Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Sizzle or Steak?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

You don’t want to miss the Town Meeting at OFA this year. It’s on Sunday, July 15 at 6pm. The topic is: “Putting the Steak Back in the Sizzle.” Here are some of my thoughts on the subject!

I like steak. I like sizzle. But “sizzle” without the “steak” isn’t satisfying. Do the plants we sell perform as we promise? And, when they don’t perform, how do our customers feel?

An Important Question

You should attend Town Meeting! Why? Because you care about your business and your industry. We will be asking some important questions we need to think about and talk about. The 2011 Town Meeting (which I wrote about here, here, here and here…hey, it was inspiring!) was provocatively titled: “Why our Customers Don’t Love Us Anymore.” I am looking forward to continuing the discussion, looking deeper at the issue of how well are we romancing our customers? “Could it be they don’t love us ’cause we didn’t satisfy them?”

Not a Waste of Time

This isn’t an academic exercise. This isn’t the same-old marketing advice. Town Meeting is the ONLY open forum our industry has. Anybody can let their voice be heard. Come ready to challenge, debate, speak your mind…and hear some really interesting perspectives.

What do you think?

Are you giving your customer what she wants?

Are you sure she’s satisfied? Could it be we’re reaping the results from decades of disappointments and false promises?

…which will lead me to my next post, “It’s NOT the economy, stupid!”


Thanks! Hope to see you at the OFA Town Meeting. Sunday, July 15 at 6pm!





Do NOT Stop Worrying About Gen Y

Monday, May 21st, 2012

There’s been some interesting push back from a few Gen Y gardeners sick and tired of hearing the horticulture industry worry about whether “kids these days” will ever show interest in plants.

The best example is this blog post by Gen Schmidt from North Coast Gardening, “Gen X and Y Gardeners – Can We Quit Worrying About This, Please?” Ms Schmidt  does not agree that “at some scary date in the future, we will be left with no gardeners at all because all my generation likes to do is play video games and text with people who are sitting in the same room.” She claims that Gen Y is actually MORE likely to garden than previous generations.

“My generation’s reliance on technology has given us an even greater desire to get outside and plunge our hands into the soil, and the easy availability of information and inspiring ideas (Pinterest, anyone?) makes us more likely to get outside and garden, rather than less. But I’ll admit it: on the whole, people in their twenties and thirties don’t garden as much as people 45-and-up. And, repeat after me, this is not a cause for concern. Why?”

Don’t Worry?

Gen answers the question “Why?” with three main points. Landscape activities are triggered by 1) home ownership, 2) wealth accumulation and 3) parenting. With the exception of child-rearing prompting gardening activities (the data I have seen suggests the opposite), her points are solid and pretty undeniable. When Gen Y start forming new households, their demand for garden products will hopefully make the Boomer generation a distant memory.

“Can we quit worrying about this, please?

No, we can’t. Even if we have great hope…even if we believe the future could be great…its a VERY bad idea to stop worrying about this. Actually, I don’t think we are nearly concerned enough about Gen X & Y. We need to think and talk about this more, not less. Generational change is important.

Every generation worries about their children. Parents have been shaking their heads at “the kids these days” since Adam and Eve’s son Cain murdered his brother Able. And, while its good advice for parents to not panic and lighten up a little–”hey, the world keeps spinning and kids are stupid because they’re young and irresponsible…but they DO grow up and they DO learn from their mistakes. Its gonna be OK.”

But, stop worrying? No, we SHOULD worry.

We worry because we care.

Imagine if a Republican party insider circulated a memo that said, ” So what if voters under 30 went overwhelmingly for Obama in the 2008 election? Younger voters will mature and, like all previous generations, will grow more conservative as they age. Once they are homeowners, investors, entrepreneurs and parents they will vote to protect their assets from liberal redistribution schemes by the Democrats. Forget about the kids and wait till they grow up.” Don’t worry? That’s not good advice.

We should worry even if there were nothing to worry about.

Imagine if someone stood up at a Nordstrom meeting and said, “Hey, let’s lighten up a little. We’re a great company. Our culture of service is second to none. We’re the best! Can we please just stop worrying about the customer experience already?”

