A major part of any marketing plan will be the use of appropriate labelling and, if you watch customers wandering around a garden centre, picking up plants and reading the label to check suitability, you will recognise just how important labelling is.
But with such a wide choice of stock labels, bespoke labels, swing tags and other elements like printed pots and wraps, what is the best solution? And how important is branding? Bamboo Print director Duncan McLintock describes current trends:
"As ever, people are asking for bigger, brighter tags and coloursticks, and calling for more information on the label," he says. "While it used to be the case that customers asked for pictures to be as large as possible, there is now a growing recognition that the text content is also vitally important, and that consumers these days appreciate knowing more about the provenance of the plants as well as being given the basics, such as height and spread, planting position and season of interest."
McLintock has also noticed that the more progressive UK nurseries seem to want to go the extra mile when it comes to guiding and informing gardeners, particularly with big ticket purchases like fruit trees and mature specimens. It’s a point that has earned Bamboo acclaim. "We’ve been delighted that Which? Gardening has commended some swingtags that we produced for a Sussex tree supplier, singling them out as good, helpful examples of their kind. This is in marked contrast to some imported labels, which offer practically nothing in the way of information," says McLintock.
At Floramedia, the design team has had a busy year, as managing director Nick Mathias explains: "Amongst growers and retailers there is considerable thought going into how to update branding and labelling, more so now than in previous years. As a result, our Flora Creative design team has been very busy."
For many growers, stock labels will be the solution to their needs. New products from Floramedia include a range of seasonal gift tags to brighten up plant sales at various times of the year. Together with banners, bench roll and point of sale, they are part of a large range of new, themed merchandising items. "These products help garden centre managers make the most of those important occasions and seasonal periods of the year, including Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, spring, summer and Christmas, and help to inspire customers," says Mathias.
Another new line from Floramedia is the Vintage label. Designed for cut flower and indoor plants, these labels are printed on beautiful card and have a tie so a bunch of flowers can be turned into a special gift. Vintage labels are supplied in a small till-point display unit.
For growers faced with differing trays and pots, Floramedia has developed a sticky strap handle. Designed as a versatile solution, the handles can be quickly and easily used on any pot or tray. In addition, the company has launched a range of labels to support the GIMB’s Love My Plot campaign and later this month, at the IPM show, will launch two biodegradable materials for labels – part of Floramedia’s Fora Eco initiative, supporting retailers and growers who want to develop their labelling materials.
The demand for short runs continues. McLintock again: "Shorter runs are always called for to address unexpected opportunities or to test new varieties in the marketplace, and there are several digital solutions to this demand. To shorten lead times we’ve invested in new stringing equipment that lets us process swingtags more rapidly."
Time is also important when it comes to stock labels. Mathias says: "In general the focus for stock labels is on responding swiftly to customer orders. Our service is constantly being improved. We have a track and trace service, that allows our customers to see when their package will arrive, and that really matters in the coming months."
Signage, covers and wraps should also feature in the marketing programme. In response to requests from a number of small and medium-sized independent retailers, Bamboo Print has launched an off-the-peg collection of colourful signage and now offers a range of designs covering the major plant groups and some seasonal themes such as Mother’s Day, Halloween and Christmas. Each design is available in landscape and portrait format, and in several sizes, giving growers plenty of options. Other areas are also being developed, as McLintock explains:
"While plastic labels continue to account for the bulk of our sales, we’re still very much involved in other areas of horticultural packaging such as pre-pack cards, cappers and tray lids – these are still commonly used by supermarkets and discount outlets, where demand remains strong."
Adding value to plants is something Elburg Smit UK sales manager Mike Sutton believes to be important and growing in popularity. "At the point-of-sale in store, in catalogues or on websites, plant buyers are faced with a wide range of choices. Their ultimate selection tends to be influenced by appealing images, attractive presentation and familiar brands, as well as the quality of the plants," he says.
"Increasing the added value of plants by enhanced presentation and packaging is now being embraced substantially in the industry, with proven benefits in terms of both increased volumes and margin," Sutton continues. "We have many customer case-histories of plants now being presented in colourful pot covers or with bigger and more imaginative labelling, substantially outselling traditional presentations and achieving higher prices."
