love-it judgement. Personally, I think it's interesting. It's not something I'd buy for myself -- no, I'm not much of an orchid lover -- but at least a few growers seem to be casting 'Blue Mystique' aside as "the next painted poinsettia," or a product that's going to taint an otherwise healthy, existing market.

If you're a blooming potted grower, the more appropriate question than "what do you think of 'Blue Mystique,'" is whether or not there is indeed a market for it. Put aside your personal feelings and consider whether or not consumers would buy into blue. I've already heard one potential marketing approach for 'Blue Mystique' in "It's a boy!" Surely, there are other possibilities blue can build on.

My point is growers sometimes base their buying decisions on their own preferences when they should be basing them on the consumer's. I remember having at least a few conversations with greenhouse industry folks -- Marshall Dirks, Proven Winners' director of marketing & public relations, certainly is one -- who point out the backward decision-making that takes place in our industry at times.

Arguably 95 percent of the people doing the growing (a.k.a. product selection) are men, while arguably 95 percent of the people doing the purchasing are women. Wouldn't it make sense, then, to keep the consumer in mind? And buy based on the consumer's preferences rather than your own?

Most growers, I'm sure, keep the consumer in mind when they select product. It just makes me wonder if enough are dismissing new, much-talked-about products without having a rational conversation about that product's potential for their business.

Monday, August 9, 2010

State Of Botanical Gardens A Red Flag

Botanical gardens aren’t just looking for gardeners to come visit them these days. They’re looking for people who go to art museums and zoos.

So says Pat Matheson, the executive director of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, who’s quoted in a New York Times story last month in which author Judith H. Dobrzynski explores how botanical gardens across the United States are pulling the reins back on gardening and looking for new ways to attract visitors.

Gardening is, of course, still a primary draw of botanical gardens. But botanical garden directors are turning to food festivals, concerts and sculptures to draw crowds that used to visit solely for the showcase of flowers.

Times change, though.

“There’s a generation that will be less interested in gardens, but that generation is incredibly interested in what’s happening with the planet,” Daniel J. Stark, executive director of the public gardens association told The New York Times. “Recently, my own two daughters, and a friend, were reading me the riot act about cutting down some trees.”

Shockingly, Stark’s daughters are 4 and 8. And if they already care enough to preserve trees, our industry needs to be front and center explaining to them why gardening is just as vital.

The same should be the case for our nation’s botanical gardens. Food festivals and concerts shouldn’t be the primary motivation for visiting them. Plants should be the primary purpose, while events add value to the botanical garden experience.

Unfortunately, we have work to do to convince next generations gardening is worth the effort and our botanical gardens are worth a visit. The two go hand in hand, of course. So let the state of our botanical gardens serve as yet another reminder that gardening, in general, needs a boost.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rethinking America In Bloom

America In Bloom (AIB) has been around since 2002, leading the charge to beautify our communities, towns and cities with floriculture. But despite the nine years AIB has spent spreading the word of our industry, growth has been somewhat hard to come by.

AIB, of course, has involved 180 cities in its competition over the last eight years, and it has made its presence known in 38 states. But at a Tuesday breakfast at OFA Short Course, growers, retailers and other industry leaders discussed ways to reshape AIB with leaders of OFA and AIB.

First, a grassroots program like America In Bloom is only possible because of the volunteer board and judges who dedicate time away from their regular jobs to make sure AIB grows and connects more and more people to plants via education and its friendly competition.

Still, AIB needs more financing to connect more communities, cities and states to our industry. A full-time paid director and staff could propel AIB into thousands of towns over the next few years rather than the near 200. But from where will the financing come?

Ultimately, it should come from growers. But AIB needs to show growers precisely what its impact is on them. AIB leaders say the program has engaged 22 million people since its 2002 inception. And I firmly believe AIB’s role has generated more interest in plants, which, in turn, has resulted in more plant buying from the public.

But as Blooms of Bressingham’s Gary Doerr asked Tuesday, how do we measure the additional plant buying? If AIB can show how many more plants growers can sell as a result of having their community involved in the beautification program, more growers would be compelled to support AIB.

Of course, I’m not sure exactly how you measure AIB’s impact on purchasing – the industry leaders in the room don’t seem to have the formula in mind, either – but I do believe more growers would support America In Bloom financially if they knew the program directly benefited them.

Another point that emerged from Tuesday’s meeting is this: AIB is geared toward beautifying cities when, perhaps, it should be focused on neighborhoods and communities. How, as Doerr pointed out, can AIB beautify New York City? It’s a daunting challenge, yes, but beautifying Coney Island or the Upper East Side is a more manageable project.

Then, once you’ve showed Coney Island and the Upper East Side the value of plants, perhaps they’ll peak the interest of adjacent neighborhoods who want to get involved.

The bottom line is America In Bloom is a good program – a very good program. And it’s definitely the vehicle that can take our industry to new heights. Perhaps it just needs a makeover, as OFA President Danny Takao suggests in Greenhouse Grower’s July issue.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Planting Pride: Lompoc Valley

Lompoc Valley, a city in California that competed and won the America In Bloom competition last year, recently painted a mural honoring 100 years of the local flower seed industry in the city. The mural was completed in January and 200 volunteers from the area participated in painting it.

"All ages showed up to add their personal touch - from local high school students to business and community leaders, as well as employed and retired senior citizens," says Dennis Headrick, executive assistant for the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. The festivities also included musical entertainment and food for the volunteer participants."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How’s This For Consumer Advertising?

If you picked up a copy of Vogue magazine’s November issue – I’ll admit I didn’t, but that’s only because I’m a Sports Illustrated guy – you may have noticed Proven Winners is featured in a piece that links fashion to gardening.

You can check out an example in the picture to the right (click to enlarge), which is actually page 202 of the magazine. You’ll see Proven Winners pots at the bottom of the Vogue page at the base of the blue truck.

Danielle Ernest, public relations and brand development coordinator for Proven Winners, says Proven Winners was super excited to see the piece. She also shared some interesting data on who Vogue reaches each week:

• Circulation: 1.2 million
• Median Age: 35 years
• Median Income: $65,908

Danielle adds that a one-page ad in Vogue costs $128,220 – and Proven Winners’ product placement was not paid for.

How’s that for consumer advertising?