Imagine if the Toyota annual report said, “Our quality is good enough. We will save money this year by spending less on new quality initiatives. We have proven our ability time and again. Can we please stop worrying about quality?”

Ha! Stop worrying? I don’t think so.

There is reason to be concerned.

The generational change playing out right now is fascinating, and while its not all bad news for the Horticulture Industry, it isn’t all good either. Anecdotal evidence by folks like Ms Schmidt that her friends are passionate gardeners, really only proves one thing: there will be a viable niche market for plants, even as we bridge the gap from Boomer to Gen Y (Gen X as a drastically smaller demographic). The mass market? Not quite so easy to figure out.

Much to ponder.

What does it mean that the average child today spends 7 minutes playing outside and 7 hours in front of a screen? Is it any coincidence childhood obesity is rising drastically? Is it any surprise ADD is rampant and our kids are numbed by medication? When a major portion of a population has spent 95% or more of their entire lives inside a climate controlled building, where they push buttons that manipulate virtual realities both for work and for play, what does this mean for society? What will the impact be on the American landscape?

OpenHort doesn’t think these are stale questions, and we aren’t about to stop thinking about them.





Where’s the trees? | What Nobody’s Saying Amidst the Lorax Marketing Fiasco

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

wheres the trees

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” was a big hit on opening weekend, raking in $70 million at the box office. But it’s marketing tie-ins with nearly 70 brand “launch partners” has caused the Seuss to hit the fan. As first reported by Mother Jones, “people are having a (rather justified) heart attack about the fact that The Lorax is now being used to cross-promote a new SUV.”

So much for “speaking for the trees.” The little orange eco-hero now hocks the Mazda CX-5, disposable diapers and  candy-coated pancakes. Pundits from everywhere are commenting: from the Washington Post to the Huffington Post, from the Wall Street Journal to the Guardian and from thousands of bloggers to the most insightful commenter of them all, Stephen Colbert.

Check out this car commercial, where an ugly strip of asphalt defaces the blissful Seussian landscape:

It’s not wonder everyone is talking about what a sell-out the Lorax has become.

But there’s something nobody’s saying.

It’s easy to focus on the tone-deaf SUV ad, but nobody’s said anything about who ISN’T a sponsor (or WASN’T ever invited to be a sponsor). Where’s the trees? With 70 “launch partners,” how come there aren’t any plants, flowers or trees cross-merchandised with this film? How come the only “green-friendly” product the American consumer can think of is diapers made of recycled material? Would there have been any controversy if the Toyota Prius were the car, not a Mazda gas+oline hybrid? Not likely, but maybe there should have been.

Greenwashing looks bad when it’s done so poorly, but our approach to environmental consumerism is flawed to its core. All these products can only claim to be less bad than they were before--and some only slightly. The single product that can actually claim to be good, not just less bad, continues to go ignored, even when that product is the point of the whole darn film.

But it doesn’t strike anyone, anywhere that an excessively merchandised movie about trees would lack any product tie in for…trees.

For the thousands of businesses and millions of Americans who grow, sell and landscape with trees, the Lorax is just another reminder that they aren’t really relevant to today’s society. When you aren’t invited to the party, and nobody notices, that is the definition of irrelevance.

But look on the bright side, at least you plant folks aren’t sell-outs!




3 Ideas to Change the Nursery Industry

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Recently we posted several articles about “collective marketing,” the whole idea of having an industry-wide “got milk?” type of campaign. The general conclusion these posts arrived at was that such an initiative would simply not work as we currently define it.

But rather than give up, OpenHort has 3 ideas that can change the green industry. Here they are:

Play to our strengths.

One of the major reasons “collective marketing” won’t work is because the industry is so fragmented…regionally, climatically, horticulturally…the list goes on. As the ANLA posted on the Knowledge Center Facebook page last week, “efforts…were always harmed by the industry’s diversity and fears that “flower growers would benefit more than tree growers,” or… “what if promotion peaks during Minnesota’s spring but I’m in Georgia?””

