Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Sneak Peek At The Burpee Home Garden Line

Ball Horticultural Co. had a large Burpee display at its booth to kick off the nationwide launch of its new line of herbs and veggies. It had been tested in two markets this spring, Dallas and Baltimore.
Growers can buy the program either in a plastic pot or in a Ball-approved sustainable pot. On display in the Ball booth and Summit Plastics booth were wheat chaff-based pots with the Burpee Home Garden logo. It’s one of the first biodegradable pots that can be printed on, and is available in 4-inch or 6-inch sizes.

The line is extensive, featuring nearly 30 kinds of tomatoes - some of which are exclusive to the Burpee Home Gardens brand. It also features a variety of peppers, herbs, cole crops (like brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower), lettuce, vining crops (like cucumbers, melons and squash), beans and eggplant, among others.

Along with branded point of purchase material like pots, tags and signage, the program also will be supported through a consumer print, online and radio advertising campaign, as well as a website,

For more on the program, visit

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Getting Into Web 2.0

Social media was on the program for Short Course 2009, and it was great, especially for me, to see so many attendees interested in or using social media. The presenter of Audacity of Change: Social Media was Roy Prevost and here's some of his advice:
  • Have a plan. If you don't have a plan, don't get into social media. It will be a waste of your time. The caveat? The rest of the world is moving to social media. "I'm sure that's what you're thinking - another damn thing I need to do," Prevost says. "However, social media is where a lot of the population is going and you have to go where your audience is."

  • Get the right person for the job. Task a Gen Y employee with the responsibility of maintaining your social media. Or go to your local high school and ask for their biggest computer geek.

  • Use social media to drive people to your website. Include all your contact information on your Facebook page and link from Twitter to your site. But make sure there's something on your website to look at when visitors get there.

  • Social media is communicating, not selling. Social media is about talking to people and giving them important information. You can communicate from Facebook, you can't sell.

  • Americans have a short attention span. The short 140-character bursts of the Twitter microblog "plays exactly to who we are and what we do."

  • Choose one primary message. Decide whether you're branding your own name or your company name across all platforms.

  • Overhaul your headshots. Have several poses to choose from.

  • Review your domain name. If you don't like it, change it. Is it simple, is it memorable, easy to spell and say? If not, ask for input from your team.

  • Get friends. Import your address book into Facebook. Ask your customers if they're on Facebook and if they want to be your friend/fan. If you have heavy hitters in town, see if they're on Twitter and follow them.

  • Promote it. Add the link to all your social media in your email signature.
So follow Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center on Facebook. And our Twitter links are to the left.

For Compact City Gardening

Greenhouse Grower's One To Watch Jennifer Kurtz displayed the Urban Gardener program at the Kurtz Farms booth. Urban Gardener offers hard goods, products and ideas for gardens of all shapes and sizes. Urban Gardener plant tags come with a unique identification number.

Search for that number on the Urban Gardener website for more information about the variety purchased. This is a great idea for a young garden base that is both unfamiliar with gardening and tech savvy.

At the show, Urban Gardener showed off the Tomato Cage, a compact trellis for growing tomatoes or other vines.

A Clean Sweep

We're pretty happy here at Meister Media. You've read about our winning ways at Short Course this year. Our relay team came in 3rd place (but we're treating it like first). Also, TGC editor Jen Polanz recently posted the big win by Murphy Hendy of A Proper Garden. Great job Murphy!

Today's Garden Center sponsored Murphy in Short Course's first Merchandising Contest. He had some pretty stiff competition, too. The other contestants were Scott Daley of Homestead, Tina Bemis of Bemis Farms Nursery and Dan Truesdale of Rolling Green Nursery. Check out our slideshow of the displays here. This contest has tons of promise.

Oh, and the relay team (bottom picture from left to right: Kevin Yanik, Pete Mihalek, Richard Jones and Drew Newsome), we're guaranteeing 2nd place in next year's race. Above, you can see us receiving our bronze water wands. Dramm sponsored the relay, and let me say, they provided the coolest trophies - engraved water wands.

And overall, the race was a big success. In its tenth year, the Dramm 5k Relay raised $6,000, and $55,000 to date. The money has supported industry research, scholarships and America In Bloom.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Novalis Expands Edibles Line

I really enjoyed visiting Novalis this year at Short Course. The consortium's booth was actually a bunch of smaller booths that highlighted its growers, including Willoway Nursery and Carolina Nurseries.

This setup helped each operation feature what it specializes in, together covering the whole Novalis offering. The displays included the expanded Plants That Work In The Kitchen line, which now includes herbs, small fruits and retail-ready veggies.

"Novalis has developed innovative packaging for use with Plants That Work In The Kitchen," says J. Guy, manager and founder of Novalis. "Brand-based bench displays with engaging header signs, inviting bench cards and large-format mesh banners can be custom printed for retailers."

The packaging for the line includes six-pack trays, so retailers can offer customers medleys of garden herbs.

Other new exclusives for 2010 are:
  • Rainbow Sensation Weigela, an improved, variegated weigela with compact growth and soft-pink trumpet flowers.
  • 'Hot Summer' coneflower, with a mango-colored bloom that fades to an orange-red.
  • Chasmanthium 'River Mist,' a variegated white and green striped foliage.
  • Leucanthemum 'Banana Cream,' a bright yellow Shasta daisy for the perennial border.

Dutch Lilies Coming To America

The International Flower Bulb Centre (IFBC), Anthos (the Royal Dutch Trade Association for Flower bulbs and Nursery Stock) and Longwood Gardens invited Greenhouse Grower account representative Ann Reiss and I to a special OFA Short Course reception announcing a new event called Lilytopia that will showcase the latest lily varieties Dutch hybridizers developed.

I haven't been to Longwood Gardens, located near Philadelphia, Pa., but Director Paul B. Redman tells me the gardens are quite impressive. The gardens span more than 1,000 acres and feature 20 indoor gardens and 20 outdoor gardens. Yet now, those gardens and others will wow even more visitors.

Lilytopia, an event that will showcase more than 10,000 cut lily stems in a rainbow of colors and sizes, will take place at Longwood Gardens from May 21-31, 2010. The event was inspired by the famous Keukenhof Lily Show that features the latest lily cultivars from lilium breeders of the Netherlands. Lily lovers in the United States haven't been as fortunate as others who've taken in many of the innovative and fragrant designs Europeans inspired. Therefore, Longwood Gardens and its two partners are affording lily lovers a unique opportunity come Spring 2010.

