The use of QR codes may have started in the motor industry but the system is fast becoming a popular media tool, helping businesses engage with customers instantly and directly via smartphone or tablet.
"Smartphones are developing rapidly and the QR apps are fast and free to download," says Labels & Packaging managing director Phil Griffiths. "A quick scan of the QR code gives customers all the info on the plant, together with hints and tips from the company that grew it."
Statistics tell us that mobile information is an increasingly important factor in consumer spending - 48 per cent of UK smartphone owners use mobiles to browse and research products before a purchase, with another 16 per cent intending to do so in the future (eDigitialResearch, 2011). There is little space for information on most product labels, so it is easy to see how QR codes can help the consumer learn more about their potential purchase. QR codes can benefit the grower and retailer too.
"We believe QR codes can help us to achieve brand identity," says Scotsdales Garden Centre planteria manager Jonathan Savage, "making it easier for people to access our website and to become a part of our social networking."
Scotsdales uses QR codes from Joy of Plants. A relative newcomer to the industry, Joy of Plants launched its Plant Info QR codes with Yorkshire grower and wholesale nursery Atkiro, at the Four Oaks Trade Show in September last year. Atkiro managing director Roger Atkinson says: "The future is here. We often hear about customers bemoaning the lack of plant knowledge in retail staff. The solution is now at their fingertips.
"With most smartphones, all the gardener or the retailer has to do now is scan the QR code on the care label and they will have access to every detail from the Joy of Plants database about the variety they are considering. Far easier than messing about with search engines and cumbersome web addresses, once the QR technology is explained, its use is simplicity itself."
Joy of Plants director Terri Jones explains how the company can help growers and retailers: "With our QR codes, we let nurseries and garden centres offer access to high-quality plant information from their labels, free of charge. They don't have to worry about creating and delivering the plant information. All they have to do is add our 2cm square QR codes to their labels. We do all the rest."
The codes are available for more than 7,500 plant varieties and can be used on any label, provided by any label manufacturer. The codes are tested and ready to use, pre-sized and formatted for label printers, and Joy of Plants updates its plant information every quarter, adding new plants and adjusting the plant database. "Longacres Garden Centre has already asked all its suppliers to put the Joy of Plants Info QR codes on their labels," says Jones.
"Nurseries and garden centres that work with us get access to plant information that will continue to grow over time, in tune with trends in gardening," she adds. "For example, in 2012 we included plants for 'patriotic planting', with red, white, blue and gold plants for the jubilee." Gardeners can buy the Joy of Plants iPhone app from the Apple AppStore to access the information.
Like others in the industry, Bamboo Print is seeing big interest in QR codes. "Lots are still used as links to growers' websites, which some retailers are less than happy about, but we're seeing enlightened growers setting up standalone sites to support product ranges," says director Duncan McLintock. "We're working with Hawkesmill Nurseries to develop a website devoted entirely to its successful wild flower range.
"I like Plant Publicity Holland's 'Colour Your Life' initiative - a set of short, colourful, lively videos that stress the fun of gardening, particularly for novice gardeners," he says. "I also think Joy of Plants is great. They've provided an excellent resource, which makes labels a useful extra dimension and gives outstanding information for gardeners."
In the autumn, Floramedia showed off two redesigned plant stock labels. The Nursery Tag and Major Plus Label, now including QR codes, will be phased in from October. "We have used large, stunning photographs and have amended the text so it is modern, bright and easy to read,"
says managing director Nick Mathias. "The new stock labels will be eye-catching to consumers and perfect for the small-to-medium business that doesn't require larger runs of bespoke labels."
The Nursery Tag, a label used for shrubs and trees, has had its shape changed. Colour is used on the front. The larger Major Plus Label, to be called the Major XL, is for fruit and ornamental trees. Full colour will be printed on both sides, along with an image relating to the fruit or tree. Each has a QR code linked to Floramedia's FloraLinQ service.
"The system (QR codes) has become a popular media tool, helping businesses engage with their customers instantly and directly via their smartphones or tablets, immediately adding a valuable marking advantage to the labels. Consumers can build up a favourites list, which can be shared with friends," says Mathias.
Floramedia first introduced its FloraLinQ mobile and web-based labelling solution and marketing tool in 2011. Now it has launched Version 2. "FloraLinQ combines the latest smartphone technology with our international image library and horticultural expertise. It is an exciting way to help growers and retailers enhance plant marketing," says Mathias.