"Investment in state-of-the-art equipment has enabled Elburg Smit to offer a wide range of options for adding value along with a number of USPs, which our customers already enjoy," says Sutton. "Our ‘EOS’ on-line label design and management system, enables growers to design edit and approve their plant labels from their desk top. With the free use of over 300,000 plant images through our sister company Visions Pictures and high-quality print and materials, we continue to offer a creative and cost effective route to powerful plant presentation."
Among Elbrug Smit’s latest developments is the Smartwrap. This printed pot cover comes fully erected and ready to use, avoiding the need for time-consuming assembly by the grower.
In this age of information technology, there is now another aspect to labelling. Joy of Plants managing director Terri Jones explains: "Retailers now need plant labels in their virtual shops as well as their bricks-and-mortar outlets. But providing consistent, informative and appealing plant information in both places, and keeping up with changes in plant stock, is a difficult task for retailers’ web developers and planteria staff alike."
For 2015 Joy of Plants has extended its services to make plant information easy for both outlets. With a single sign up, retailers can add high-quality plant information to their websites and e-commerce sites as well as printing bed cards for their stores. And it’s all based on the Joy of Plants’ database and image library of over 10,200 UK plants.
"The Joy of Plants Bed Cards proved to be hugely popular in 2014, with large and small retailers printing thousands of cards. The reduction in the price of colour laser printers, and the availability of weatherproof media like Xerox’s Never Tear paper, have made print-your-own bed cards an affordable and realistic option. This year we have updated our bed-card tool to allow clients to print their own info on a bed card for any new plant not yet in the database, to ensure every plant can be covered," says Jones.
To take things a step further for some retailers, Joy of plants is collaborating with EPOS supplier CSY Retail to link Joy of Plants info into CSY Retail’s Vector EPOS solution. CSY Retail customers will be able to populate their e-commerce sites with Joy of Plants information and print their Bed Cards from within their EPOS system, so the plant information of both virtual and actual stores can be created as part of the retailer’s stock control process. The link up will also allow plant care information to be emailed to buyers or printed when they purchase, so it won’t matter if they lose the plant labels in the pots.
"Our vision at Joy of Plants is to make plant information easy for our clients and their customers. We provide clients with an extensible and growing library of information and simple tools for populating online stores and printing Bed Cards for actual stores. We look after both the content and presentation, so its maintenance free," explains Jones.
"Given the unpredictable nature of the weather, suppliers’ ‘looking good’ lists and plant trends driven by TV, on-demand info is just what they need. And by linking to their EPOS system, we can have the plant data driven by the retailer’s stocklist and buyers purchases, saving staff time and effort all round."
Box: Engraved to last
Sheen Botanical Labels reports a busy season with orders for bespoke engraved labels from a host of National Trust Properties and several public authorities – including Enfield Borough Council who is designating an arboretum around the borough. Apart from the company’s standard matt-black aluminium plant label holders, Sheen has also supplied Oxford Botanical Gardens, Bodnant Gardens and RBG Kew with bespoke holders.
Box: Label application
Once the boxes of labels have arrived at the nursery, they need to be inserted into the pots and made secure. Although popular in Europe for a while, welding labels to a pot is only just catching on over here. But now, according to nursery equipment supplier Mechanical Botanical director Mike Berry, it is making up for lost time.
"When dealing with the multiples, growers usually send plants out with the label inserted into the compost or attached through a slot in the pot. By the time the plant gets to the store, the label may be broken, ‘drunk’ or missing altogether. And once in the store, compost-inserted labels can still become detached or swapped by customers," he says. "Welding the label to the pot overcomes this. The plants arrive with the labels intact, standing straight and uniform like soldiers on parade. They are also secure, and cannot be moved from one pot to another."
Mechanical Botanical supplies the Willburg Tagweld label applicator. A rapid machine that uses ultrasonic welding to attach the label at the same height on each pot – even when they are wet – the system can be adapted to a variety of different label shapes and sizes. The label can incorporate a perforated tear-off section so the price/barcode can be removed when the plant is purchased as a gift.
Berry estimates that by not needing a slotted pot, growers can save up to 2p per pot by sourcing standard pots. The system also allows co-ordination, such as pink pots and blue labels.