"Longwood has a very long history with the Dutch bulb industry," Redman says. "Last year, we had almost 300,000 spring bulbs on display in the conservatory and across more than 250 acres of formal gardens. We have a full-time horticulturist, Juergen Steininger, who focuses on bulbs. Because of Juergen and our history, we had been having conversations with Anthos and [the IFBC]."

Redman believes if visitors (i.e. consumers) become aware of the Dutch lilies, there's a potential market in the U.S. Frits Thissen, a counselor for agriculture, nature and food quality at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, agrees.

"This event offers opportunity to show the people beautiful varieties of lilies," Thissen says.

For more information on the event, click here.

Got Thielaviopsis?

Your only shot at controlling Thielaviopsis, better known as black root rot, is with a fungicide. Cornell University's Margery Daughtrey spoke to a ballroom full of growers Monday about the signs, symptoms and plants black root rot targets.

"This season, it seemed like there were a lot of Thielaviopsis-infected bugs," Daughtrey says. "Many blamed [poor quality plants] on the rain, but plants didn't grow because of this fungus. You may have some white roots, but not enough white roots to sustain healthy plants."

Perhaps the most obvious sign of black root rot is black or brown roots. Black root rot may not be obvious to the naked eye, but unhealthy plugs may be infected at their center where growers can't diagnosis the fungus. Another more obvious symptom is yellowing foliage, which can also indicate an unsteady pH.

"But yellowing might also be a root rot problem that's prevening roots from taking in nutrients properly," Daughtrey says.

If growers want to be certain, they can diagnose plants with a microscope. They should also be aware black root rot pathogens spread through the five following carriers.

1. Soil
2. Water
3. On infected plugs
4. Shore flies
5. Fungus gnats

"We send it across country in tractor trailers in plugs," Daughtrey says. "It can also move in water. Thielaviopsis produces a second spore type produced in long strands in high humidity. If you happen to grow something on flood [floors], there may be some Thielaviopsis.

The good news, Daughtrey says, is black root rot won't affect all crops. The bad news is it's a nightmare for commonly grown crops like calibrachoas, petunias, violas, pansies and vinca. And now, a wide range of herbaceous perennial plants are becoming susceptible to the fungus, too.

Daughtrey says black root rot will become an increasing problem with time, but there are controls to combat it. The best control, she says, is thiophanate methyl, and two recommended products are Cleary 3336 and OHP 6672. At Cornell's trials, Daughtrey says triflumizole has been effective on black root rot.

However you decide to combat it, good luck!

Short Course Draws Dignitaries

In addition to being the most important show for North America's greenhouse floriculture industry, OFA's Short Course is a big deal for the city of Columbus and state of Ohio, as one of the top trade shows, only second to a an event that draws legions of body builders and Arnold Schwarzenegger in early spring. But the economic impact is more substantial when floriculture comes to town and stays downtown, filling hotels and restaurants.

Many local dignitaries attended OFA's president's reception on Saturday, including Columbus' Mayor Michael Coleman and The Ohio State University's famous president Gordon Gee. They want to make sure Short Course stays in Columbus. The current five-year contract expires in 2013 and negotiations will begin again soon.

Pictured is newly elected OFA President Danny Takao and his family at the event. Takao of Takao Nursery in Fresno, Calif., is the first West Coast president of the organization.

This year's event was also dedicated to John Holmes, OFA's executive director the past seven years. Holmes died unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 45 in February. The John R. Holmes III Community Champion award has been established in his name to honor his passion for the America In Bloom program. The award will recognize an individual who has been a driving force in an America In Bloom city during the America In Bloom symposium in the fall.

Murphy Wins!

The competition was tough, but Murphy Hendy of A Proper Garden in Delaware, Ohio (sponsored by Today's Garden Center) came out victorious in the first Merchandising Contest at Short Course.

He wowed the crowd with an amazing cloth waterfall and whimsical fish and "bubbles" to complement the plant material and meet the requirement of the "Fun In The Sun" theme.

He battled head-to-head with Tina Bemis from Bemis Farms in Central Massachusetts, who did a fun and fresh display of planted-up colorful watering cans. She even incorporated The Wedgie, her favorite planting tool.

Scott Daly of Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md., took home the People's Choice award for his terra-cotta inspired display.

All of the contestants were amazing, and set the bar high for next year's competition. I see good things for this event and hope it continues to grow. Special thanks to Murphy for all his hard work (and to A Proper Garden owner Bob Van Cura for sending him!).

Automating With Elle

Interested in getting an initial soak after transplant, but want to water from below? And ebb and flood irrigation tunnel? Then check out the Big Dipper WaterAll Hybrid from Blackmore. It works on your sticking, cutting, planting and shipping lines, and protects against disease threat of foliar irrigation.

I talked to Ken Marlin at Ellepot USA and he told me that sales of Ellepot machines have easily tripled in the last five years, and prefilled products have also seen expanded growth.

"It's not only for propagation anymore," Marlin says, and adds that North America is way ahead of Europe in adoption of the Ellepot.

Did you know that one roll of Ellepot paper can pot as many plants as one pallet of plastic pots? And once you've planted in Ellepots, Blackmore has more than 60 types of trays to place them in, all recyclable.

New Colors At Kieft

Kieft Pro Seeds introduced eight new colors in the Grandera line of gerbera at OFA Short Course. The line is grown from tissue culture and they're pretty gorgeous. Four of the new colors are shown here. Kieft also displayed a beautiful bench of seed gerbera and some cool ornamental peppers.

Another plant in the Kieft booth caught my eye - the Noverna Clown FI dianthus. It starts in a nice white and matures into a rosy pink. Kieft tells us its a great plant for kids since it seems to magically change colors.

And The Winners Are ...

OK, you've waited long enough to learn about this year's Medal of Excellence award winners. We unveiled them last night at our Evening of Excellence ceremony. The winners are as follows:

Industry Achievement Award: Suntory
Marketing Award: John Henry Co.
Editor's Choice Award: Lobularia 'Snow Princess' from Proven Winners
Industry's Choice Award: Lobularia 'Snow Princess' from Proven Winners
Reader's Choice Award: Caliente and Calliope geranium series expansion from Syngenta Flowers

Congratulations to all the winners and this year's nominees!