Instead of fighting an uphill battle, what if we played to this strength, in fact seeking to increase the diversity? OpenHort envisions a future with many more people actively selling plants for a living. We see an opportunity to form an army of individuals advancing the same cause: getting people excited about plants. It is our belief that the biggest change we can effect is through an emerging but ignored sector of the industry: the personal garden coach.

Huh? What is a “personal garden coach?” You’re probably already aware of the phenomenon of the “personal trainer” for fitness.  A large percentage of Americans have the desire to get in shape, but not the knowledge or the drive to do it alone. Gardening and landscaping are very similar. Many homeowners and potential gardeners do not have the first idea how to get started. Our industry has made success very complicated for the average person with an average interest in plants

We have given the American consumer two options: call a landscape contractor and they will come to your house with a truck full of Mexicans or go to a garden center and blindly pick out plants as best you can. Trucks or shelves. Take your pick. [This is perhaps THE KEY insight we can offer, and we will visit it again. Trucks or shelves.]

Could it be that our sales are flat or declining not because people don’t care for plants but because they don’t particularly like the solutions we offer them? What if they don’t want trucks or shelves? What if they want a person to help them?

The third option is beginning to take root already. There are landscapers finding that their target customers are choking at $30,000+ landscape quotes, but eager to pay for a multi-year project done in stages. There are garden centers finding that the people coming through their doors (or not!) are intimidated and lack even a basic understanding of how to select, install and care for plants…but they are willing to pay  for “personal shoppers,” to have their hands held and be guided through the life-long process of enhancing their homes with beautiful plants.

It is time for the industry to legitimize and encourage the emerging role of “personal garden coaches” by creating a national certification program. Such a program could bring many hundreds of new professionals into our industry. But existing firms do not have to worry that this will increase competition or shrink the existing pie nor their slice of it.

Retailers can have their staff become certified, and benefit from selling an additional service as well as selling more product. Landscapers, likewise, should not see this as a threat but rather an opportunity, either from offering this level of service themselves or by becoming “subcontractors” for an army of garden coaches out there independently spreading the gospel of gardening.

One objection to this idea: “Certification should be done at the state level.” Another objection: “We already have horticultural certification at the state level.” Take a moment to imagine something different. We imagine it as national in order for it to be more visible, powerful and normal. We imagine it as very different than simply a horticultural knowledge exam. One might know plants, but do they know how to “coach?”

By offering a national certification program, it will encourage this sector to grow tremendously by legitimizing it, professionalizing it, defining it and ensuring that it grows in ways that benefit the industry.

Once this national certification is in place, common or “generic,” easily-customizable sales, marketing and support materials could be developed and deployed via this network.

If you’ll forgive a Christian gospel analogy…instead of relying on converts to somehow show up at church and listen to one single preacher, let’s equip the congregation to go out and make disciples.

That’s our first idea on how to “sell more plants.” We have two more we’re ready to share.

Get creative(s).

The future belongs to the creative class, and its ranks are swelling quickly. The tools and distribution platforms to create and publish creative content have been democratized so greatly in the past 5 years that only the invention of the printing press can compare with the societal impact we will witness. Today, for less than the cost of a used car, a student can obtain the means of making a feature film that can rival Hollywood. With blogs, social media, desktop publishing, apps, mobile computing and video broadcasting platforms, the traditional media gatekeepers have lost their power.

OpenHort believes our industry has a tremendous opportunity before us. We can exploit this change. We can lead it. We can rehabilitate our image and reinvent ourselves faster than we can imagine. We can change the perceived value of plants.

OpenHort encourages every green industry firm to hire a creative. Every grower, garden center and landscaper should make it a priority—right now—to hire a talented multimedia creative producer. Do not look to your current staff to “fill in” like you always have done.  And do not out-source the creative process to an expensive, established marketing firm. Hire your own creative.

It doesn’t have to be a full-time position, though that would be ideal. And it doesn’t have to cost a heart-stopping amount. There are many thousands of design and film students, amateurs and semi-professionals willing to work for as little as $10 per hour. True, many are only worth $10 per hour, but now, while the upheaval is still occurring, there are many talented creatives that are undervalued. OpenHort will help you find them by telling you how to advertise, what to look for and how to put them to work.