The company offers a branded version of the FloraLinQ pages to allow customers to incorporate their own logo. "Our vision is that within five years, every plant sold will have a label enhanced by FloraLinQ-type services - and demonstrates our clear aim to take a strong lead in the development of web services that support plant sales," Mathias adds.
QR codes can bridge print and digital media channels but, as Hortipak head of marketing James Buffoni explains, there are other things to consider. "More important is that we measure the growth in mobile usage in our customers and have an appropriate plan in place so we are moving with the customers. The industry is fragmented and the needs of customers are quite broad," he says.
With that in mind, Hortipak has developed PlantInfo. Buffoni says: "This allows us to quickly and cost-effectively develop online plant information that is available on any device and allows for a huge scale and scope of information that can all be personalised and linked to labels and posters by interactive codes like QRs."
But he has a word of caution: "Our approach with new technology has always been to do it properly or not all. So adding digital information to a label via a QR has to be done intelligently - there's no point in doing it if the customers don't have smartphones, don't use them for web browsing or if there's no mobile internet at the garden centre. On the other hand, the multimedia opportunities are endless, and the campaigns or projects become measurable when they are scanned, so we can see how well we are doing."
He has specific suggestions too. "Why not create your own video guides to plant care with an iPhone and let us sort out all IT at PlantInfo? Ideally, this approach removes a big chunk of the risk and all of the gimmicks from the adoption of technology or new ideas. Whether it's through print or digital channels, we always have to understand the needs of specific customer groups and communicate effectively with them - once again, it's about connecting people with plants."
With more than just labelling in mind, Hortipak has adopted the slogan "Connecting People with Plants". It follows work with the HTA market research team, using an analysis of Garden Spender Profiles to identify the areas of the market that spend the most money - now and in the future - and why, where and when they spend. The aim is to use the information to develop products and services that appeal to these segments. The company is also collaborating with retailers, growers, the British Protected Ornamentals Association, HTA, RHS and international organisations.
"Collaboration and experimentation are key words at the moment. It's very easy to batten down the hatches in hard times but our role and capabilities are changing fast - it's exciting," says Buffoni. "We are working hard with all our partners to take all available opportunities, whether they relate to new product development, cost saving, financial terms or creative experiments."
Images that let you create your own marketing materials
Floramedia has one of the UK's largest ranges of stock labels, with more than 10,000 from which to choose. There are nine different shapes, providing an extensive selection of possible solutions for customers. The company also holds a picture library with more than 250,000 images that garden centres can use to create their own marketing materials.
"For each variety, we have a different style to meet different guidelines," managing director Nick Mathias explains. "For example, in a close-up shot the plant is shown against a light-green background and each variety covers the same space in the picture. In a portrait shot a certain number of plants will be shown to give an indication of the size and in a habit shot the whole plant will be shown in the soil with no edges cut off."
Floramedia controls all the handling and provenance of its images, so companies do not have to worry about reproducing them without the permission of the rightful owner.
At Bamboo Print, director Duncan McLintock also believes pictures are at the heart of all labelling and point-of-sale projects. "We very much value our special relationship with GAP, whose collection now encompasses more than 350,000 images and is growing at a rate of about 1,000 pictures per week," he says.
"Their library includes some really outstanding how-to-do-it shots that cover lots of gardening projects step-by-step, as well as some terrific inspiration material that's perfect for contemporary point of sale."
A bigger splash
Labels are getting ever bigger and brighter. Bamboo Print director Duncan McLintock says: "We are developing a sleeve for a rose grower that will only just fit on our press - it will pack a big punch in the garden centre environment."
New from Hortipak, Hortiboard material is a water-resistant, recyclable, environmentally-friendly board specially designed for horticultural packaging and promotional products. It is a versatile material and can be used for wraps, trays, hanging basket wallets and bedding tray sleeves.
Ready for the sales scramble
Colchester-based Labels & Packaging is ready to meet the demand for post-Christmas sales and New Year bargains by producing a range of special sale and reduced-price labels.
"This is one of our busiest times of the year. Traders know that business will be brisk as customers look for bargains after Christmas," says managing director Phil Griffiths. "It's a hectic business window for many garden centres and farm shops and we have a range of labels ready to meet demand."
The company supplies colourful labels produced to order and, for customers who like to make their own labels, offers printers, inks and a wide range of label types in different materials. A new e-commerce site is an innovation that marks the business's growth.
Sales director Jacqui Dunford says the biggest point-of-sale trend at the moment is buy-one-get-one-free and similar offers. She adds: "We are producing more and more promotional material for retailers along those lines."