We also announced our 2009 Grower of the Year at the Evening of Excellence ceremony. George Lucas of Lucas Greenhouses in Monroeville, N.J., earned the honor this year. The other nominees were Hank Bukowski of Kube-Pak, Abe and Art Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses and the Pinkus family from Nortex Wholesale Nursery.

SunPatiens - Now Available To IGGs

The SunPatiens line of impatiens for sun from Sakata is now avsailable for independent retailers after several years of being exclusive to The Home Depot.

The line is the first of its kind to not only survive but thrive in full sun. It loves heat, but it also can take cool temperatures, making it a three-seasons plant, according to Sakata spokeswoman Jeanine Standard. The product for independents will have different POP and packaging designs to set it apart.

There are three different series’ of SunPatiens: Compact, Spreading and Vigorous. The compact series works well in mixed containers and in gardens as mass plantings. The spreading series has eye-catching variegated leaves, and also works well in mixed or monoculture baskets, bedding areas and garden plantings. The vigorous series is designed primarily for commercial landscapers.

For more information, visit

Monday, July 13, 2009

Working The H-2A System

Labor issues are generally not anyone's favorite topic, but Willoway Nurseries' Tom Demaline and Emily Jalkanen and ANLA's Craig Regelbrugge offered attendees some great insight on the pros and cons of using H-2A as a resource.

"Do the pros outweigh the cons?" asks Demaline. "We've been using H-2A at Willoway for 12 years and it has contributed greatly to the quality of plant material produced and the company's growth.
Among the many advantages he identified were:

1. Seasonality - "A guest worker program is ideal for our line of work," Demaline says. "Domestic workers don't want to be laid off at the end of the season. H-2A workers do, so they can go home to their families."
2. Culture - Domestic workers typically don't have an ag background when they come to the job. The H-2A workers do, he says.
3. Desire - A higher percentage of domestic workers have little desire to do the hard work required in this job, he says.

Jalkanen, who handles the H-2A details for Willoway, told growers not to try to tackle the program by themselves, at least in the beginning. "First time users need an agent or attorney," she emphasized. "One small mistake can hold up workers for weeks."

ANLA's Regelbrugge said the changes in Washington have reforms to the H-2A program in flux right now, although the groundwork has been laid for improvements. That said, the bottom line is that AgJOBS and H-2B reform aren't likely to go anywhere without some type of comprehensive reform in our national labor policy first. And it's such a contentious subject, every person in the industry needs to not just call and write Washington, but also visit and tell your story in person. "When we visit congressmen or senators, they show us stacks of letters from people who disagree with us. That will take more than an email every six months," he says.

I'm With The Band

So last night, Jen Polanz and I (Pete) sat in on maybe one of the best sessions/gatherings of Short Course - the Retailer Idea Exchange. We walked out of there with 10 or 12 awesome ideas for retailers.

Don't worry, we'll eventually share them all with you. Here's one that I thought was pretty cool:

Now I hope I get this right. This one was offered up by a gentleman who works for Germantown Greenhouses in Wisconsin. How about working with a local or near local high school and their band or sports team.

Working with the band, the crew at Germantown made these brochures that were given to the entire band. The kids are told to give the brochures to anyone they want, and then tell those people to take the brochure into Germantown's store and hand in the brochure when they make a purchase.

Germantown writes the total of the purchase on part of the brochure and keeps it for their records. At the end of a given period, Germantown totals up all the purchase totals they've collected on the brochures. They then give 10 percent back to the band.

So going into it, the band will only get a donation from Germantown if the band members pass out these brochures to people they know. Viral marketing?

An additional bonus...the shoppers feel like they're killing two birds with one stone. They're supporting a local group, and they're making necessary purchases for their gardening needs.

You can take this a step further and try hitting a high school that's in an area your customer base is a little weak. This is a great way to reach out to a few new customers.

Top 100 Growers Dish On Industry Issues

Greenhouse Grower hosted its second annual Top 100 Growers breakfast roundtable Monday morning. The roundtable gives Top 100 Growers a chance to get together, discuss their spring outcomes and dish on other industry topics.

This year, our roundtable included a panel of four Top 100 Growers: Gary Mangum of Bell Nursery (Md.), Mike Rimland of Costa Farms (Fla.), Brian Sullivan of Ivy Acres (N.Y.) and Mike Treiber of Color Spot Nursery (Calif.). The four answered questions about the markets and big box retailers they serve, buying decisions and spring demand.

All four growers were upbeat about Spring 2009, as were several Top 100 Growers in attendance. Costa Farms now focuses 75 percent of its production on indoor foliage, but the rest of the business centers around annual bedding plants. Rimland says Suntory’s mandevillas were standouts this year. Costa increased production of the mandevillas, and sell through of them was extraordinary.

The weather was the biggest factor in Ivy Acres’ success this year. Mangum, whose operation is well known for serving Home Depot, says spring weather hampered the business a bit but sales were better than usual when the sun shined. “I don’t believe the economy had the effect some thought it might this year,” he says.

A reason Bell Nursery, Costa Farms and Ivy Acres are traditionally successful during spring, they say, is because of the grower and retailer relationships they’ve formed over the years. Color Spot grows all of its own product, but as merchants asked the other three growers to increase their SKUs, they turned to other growers – some who’ve become monoculturists – who’ve helped them meet the quality and quantity needs of the retailers they serve. Partnering with operations that focus on one or two crops increases consistency of the product grown – and consistency is, of course, one major component all big box retailers emphasize.

“We count on partners from the outside,” Sullivan says. “We moved from 15 to 65 SKUs a few years ago. We can’t do 65 SKUs all by ourselves. Seventy percent of our revenue is earned in eight weeks, so we build more relationships each year.”

Mangum says Bell Nursery has a waiting list of about 20 growers that are capable of serving as competent partners. And all four panelists agree their merchants leave it up to them to find growers who can be good partners.

On consolidation, Mangum says he still has a lot to learn. Risk and responsibilities have shifted from the merchant’s balance sheet to the grower’s, and Top 100 Growers like Bell Nursery are continuously adjusting as risk and responsibilities shift.