We want to see a massive infusion of new creative ideas into our industry, and we want OpenHort to be a connector, facilitator and inspiration to these creatives in the green industry. We believe that if as little as 20 firms made the commitment to hire a creative, and to task those creatives with promoting the basic fundamental value of plants…the innovation would be staggering. We would go a long way forward to understanding what we as an industry should focus on to “sell more plants.”

Tell stories.

The way forward is not through clever slogans or slick brands. To focus on these is to get distracted. Slogans and brands are fine and well, so long as they connect emotionally with the people we want to buy more plants. The way to be relevant, the way to engage an audience, the way to move people and inspire them…is nothing new. We must tell stories. We should make it a priority to become world-class storytellers.

Whether it be through recruiting and equipping garden coaches or though finding and hiring creatives, we must make sure that they realize their #1 goal and primary skill should be in telling stories.

OpenHort has a modest proposal to begin a project that will point us forward in how we should tell stories.

We propose to make two documentary-style videos that tell the personal story of a gardener (end consumer) in an emotional and relatable way. The idea is a simple one: have real gardeners explain why they love plants. Not just for the results, but for the whole process. The experience. The lifestyle.

Once the format, tone and style of these videos are established and refined, we can make plans to produce and distribute them in a concerted way. Imagine if in a few years’ time we had 1,000 such videos made. It is possible. Even if the only viewers of these videos were their friends and family, which would happen naturally without paying for network airtime, the number of people impacted with a positive message for gardening would perhaps be close to 1 million. How much would this cost? We don’t know. Perhaps as little as $200k.

This is what we imagine: A garden center asks some of its customers to give testimonials to why they love plants. Depending on the garden center’s unique priority, they could choose the demographic that would most benefit them (GenY or BabyBoomer? Female? Middle-class suburbanite? Urban hipster? Tropical, xeriscape, vegetable?) The “creative” connected with the garden center makes the videos, producing two versions: one that specifically promotes the garden center and another that is generic and able to be used by the entire industry. What could be unleashed if we give voice to those most passionate about our products?

How can we encourage and nurture those with an average or immature interest in plants to pursue this interest further…and in a safe and credible way? We need to make it seem normal to have people talk about plants.

To move forward, OpenHort is asking for help. It is our goal to have 100 individuals contribute $20 to have these two pilot videos produced. It’s not that it will cost us $2,000; we don’t know what it will cost. And we don’t care about the money. OpenHort isn’t about money. We would gladly pay for this ourselves, but this is a test. We are tired of wasting our time. If we can’t convince 100 people to give up 20 bucks freely, without a guarantee that it will ever end up helping their business directly…then the whole concept of “collective marketing” and industry-wide participation in the common goal of selling more plants is…well, never gonna work.

If you’re tired of hearing people say, “We should have a campaign like GotMilk,” but never doing anything to make it happen. If you wish there was something we could do, here’s your baby step. We’re willing to work on this very hard, but we’re not willing to work alone.

In summary, OpenHort proposes that we:

1)      Play to our strengths. Lay the groundwork for a massive influx of “personal garden coaches” by creating a national certification program. This would increase diversity and distribute the power and control, but in a way that could allow for common marketing messages.

2)      Get creative(s). Encourage and guide all green-industry firms to hire creative individuals from outside the industry, and then put them to work.

3)      Tell stories. Donate $20 to OpenHort to produce 2 pilot “Why I Garden” videos. To support us, send me an email: art[at]openhort[dot]com.


We are eager to hear your response to these ideas, and willing to support any others that may be superior. As with everything that OpenHort produces, you are free to use, borrow, improve upon or do anything at all you’d like to do with these ideas. We plan to post them on the blog later this week, so if you have suggestions or comments, please send them our way soon.


Art Parkerson for OpenHort



Microsoft Thinks Plants Will Be Popular in 2021

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Microsoft’s video vision of the future came out last week, and its all about plants.

The 6 minute video tells the story of an architect arriving in South Africa. We see her collaborate with different people via amazing-yet-believable technology. The project they’re working on?  A green wall.