One thing has not changed for growers like Bell Nursery, Costa Farms, Ivy Acres and Color Spot, though: They say all growers, vendors and merchants should be treated with respect, and all four expect the same business treatment in return. It’s increasingly important bills are paid on time, too. If they’re not, big growers can partner with others.

“I come from an era that paid bills the day they were received,” Mangum says. “We get product from people who do that. When there are problems, we’ll deal with them head on.”

Rimland agrees: “You build a long-term relationship with people you treat with respect,” he says. “People call us and say they want to work with us still because we treat them with respect.”

The ABCs of Signage

Stamped a “Marketeer Extraordinaire,” Judy Sharpton knows signage, and so do accompanying speakers Evelyn Weidner of Weidner’s and Dan Truesdale of Rolling Green Nursery. For the first session of the morning, the room was packed. For a topic that could easily spread out over a number of days, all three speakers did an excellent job packing in some must-dos and don’ts when it comes to your signs.

Evelyn started off the session - here are a bunch of useful bullet-points from her:
  • Signs are unpaid employees (silent salesmen)…have a lot on staff.
  • ABCs of Signage means All the information your customer needs to buy the right plant; Bold signs should be clean, easy to read and up-to-date; Coordinated, all signs must have one voice.
  • Always represent or sign a display on two-sides.
  • Don’t confuse a newer gardener with a sign that applies to one plant, but is displayed among a variety of plants. They might not know what plant the sign matches.
  • Don’t make corrections on a sign with a sharpie marker. No scratch-outs.
  • Large beautiful displays can be great, but make sure you have a sign somewhere that tells the customer what it’s comprised of.

Rolling Green’s Dan Truesdale is currently working on a manual called “A Signage Visual Style Guide.” When he got to Rolling Green, he admitted that the nursery had signs with fonts of all types. Here are some points raised by Dan:

  • “Signage should be consistent, like employee uniforms,” he says.
  • Dan’s a big fan of Ariel because it’s a clean and crisp font.
  • For those of you who are given multiple POP material from your growers, it’s okay to use all of it, BUT, keep it separate. Do not greet your customers with all of them at once.
  • If you are still a garden center that uses handwritten signage, remember the phrase, “One voice, one hand.” Assign ONE person to write all of your signs to keep the look consistent. Dan said, think Starbucks.

Lastly, you might wonder, how much is too much when is comes to putting up signs. Judy recommends stepping into the shoes of a shopper (or even invite a friend, who’s not in the business, to your store). When they walk around, do they (or you) think, “Oh my goodness. What do I do? Where do I go?” If so, you might need to ease up a little.

More Outrageous Marketing Ideas

If you ever get a chance to hear Ron Rosenberg of Quality Talk speak on marketing, I really recommend it. It seems a lot of retailers got ideas from his three-session-long talk at Short Course that they'll implement as soon as they get home.

Here are Rosenberg's top 10 marketing strategies to think about:

1. Focus on benefits instead of features.

Look at marketing materials and ask yourself So what? The most important real estate in your printed materials is the headline.

2. Look for examples outside your own industry.
Don't look at what your competitors are doing and do the same thing. Make your marketing materials about your customers, not about you.

Tip: Get a blue highlighter and a yellow marker. Take your brochures and literature. Anything that's about you, your history or products, highlight in blue. What's about your customer, highlight in yellow. Do you have more blue or yellow?

3. Walk to the edge of the abyss.
"The biggest mistake people make in their marketing is it's boring," Rosenberg says. "Peer deep into men's souls. See what keeps them up at night." Find out what motivates people. What will really get people to sit up and take notice?

We sell retreat, the getting away, getting hands dirty, physical rehabilitation. We sell the nice backyard where you can have a barbeque.

"Marketing is not an expense," Rosenberg says. "Done right, it's an investment with an obscenely high rate of return."

4. The Schnauzer Effect
Once you know someone matches your niche, why would you send just one letter? Keep sending.

Rosenberg has received repeated direct mail advertisements for schnauzer themed gift items. How do these companies know he owns a schnauzer? They bought list of owners of schnauzers from vets and license bureaus. How can you make this model work for you?

Tip: Your brochure should not include feature puke, bulleted list of your capabilities. It should explain how your customers benefit from your capabilities. "Our shrubs help you enjoy your outdoor patio.

5. Make decisions based on facts and data.
Calculate the value of a lifetime customer of your retail store. Here's Rosenberg's example of himself as an airline customer.
Average plane ticket: 500
Trips per month: 2 = 1,000
Months per year: 10 = $10,000
Number of years: 20 = $200,000 = lifetime customer value

How much does it cost to keep customers over their lifetime, compared to how much they'll spend?

6. Stand out from the pack.
Check out, which provides send-along items you can mail for promotion. Send your on a letter on a silver platter or send a message in a bottle. It will get attention.

7. The $50 Card
Find out how to guarantee that your market will respond to your communications. Have a specific purpose, a killer headline and a clear statement of value.

To get his college-aged kids to call home, Rosenberg filled out a greeting card, and wrote, "In case there's anything you need, here's a $50 gift card." And he didn't include a card. It made them call home for sure.

8. Great marketing examples are everywhere
Become a student of marketing. Watch QVC and the Home Shopping Network. Pick up the National Enquirer. The average price for a full page ad in the Enquirer is $86,400. If an ad is in the National Enquirer over and over, something about that ad is working.

9. Timing Is Everything
Birthday offers can work, but do them right. Don't be cheap. They don't all get redeemed and customers will spend way more than the offer.

10. Take Action
Why people don't take action?
  • Costs too much to implement.
  • My business is different.
  • I don't have time.
  • I don't know where to start or what to do.

Grower Town Hall: Differentiate Or Die

Members of the media aren't allowed to quote anyone who attends the Grower Town Hall directly, but there were lots of interesting ideas flying around at Short Course on Sunday night. Here's some of the highlights on the session, which discussed the next steps of our industry's life cycle.

The panel featured ag economist Charlie Hall, Goldsmith's Faith Savage, Brian Minter of Minter Country Garden, consultant Laurie Scullin, Sid Raisch of Horticultural Advantage and Lisa Takao-McCall of Takao Nursery.
  • "We're mature, in more ways than one. In such cases, unless an industry redefines itself, it finds itself in its last stages."

  • ANLA is focusing on improving the perceived value of plants in two ways: Developing landscaping as a financial asset, something to invest in; and the ecosystems services value of plants, which is that trees that purify the air and plants that purify the water.

  • We need to make sure plants are relevent for the customer. They want to know what's in it for them. Tell customer that dollar for dollar, the investment they make in landscaping has a bigger ROI than any other investment they can make. Other types of home renovation investments are declining right now, actually. The opportunity is to work together to get the consumer to understand the benefit of gardening. How do we get that message out?

  • The common thinking is that if we lower the price on plants, we'll continue to sell as many units. Actually, the opposite is true. If we raise prices, we'll sell just as many plants, if not more. The number one way to increase the image of plants is to stop advertising based on discount.

  • How do we get the younger generation interested in plants? Young people trust celebrities more than any vendor. Young people have connected with cooking through the Food Network celebrities like Rachel Ray. This year, young people having their first connection to the political sphere have followed Michelle Obama's lead and started vegetable gardens.

  • How do we leverage new Internet and social networking technology? Jump in and get started. We are losing transactions because some people aren't getting our message in newspapers and on television. We need to communicate with people the way they want to hear our message.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let Your Customers Tell Your Story

Marketing and customer service consultant Ron Rosenberg closed a jam-packed, Sunday afternoon-long series of sessions on marketing with a presentation on writing creating great marketing materials.
One of his best suggestions was to make better use of testimonials. Most of us already know that word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertising, but not many people make the best use of it, he said.

Rosenberg had several suggestions to help growers and retailers do testimonials right:
1. People are naturally suspicious of blind testimonials. Make sure you include the name of the person providing the praise for your business or product, along with their job title, location, and if possible, their website.

2. Tell a story. Make sure the testimonial explains how your business helped them make money, live a better life, etc.

3. A great way to get testimonials is to ask for them. Ask you customers to complete a customer service survey, and be sure to ask questions like "Why did you choose to work with us?" or "What was the best part of your experience?" The answers they provide can be instant - and glowing - testimonials.

TGC Merchandiser Wins Round 1

Congratulations to Murphy Hendy, merchandiser from A Proper Garden (and sponsored by Today's Garden Center) for winning the first round of the Merchandising Contest! He put together an amazing display of gift product centered around a sage green theme.

He was up against Dan Truesdale from Rolling Green Nursery, who did a fantastic display of Proven Winners plants. The competition was pretty tight.

Don't miss Monday's competition at 11 a.m. between Tina Bemis of Bemis Farms and Scott Daly of Homestead Gardens. It'll be another tough contest. The winner from tomorrow will battle it out with Murphy on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Great job all on a fun, friendly competition. The contest is a great addition to Short Course, and we look forward to participating in it for years to come!

Eberly & Collard PR's New Look

Eberly PR is now officially Eberly & Collard Public Relations, complete with a brand new website, complete with press releases on its clients and industry-related news.

The site is, and will also provide visitors access to the company's social media channels, like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.

Eberly & Collard Public Relations represents companies in the Home, Garden, Design and Agribusiness industries.

Transitioning The Business

The greatest piece of advice panelists offered Sunday when it came to succession planning? Communication.

Know what each generation needs to succeed after the plan is in place, and communicate the plan effectively to everyone involved.

On an individual basis, panelist Delores Steinhauser shared her story of buying her father’s garden center in South Carolina, Wingard’s Nursery & Garden Center. They had an attorney draw up a contract to insure everyone involved knew the plan. They valued the business based on the inventory and set up a payment plan for rent of the property.

Her advice to other retailers? “Think through the details of how you want the transition to look,” she said. She also said to consider buying the business rather than one generation gifting it to the next.

Carinne Peters of JR Peters Inc. said her family enlisted the help of a consultant provided by a local university program supported by grant funding at Lehigh University. They were able to lay out the process of the transition for free.

Energy Input Management Advice

Answer this question, growers: Why should you not want to buy natural gas when its cost per dekatherm is at its very lowest?

"Because you'll never know what cheapest is," says Bill Swanekamp, the president of Kube-Pak in Allentown, N.J., who led an educational Sunday morning on energy input management. "It's better to say you can pay so much for X many dekatherms and then buy it with no regrets. Don't be greedy, be reasonable. Fix a price you can afford as a business."

Kube-Pak purchases most of its natural gas at fixed prices, and Swanekamp typically prefers to lock a price in for one year at a time. For Kube-Pak, there are more advantages operating at a locked price. He's also learned from other payment approaches that turned disasterous.

"I was in Key West (Fla.) on vacation when the Gulf War in Kuwait started," he says. "Immediately, I went into my room and tried to purchase a contract for natural gas. I couldn't get the contract, and the price of natural gas sky-rocketed over the next couple days. It cost me $25,000."

The truth, Swanekamp says, is natural gas and oil are commodities. They can be bought and sold by stockbrokers and don't necessarily have to be used. Just a few years ago, Wall Street took control of half of energy commodities. Brokers bid against each other, and the prices of energy inputs rose ridiculously.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Build Loyalty Through Your POS

For some garden centers a POS system is just a really expensive cash register. That's not a good thing. During a session entitled "POS for Customer Relations," IGC consultant Sid Raisch explained nuances of POS systems and how they can help you connect with your customers.

POS systems are notorious for their finance and inventory control capabilities, but more and more garden centers need to start tapping into its database to learn about their customers and their buying habits.

Referencing a Dale Carnegie principle, Sid said, "The sweetest sound to any person is the sound of their own name." And that's where many of us come up short, missing out on providing that personal connection. Gathering customer names and contact information is crucial when building your POS's database. Right off the bat, make a privacy promise clear to your customers, which states that their information will not be shared with anyone.

Sid noted that this has been a good year for collecting contact information, compared to prior years. "Everyone's looking for deals," he said.

Sid suggests to print out a list of your top 100 customers, the biggest spenders. Make an effort to show your appreciation. Send them a thank you card, make a personal phone call to them, give them first dibs on a new shipment or even sale items.

A POS system also gives you the ability to "systematically lock-in" customers. We'll use Christmas trees as an example (but this can really be applicable to anything). When the trees come in around Thanksgiving, use your POS system to pull up those customers who ordered, say, trees over 9 feet. Make phone calls to let them know the trees came in. This way you've personalized the experience and they won't risk missing out on a tree in the size they're looking for. They're locked into you and locked out of your competitors.