According to Microsoft, in the future people will want to use their fancy high-tech “Minority Report” monitors to look at…plants. Whether they actually want to get their hands dirty or strain their backs, that’s another matter. It used to be future visions left plant life completely out of the picture. Did the Jetson’s have a yard? But now that we’ve passed 1984, left 2001 in the dust and are now living in what was once imagined as the “Future age” we see that humanity isn’t comfortable leaving the outdoors--a connection to nature--behind. We need plants. Pretty cool that Microsoft agrees.

Watch the full video if you have the time. Below are some excerpts that interested me the most.

A "confidential" greenwall proposal from the year 2021.

A "confidential" greenwall proposal from the year 2021.

Ever heard of the "gProGreen Wall Panel System?"


Plants heal the sick.

"Having a view of plants decreased sick leave 28%"

The prices range from $0.45 to $1.20 per plant! Ouch.

A room with a view.

Another indication that plain-old green is trendy?

A "nutrient and water uptake" study.

Of all the things...a Mycorrhizal study! I was almost expecting to see them break out a bottle of SuperThrive next.


Got pants?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Is this what we need to get attention?

You betcha!

Our industry is in desperate need of a national marketing program similar to the “got milk” campaign. Why? Because we aren’t making any money.

We’re seeing a shocking drop in demand, and we can’t just blame the economy. Why are our products falling out of fashion in the midst of the largest environmental movement in history? This is entirely our fault. We haven’t been making any effort to market and promote the value of plants.

Our biggest obstacle is ourselves. We are such a diverse and fractured industry. We must join together or we are all going to continue to sink together.

We should have started this twenty years ago!

The time is now to get this going. Even if it takes an act of Congress to get this off the ground, we must do this.

Our survival as an industry is at stake.


No way in Hell.

This is what’s supposed to save us? A movie star in his underwear? No doubt the ad agency we hire will come up with something that gets people’s attention, but how on Earth is that going to make us money? Big-time national advertising campaigns are lotteries for wealthy corporations. Their chances of failure are infinitely greater than the chances of success. This is a great way to lose a bunch of money. We’re struggling for survival and you want a donation so you can flush it down the toilet called network TV? And as we can see from the billboard above, the end result will probably be insulting.

Just calm down and take a deep breath. Things are tough now, but it’s going to be OK. We don’t need a national marketing campaign because we have something the others don’t. The basic fact of the matter is that people will always want to have a pretty nice yard. We can count on that never changing. It’s inconceivable that a day is coming when the American people would want their yards to be barren wastelands.

The sky’s not falling. Get a grip.

And keep your hands out of my wallet.

Got plants?

The complete poster.

Poster hanging at Clinic

The poster hanging at the 2011 ANLA Clinic.

Creator’s Commentary: Who hasn’t heard someone say, “What we need is a national marketing campaign like Got Milk?” But the thought never advances past wishful thinking. I’ve never heard a rational debate by parties for and against. And who has ever actually made a prototype of such an ad campaign? (Laurie Scullin and Frank Zaunscherb came up with “Life. Plant life.” but other than that I haven’t seen anything.) This poster was my attempt to have that debate pro and con and to imagine what such a campaign might look like.

My starting point was to imagine that I was an advertising creative director with no green-industry bias and given the task of coming up with a campaign for plants, because the reality is if we were going to spend millions on a national ad campaign it shouldn’t look anything like our current “safe” marketing in the green industry. The concept is simple: have celebrities pose in their underwear while holding plants. At first, I was going to have the words “got pants?” in normal san-serif font with an “L” added in with red script to make the message “got plants?” The TV commercials would be something like: “Hi, I’m Brad Pitt and I’d rather forget my pants than to forget about plants and all the great things they do for our world, making our homes and neighborhoods more beautiful and saving the planet…”

Two versions: I went with the straight "got plants?" just to avoid confusion.

How stupid is that? But I think it’s just the type of thing that an ad agency would give us for a few million dollars. It has all the necessary components: celebrities, sex, unexpected humor and environmental consciousness. I enjoyed the irony: as a consumer, I would personally hate this campaign, but I also thought it was brilliantly clever and that it would resonate and get a lot of attention. The other thing I like about it is the way it subtly says, “Hey, world. You’re forgetting about plants.”