That's A Lot Of People

Did you know that over 175 million people use Facebook? Facebook has 600,000 new users signing up each month. If Facebook was a country, it would rank sixth in population.

That's a lot of people. Are you a part of this online community? Today during day one of Short Course, Pamela Gilchrist, president of Strategy-Link/PR-Link, went over the important basics of social networking via new social media. She also offered up some interesting facts:

Americans Online

  • For those betweens the ages of 18-24, 75 percent are active in social networks
  • Those 25-34, 57 percent are active
  • And those 35-44, 30 percent are active
  • For boomers, this is the fastest growing group taking part in social networking.

Believe it or not, some of these users are also your customers. Currently, if you didn't know this already, Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular forms of social media...and they're both free. Just think if 5 percent of your customer base used Facebook and or Twitter. That's no small number. Instead of or in addition to buying ad space in a newspaper or buying time on the radio, you can market to that 5 percent directly...for free!

Sure, I'm a fan of Facebook and maybe a little skeptical of Twitter, but I can't deny the fact that both social networking tools are excellent ways to get your name out there, and great ways to drive traffic back to your company's website without having to reach into your pockets.

And there was one more cool thing I learned today from Pamela - organic search. By using outlets like Facebook or Twitter, your visibility is increased online. This means is bringing you up more often in searches and you don't have to pay for it.

Keynotes From OFA: Do We Share A Common Future With Ag?

Fred Kirschenmann, organic farmer and distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, asked the crowd at Short Course to think big about the changes our industries will have to make to deal with the future – including energy and sustainable production. What kinds of systems are possible?

Although the last 100 years have been steady from a climate perspective, Kirschenmann says we can't rely on such stability in the future. Biodiversity will be necessary to adapt to these changes, exactly the opposite of the disappearance of species that we're seeing. “Now, we think about what we need and how we can force nature to do it,” Kirschenmann says. “Maybe we need to ask how to maintain ecosystems and how we can survive on them?”

Kirschenmann shared the story of a Japanese industrial rice farmer who one day realized that everything he earned had to be reinvested into his business. He wanted to see profit, so he came up with new system. Farmers in the past had ducks in their rice paddies, so he added some and then watched what they did. They ate insects off the rice. He no longer needed to invest in insecticides.

Could he also put fish back in the rice paddies? Yes, he found, he could. With the ducks and fish, algae on the surface of the paddy water no longer needed herbicide, because fish and ducks feed on it. The farmer is now no longer a monoculture grower, producing 5 crops.

What will these changes mean for the future of floriculture? It's time to start thinking about it.

See more on Kirschenmann at his website.

Tracking Inventory Through POS

Do you have a mountain of inventory in your retail shop? The money tied up in that inventory isn't in bank feeding cash flow. Do you know the carrying cost of inventory as a percentage of your costs? Steve Bailey asked that question of Wilson's Garden Center's Ned Wilson, Rice's Nursery & Landscaping's Steve Maddox and Altum's Garden Center's Karen Thacker. Here are some tips from them on how they use POS for better inventory management.

  • Hire a data entry person to enter purchase orders. “Too many fingers in that pie cause problems,” Wilson says.
  • Rice's has added the margin on each product to its purchase order. “We need to know before it's received what the margin is going to be,” Maddox says. “As keepers of inventory, we need to find the average cost.” Maddox says Rice's used to just look at margins in the winter, but now can look on the fly during the season.
  • Thacker says if you can get inventory reports on a weekly basis, only make purchases of two to three weeks of inventory. "It gives enough overage if you sell more than in weeks past. If you're trending more on a certain fertilizer, you need to use gut and order for that. Don't just go by the numbers.”
  • Dead and slow-moving inventory reports are important, although it can be scary to see exactly how much inventory isn't moving.
    “We usually buy based on emotions and then rationalize what we buy,” Wilson says. When you see what you're not selling, you eventually have to swallow your pride and get rid of it.”
  • Altum's tracks its top 100 customers based on sales. POS helps the store track who hasn't shopped lately, so a staffer can call and welcome the customer back to the store.
  • Rice's has 7,000 to 8,000 active loyalty program customers. Maddox says the number of customers buying more is increasing and the number of customers buying less is decreasing.

Takao Takes Over As OFA President

Danny Takao, president of Takao Nursery in Fresno, Calif., officially took the reins of the OFA presidency Saturday from Bobby Barnitz. Here are Takao’s first words as president, addressed to an audience at the OFA Awards and Keynote Presentation:

OFA continues to provide a community where we can all gather to share our lives and thoughts. Some people have told me associations and trade shows are a thing of the past. I argue otherwise. I have but no other gathering where we can all share the same passion and lifestyle – and share the networking we do here at the Short Course.

“Your current board of directors will continue to work with our committees and staff to make sure our OFA community remains strong and relevant to your needs.

“Our industry is evolving rapidly. Alone, it would be very difficult to understand all the dynamics reshaping it. With support from our OFA community, using the knowledge and extra speakers we have access to, we can learn together how we need to go forward to keep our companies healthy.”

A Small Grower Talks Contract Growing

The contract growing session I attended this afternoon was well designed, with two big growers (Tom Smith, Four Star Greenhouses and George Lucas, Lucas Greenhouses) paired with two smaller growers (Joseph Boarini, Boarini Horticulture Services LLC and John Whalen, Whalen's Greenhouses) to discuss the matter of building relationships.

Whalen, a 31-year-old grower whose operation is located in Toughkenamon, Pa., had some of the most interesting insights. His sentiment about big box retailers, to me, was the most interesting of the session: "The realization is you're not supplying Home Depot. You're supplying the grower. Home Depot is not paying you. Another grower is."

Whalen had a hard time adjusting to the notion his plants were ultimately being shipped to a home improvement chain like Home Depot. He admits he had to get over the fact he was supporting big box stores, though, because contracting growing for growers who serve home improvement chains and other large retailers is a big opportunity. Plus, he says small grower opportunities are fading.

Like all grower-customer relationships, contract growing has its pros and cons.

"The big growers we supply pay well and pay quickly," he says. "Drivers get a check when they leave. The big growers also leave the growing to us.

But, on the down side ...

"Big growers want to get rid of their material first," Whalen says. "You might have great [material], but the grower you're working with may already have what you have. Then there's no need."

Whalen says three growers in his area not contract growing went out of business over the last couple years. One of those growers was in business for 40 years.

Four Star's Tom Smith On Contract Growing

Tom Smith, president of Four Star Greenhouses in Carleton, Mich., was one of four growers on a panel Saturday discussing how others can make contract growing relationships work for them.

Four Star, of course, is one of three Proven Winners propagators in the United States. As Proven Winners grew over the years, the greenhouse operation didn't have the labor to keep up with demand for Proven Winners. That's when Smith turned to other growers.

"We'd probably need more than 200 people if we didn't have off-sites," says Smith, who first hired contract growers 12 years ago. "Capital expenses and labor expenses are the two reasons we use contract growers."

Contract growing can be beneficial for many reasons, including when natural disasters strike. Smith explained how a tornado once struck one of Four Star's growing ranges, shattering glass into thousands of Proven Winners trays. The tornado could have doomed Four Star, but having contract growing relationships in place allowed the operation to acquire the necessary product and ship 98 percent of it on time in the days after the disaster.

In Four Star contract growing relationships, the growers it contracts buy trays, use the soil and crop protection products of their choice, as well as thier own labor force for sticking, pinching and other tasks.

Four Star, on the other hand, is in charge of the following:

• Testing at labs
• Unrooted cuttings: "We're paying for them for a service to root the product for us," Smith says. • Labels
• Action plans: "Even though the other grower is a specialist, we'll use them in our peak weeks. We use our sites the rest of the time so we are always familiar with the crops we're growing."

Problem Plants Part II

In the "Problem Vegetative Crops" session, Rick Schoellhorn, of Proven Winners, acknowledged that varieties sometimes have a few challenges. But, he said, he's seen a couple of other issues that growers often cause for themselves when trying out new crops.
1. Ordering too early: short days that don't provide enough light and cooler temperatures both make it difficult to start plants earlier in the season.
2. Overwatering: Applying an initial watering, then a fungicide drench, then another watering all in the first few days can keep the soil far too moist for most plants.
"Apply your fungicide and fertilizer in your initial watering," he suggests.

Sustainability Talk

The word "sustainability" can be a daunting one. Growers tend to approach sustainability as a major overhaul to greenhouse operations, but maybe sustainability simply requires an overhaul in mindset. Paul Thomas of the University of Georgia, for one, says many growers are already embracing sustainability – they just might not know it, and now is the time to document their actions.

Thomas suggests growers write one-page whitepapers that outline sustainable practices with facts, figures and photographs. If you're a wholesale grower, fax that whitepaper to customers as the last sheet in your availability report. If you're a grower-retailer, include a copy in your customer's bag.

"Maybe you publicize the fact you attended this sustainability session at OFA Short Course," Thomas says. "Maybe you share the fact you took a sustainability course."

Just as important, Thomas says, is making employees and management accountable. Growers should make it their jobs to have employees live up to their sustainability standards. And employees who help the boss implement new sustainable ideas should be rewarded.

"Reward employees if they come up with a good idea that helps you enhance your sustainability story," Thomas says. "Give them a day off."

What's Your Problem?

An interesting - and popular - idea for a session: have representatives from some of the different plant breeders come to share tips and answer questions about growing some of their varieties. Proven Winners' Rick Schoellhorn pointed out that the title of the presentation was "Problem" Vegetative Crops and How To Grow Them," but that the breeders didn't really see these crops as "problems." "They just need a little different help here or there," he said.
One good follow up question from the audience - especially coming on the heels of the morning session on cold growing - dealt with rooting issues.
Selecta's Stefan Reiner emphasized that if you're going to cool grow a crop, you first have to make sure you have a good root system developed. And roots need a little heat to develop.
Ball Hort's Jim Kennedy agreed. "If you don't have roots, you'll have a really, really compact plant."

The Pros & Cons Of Energy Grants

I sat in on an early-morning session today titled "The Dollars and Cents of Sustainable Production." Purdue's Roberto Lopez (pictured at left) and Cornell's Neil Mattson (right) led the session, which eventually led to an interesting audience discussion about the pros and cons of government energy grants.

By now, you might be familiar with the Rural Energy For America Program (REAP), one of the biggest federal grant programs in the United States. "Money is available from the Farm Bill passed a couple years ago," Mattson says. "The federal government put aside $150 million for improvements in energy."

You may have read about Pleasant View Gardens, the Loudon, N.H. grower that earned a $500,000 grant earlier this year to install a biomass boiler. Other growers who've taken the steps to earn grants recently are Neal Mast & Son Greenhouses ($50,000 for energy curtains), Wenke Greenhouses (for an energy-efficient boiler) and Green Circle Growers ($227,500 for a greenhouse retractable energy curtain).

Any grant money received is obviously a plus, but a few growers in the audience shared their personal stories about the excessive time, energy and money invested in the grant application process. Plus, growers must make investments in energy systems before grant money will be given.

"How do you determine how much you'll be saving with your new system or program?" asks Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm. "You have to put an economic report together to show what kind of return you expect from your sustainable improvement. That takes time."

Peace Tree Farm's general manager spent about 90 hours crunching numbers and preparing the operation's application, Traven says. And the result was a $5,000 grant. So, Traven says, growers must consider more than filling out applications before the government will send you a check for $5,000, $10,000 or another helpful amount.

If you're considering applying for a grant from REAP, Lopez and Mattson suggest beginning preparations now. The deadline for loans or loan and grant combinations for 2009 is July 31, and it's unlikely a grower could make a sound argument for a grant with less that a few weeks to act.

For more information on REAP, click here.

OFA Retail Tour

Today's Garden Center Editor Jen Polanz here.

We just returned from the Retail tour to Southwestern Ohio. Check out highlights in the blog postings below from Berns Garden Center, the brand new Delhi Flower & Garden Center location, Siebenthaler's Garden Center and Meadow View Growers.

Check back for more live coverage continuing throughout the show right here!

Berns Garden Center - Middletown

I haven’t been to Berns since I did a cover story on them in 2006, so it was great to get back and see the place. It’s still beautiful - spotless, well laid-out and well-stocked, despite being July. I saw a few great ideas at the store that I’ll highlight here.

A few things worth mentioning that Berns has done for a while, though, include covered walkways that lend themselves to all-weather shopping and a great, meandering path in the front of the annuals section to showcase mixed containers. The containers were few and far between (no doubt because it is July), but when fully stocked it is a sight to behold.