Ultimately, as much as I love this poster, I think it failed (so far) since to date no person has had anything to say about it. The idea was to make a place at the ANLA Clinic that would spark conversations. It was called the “Conversation Station.” The question continues to linger in my mind, “Is this what we need to get attention?”


PS: Another thing I noticed from a design standpoint that I really like: the double/reverse message of the title words. The first thing my eye sees is the bolder words that say, “WE NEED ATTENTION,” which implies that we need to do this. But the full text is “Is this what we need to get attention?” which implies that maybe its not such a good idea to throw a few million dollars away on a campaign like this. Tres cool.

Spooky Plants!

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

In plenty of time for Halloween, we have our newest OpenHort video, Spooky Plants, ready for you to use. Last year, we had a lot of success with our Plants vs Zombies video, so we thought we’d follow that up with a look at some creepy flora that scares the plants off us. (There’s just something about Halloween that gives you permission to be cheesy.)

Want to use this video to promote your own company? You have three options: 1) simply link to the video on YouTube, 2) download a free copy that you are welcome to customize in any way you’d like (right click this link and select “Save Target As…”) or 3) hire Moche Media to customize it with your logo for $75.

We encourage you to “do-it-yourself.” It’s not that hard. If you need to be pointed in the right direction, you might want to check out the tutorial we made for the video “Shovel Ready.” We’ve never offered this service before, but it seems that some folks need a little more help. Moche Media is a company we’ve set up because I don’t want OpenHort to be commercial in any way. Send us an e-mail if you’re interested or have any questions.

Thanks! ~Art & Leon

No Bloom, No Room? cont.

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Back in the winter at the fantastic ANLA Management Clinic, I said that the new motto at my farm was, “If it ain’t got no bloom, we ain’t got no room.” (Forgive the double negatives; I’m a Southerner.) This is a pretty radical statement since my business was basically built on evergreen shrubs. In the past few years growers like myself have lost a lot of money--easily millions--because the green shrubs we thought we could sell when we planted them…didn’t. We threw them away. The video below was from last summer (2010), and at the time I thought the market for green shrubs couldn’t get any worse. It hasn’t gotten much better. Thankfully, this year we haven’t had to discount, but there remains a huge amount of unused production space and we’re still throwing away many thousands of plants nobody wants to buy.

Even though I said “No Bloom, No Room,” I’m still in love with green shrubs and am alert to any hint that they may become fashionable again. Last month, I posted here about a catalog from a furniture company that loves green shrubs too, and I promised to share a few other things that I’ve been sitting on.

Here’s one: again, from all the way back at the ANLA Clinic, where Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm provided many of the plants for the decorations. While they’re not shrubs, they are green.

Display at ANLA Clinic with Peace Tree plants

In the hallway outside as I proclaimed "No bloom, no room," with Aeonium Dinner Plate, Agave Gemniflora and Echeveria Topsy Turvy from Peace Tree Farm.

And then, in July at the OFA, the Peace Tree Farm booth was a very happening place with lots of traffic. Here’s a cool video from GrowerTalks magazine:

So, that’s one grower in my own market region that seems to be bucking the “gotta bloom” tyranny.

Here’s two magazine covers from Garden Design this year, the one on the left from August and the current issue (Oct/Nov) at right.

Two Garden Design magazine covers

Where are the blooms?

Here’s another: an article from the British newspaper The Telegraph titled “Return of the Unsung Shrub.” It begins by saying:

Give a shrub to your average garden designer and I am not sure that he or she would know what to do with it. They are so out of fashion. In defiance of the grasses-and-perennials tyranny, however, one leading designer has stood firm.

And ends with:

Other designers need to wake up to the potential of this forgotten treasure chest of plants. The revival and rehabilitation of shrubs is long overdue.

Nice to hear, but it’s not going to change my plans. We are going to only plant what we sold at full price this year, and maybe a little less. We’ll have several acres of empty beds and hopefully we’ll sell out.