I really liked the shade sails (pictured) used inside the greenhouse over the tools and grass seed sections to prevent fading on the POP and packaging.

I also liked the seed “workstation” set up in the retail store that allowed customers to measure out their own veggie seeds. The station also included everything needed for a customer to start their own veggie plants.

I got a chance to talk with Mike Berns a bit, who said like all retailers business has been difficult during the recession. But a bright spot for the garden center has been the Personal Gardener program, which entails an expert staff member going out to a customer’s home (for a fee) and working through trouble spots, giving advice, etc.

So even though customers don’t want someone to plant it for them anymore, they were still willing to pay for the hands-on “mentor” style approach.

Find Berns online at

Delhi Flower & Garden Center - Liberty Township

My first thought was Holy Toledo. That’s a big garden center. Delhi closed a store in 2006 and began constructing the mammoth retail operation it just opened in November 2008. A Rough Bros. structure with very classy black fencing and stonework, the curb appeal is fantastic. It also has a second store that operates out of a former car dealership.

Both Berns and Delhi grow most of their own annuals (and are less than 10 minutes away from each other) so the pressure is on both places. Delhi also looked heavily stocked, almost like it was the end of May and not July 11. Much of the operation is under cover, with some open air in the nursery yard.

I saw a couple notable ideas here, including a guy corner. That’s right, a corner for the men, complete with a coffee station, cafĂ© tables and chairs and a large, flat-screen tuned to ESPN. Nice.

Delhi used POP from Perennial Plant of the Year to its advantage by painting small picket fences bright colors and coordinating it with poster-sized signage and large displays of the plants. It was very effective - they really could have done more of that with different types of plants.

Find more about Delhi at

Siebenthaler's Garden Center - Dayton

Siebenthaler’s has two retail locations and a 450-acre nursery. We visited a store that opened in 1959, so it’s definitely an older structure. I was surprised at the amount of covered shopping, though, for an old-school garden center. There was quite a bit of aisle way covered, allowing you to at least get to where you needed to go. It seems like Southwest Ohio is the king of covered shopping.

One unique item to note with this operation is it’s connected with a bank. Actually, we found out later, the bank is connected to the garden center. In 1979 the garden center operators found they didn’t need all the space and leased it to the bank. Now it’s a Chase Bank complete with a drive-thru. There’s also a glass window between the two, so shoppers can see bankers and vice versa.

Siebenthaler’s also charges for its loyalty program. For $20 annually, members receive a 10 percent discount of non-sale items and opportunities to shop the day before three big sales, the Spring Open House, Memorial Day Early Bird and Fall Tree & Nursery Sale.
For more on Siebenthaler's visit

Meadow View Growers - New Carlisle

This operation is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and does a great job of providing an enjoyable family atmosphere with goats, donkeys, a sand box and more. They also do a great job displaying plants in the landscape to show customers mature specimens.

Fall is a big time for Meadow View, with 30,000 mums currently growing in preparation for September and October sales. They have an 8-acre cornfield that gets cut every fall for a corn maze, which drives customer foot traffic in droves.
Meadow View is very heavily plant-oriented, with 53 percent of sales coming from annuals, bedding plants and hanging baskets. Twenty-six percent come from perennials, and the marketing manager said the company just recently began expanding its shrub selection.

One idea from this operation is the heavy focus on container plantings with signage saying “Contain Yourself.” An entire greenhouse is dedicated to mixed containers planted up in fun ways, including in antique appliances. You can tell they have a lot of fun with this section.
Meadow View also has a booming wholesale division, which just built a new Nexus atrium-style structure with sidewall vents. Currently they are testing about 20 different varieties of mums in the glass house to see how they grow (currently they grow mums in open air hoop houses).
For more on Meadow View, visit

Cold Growing For Fuel Savings

Cold growing is a topic we've been seeing more often recently, especially in poinsettias. Clemson's Jim Faust explained the concept this morning and left the group with three important take home messages to keep in mind if you're considering trying the method:
1. Even "cold beneficial" crops (crops that like cooler temps) flower faster at warmer temperatures while producing higher flower counts at cool temperatures.
2. "Cold tolerant" crops offer opportunities to reduce temps since these crops aren't delayed too badly by cooler temperatures.
3. "Cold sensitive" species are usually not good candidates for reducing growing temperatures. Poinsettias, however, can work with the proper cultivar selection and cultural practices.

The bottom line? With the right crop and the right conditions, you can save enough money on fuel costs to outweigh the expense of an extended growing season.

Purchasing For Profits

Retailer Andy Buyting of Green Village Home & Garden gave a great presentation on smart buying for the garden center. "Purchasing," he says, "is where the first profits are made."
One tip from Andy: Never, ever, ever pay sticker price for anything. Ask for a better price, better terms, whatever. But the key is to ask.
"Don't look at it as a negative thing where you're trying to take advantage of your suppliers," he says. "You're working together as partners to move more product, for them and for you."
It's a win-win situation for both parties and as you build a relationship that helps you both, you'll become a client of choice.

Off To A Good Start

Only four hours in and Short Course is already off to a positive start. Attendance is pretty good for the morning educational sessions. Just ran into OFA's Laura Kunkle, who said registration was up for the show this year. That's great news considering all we've been through with the economy this year. Hopefully the really loud thunderstorm that's rolling through Columbus right now won't keep anybody away.

Jennifer Polanz is on the Retail Bus Tour visiting area garden centers, and the rest of our editors are sitting in sessions all day today. We'll be checking in here and on Twitter throughout the day to let you know what we're hearing.

Oh, and the Greenhouse Grower/Today's Garden Center team finished third in the Dramm 5K Relay this morning. Photos will be showing up here at some point I'm sure. Not that we're excited or anything....

Thursday, July 2, 2009

OFA Short Course 2009 is just around the corner

Are your bags packed yet? OFA Short Course 2009 begins next weekend, Saturday, July 11. Check out the Short Course site now for an itinerary builder, and check back here for what the editors of Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center see and hear during the show.

Don't forget to follow the show on Twitter through the hashtags #OFAshortcourse and #shortcourse, or follow the OFA Short Course Twibe. Our booth is #801. Stop by to pick up copies of the magazine. See you there!