Still, part of me thinks that a “revival and rehabilitation” is possible, that the color GREEN is close to a tipping point and could become the new trend with some creative work and the right marketing. I recently came across Sara Tambascio’s blog, ‘Sara’s Green Space,’ where she  mentioned:

As someone said during the Town Hall, we are just one tweak away from going gangbusters, like that little kid who’s dancing slightly off beat. I believe it, too. We may need just one little tweak to really rock it. How about these? (She continues with 5 “crazy” ideas that might edge us closer to a tipping point.) Read it here.

I really love that image of a kind of nerdy kid who’s just not quite in time with the music…and then he gets it. Is it possible to make the nerd (green shrubs) cool? That’s what I’m thinking about. “Do the Urkel!” ~Art


Necessity Not Luxury

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

This is part 3 of 4 of “OFA Town Meeting 2011″ series. Read part one, two and four.

Are plants a necessity or a luxury?

Are plants a necessity or a luxury?

“Our product is not just a luxury. It is a necessity!”

This statement from a member of the audience at the 2011 OFA Town Meeting drew applause. It’s becoming a sort of industry mantra. I have heard it many times this year. Everyone’s saying it. After the Town Meeting, I was honored to receive a Horticulture Industry Leadership Award from GIE Media and Syngenta, and as I walked up to accept the plaque, this was said about me, “[Art] believes that our industry is not doing its job in getting the word out about the incredible value that we provide…and that we’re not just ornamental, but a necessity.”

I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that, and even if I did, I now retract the statement. Perhaps we are a necessity, but that should not be our rallying cry. And I don’t think we should be scared or ashamed of being a luxury.

Consider necessities. Your mortgage is a necessity. Taxes are a necessity. Using the bathroom is a necessity. You buy necessities at Wal-Mart. Where’s the allure in necessities? Where’s the excitement? The market is brutal to necessities, commoditizing and driving them to the lowest common denominator.

Perhaps we would all sell more stuff if the stuff we sold was universally perceived as necessary to survival, but would it be any fun? Would it be profitable? Would it be worth doing? Is that the future we are dreaming of?

Who are we talking to?

I understand a little botany and ecology. Of course, plants are necessary. But is that the key to making the world fall in love with us? I didn’t win my wife’s heart by explaining to her that our species needed to reproduce–that procreation was a necessity–so she had better do her duty. No! I told her that I was madly in love with her and that all I wanted to do was to serve her and make her happy for the rest of our lives.

I think it’s a fine thing for us in the industry to start with a base foundation of knowledge that plants are essential. But why do we need to tell each other this? Do we lack faith in our purpose, or value? Do we really lack that much confidence?

I guess this would be an OK message for elected officials, architects and city planners and such. Let’s preach away at those folks. But is this really the basis for our message–our story–our value proposition–to the world? Buy our stuff because you have to?

Is gardening a chore?

Who likes chores? I take little delight in necessary things; in fact, I avoid them whenever I can. Do we want to make gardening a chore or an escape? A drudgery or a lifestyle? A necessity or a luxury?

There are human basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing. Let’s take clothing, for example, and assume that just as everyone in the world wants to appear attractive in their dress, they also would like to have a nice looking yard. So, if you were to start a business selling clothing, would you want to have your slogan be: “Pants: Don’t leave home without them?” Or would you find that it might be a more profitable tactic to make fashionable clothes that targeted consumers would fall in love with and pay a premium for because they made them feel extra-good about themselves?

Afraid of luxury.

Are we eager to reposition ourselves in the mind of the consumer away from the “luxury good” category because we think we can’t compete with the other luxury goods and services out there? Perhaps we are unwilling to go up against smartphones, big screen TV’s, vacations, furniture, clothing…you name it. If you don’t think we are a legitimate luxury product that consumers should spend their discretionary funds on, well, that might be a big clue to our problem right there.

Ashamed of luxury.

Maybe we are uncomfortable with the “luxury” label because we don’t think its legitimate. Maybe we are a conservative industry of frugal minded folk who don’t live very fancy and think that those who do are pretty irresponsible.  Maybe we drink Folgers instead of Starbucks. Maybe we go to SuperCuts instead of the salon. Maybe we drive Fords instead of Cadillacs. Maybe we’re just cheap.

But there is no shame in the luxury that plants offer. In fact, that is one of the key things that will differentiate us from the other luxury items. We offer 100% guilt-free, soul-restoring luxury. Who else can say that?


PS: Joe Baer, a panelist at the OFA Town Meeting, wrote this blog post in preparation for the event. Here’s an excerpt:

Shoppers are looking for an experience to connect with.  Give LOVE and receive LOVE.  Give your customers an experience to LOVE.  Give them more WOW, ENERGY, CREATIVITY, SUPPORT, EXPERIENCE and ENCOURAGEMENT!

Besides, what’s is there not to love about you?  Your industry creates beauty.  It creates happiness and it honors our loved ones, celebrates our accomplishments and helps us create safe havens where we can rest, relax and enjoy life with our family and friends.  You make us happy.  You make our yards look better.  You put smiles on our faces.  You make our gardens more beautiful and more abundant.  You empower us to nurture the earth and eachother.  It’s your job to ignite creativity, passion and love through flowers and plants.  By selling the right products, tools, supplies, offering tips, education and encouragement you are providing the things to make our lives more comfortable and more rewarding.  That is LOVE.

That’s a far cry from staking a claim as a “necessity” in the customer’s mind. Interesting that this is a perspective from a genuine industry-outsider.

Tale of 3 Woes

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

This is part 2 of 4 of “OFA Town Meeting 2011″ series. Read part one, three and four.

My last post boldly proclaimed that the OFA Town meeting solved “industry woes.” Several people have asked, “Which woes did you solve and what were the solutions?” As you may have guessed, the title had a double meaning: we talked about our woes at the Town Meeting, but the Town Meeting itself epitomizes what is ailing us as an industry. The real woe for our industry was that the Town Meeting was poorly attended.

The happy hour before with the free beer? Packed.

Now I am ready to share some of my thoughts stemming from the content of the Town Meeting. There are three, and I will share each one in a separate post: 1) King of the Hill, 2) Necessity Not a Luxury and 3) Sell Your Soul.

King of the Hill

Kids playing king of the hill.

How well are we doing at the game of business?

Why don’t our customers love us any more?

That was the question at the OFA Town Meeting 2011. The best moment came when a member of the audience told us on the panel that we were full of it. He took the microphone and said, “What I’m hearing from the experts up on stage is basically the answer is just ‘marketing.’ But we’ve been hearing that same message for 20 years! It hasn’t worked!”

Do you remember playing the game “king of the hill” when you were a kid? If you’re a business owner, you are still playing that game. Only now, you’re fighting for the consumer’s dollar. It’s a perpetual struggle for attention, perceived value and ultimately the sale. If you take a breather for even a minute you’re guaranteed to slide back down the hill.

You can call this battle for position on the hill “marketing” if you want, or you could call it what it really is: BUSINESS.

By all appearances, most of us in the green industry are not doing too well at climbing the hill. Who’s fault is that? We blame the weather. We blame the economy. We blame our competitors. We even blame the stupid, lazy, fickle American consumer! Maybe it’s time we stopped blaming all the things outside our control and really focused our energy on getting back up the hill. And another thing: at an industry level we should realize that we are all really on the same team–we are the same kid.

Why don’t we have what we want?

It can be discouraging when we’ve been trying our best (we think) for 20 years, and yet that’s no guarantee that some jerk behind us won’t pull us down and we’ll have to start all over again. But that doesn’t mean that we write off “marketing” as a false hope. Marketing is simply asking. We want our customer’s attention. We want their money. We want their LOVE. Why don’t we have what we want?

“You do not have because you do not ask.” Could it be that our customers don’t love us because we haven’t asked them for their love?

Are we loveable?

Perhaps the root of the problem is that we lack confidence that we are worth loving. Maybe we don’t really believe in the value of our product. Consider the price of a plant today compared to 20 years ago…

What is the value of plants? This leads me to the next blog post, a point I’ve been thinking about: “necessity not a luxury.” Coming very soon!