Years ago I edited a national consumer gardening magazine and each year we took a trade stand at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Normally we would cover the stand with display boards and blown-up replicas of front covers, all accompanied by vivid and eye-catching signage.
One year the Chelsea organiser reprimanded us for making the stand "12 per cent too colourful" and asked us to tone it down. I mention this only because it is apparent that in the marketing of products - or indeed plants - you can go "over the top".
Visit a large garden centre today and you are likely to see a trend away from chaotic point of sale (POS) cluttering up every available space in bright colours. You are probably going to notice a more considered approach with carefully targeted POS in appropriate places. The emphasis has become "less is more"
In the main, this has been brought about by many centres creating their own in-house POS, which tends to be A4-sized. However, the latest OKI printers offer so much more than one side of A4. There are A3 and A2 banners and double-sided options.
Finding new ways to grab customers' attention is a challenge, so it is helpful to understand the ways customers react to specific triggers. In the USA, leading branding and labelling firm MasterTag has been conducting research into gardeners' consumer habits and trends.
Chicago-based creative director Gerry Giorgio says: "Sixty-five per cent of all purchases are impulse buys made in-store. Your product or plant has one-sixth of a second to get noticed before the opportunity is lost. More than that, 80 per cent of consumers buy what they pick up. The best possible advertising that you can have is right in the store where the consumer is standing with their money in their hands and ready to make a decision."
But Giorgio also says you should establish a separate budget for your POS: "This will be determined by the selling price to the retailer and your desired margins. Remember that added value schemes should result in higher retail prices, higher margins and increased sell-through. If they don't, then don't do them."
Ball Colegrave supplies bedding, patio plant and perennials seed and young plants, and it offers and distributes a MasterTag label for every variety in its seed and plant catalogues. Ball Colegrave marketing manager Stuart Lowen says: "This is quite a unique and long-standing partnership that has supported growers for many years with a reliable and consistent label service. MasterTag is renowned for high-quality printing and is an expert on written horticultural care information."
Part of MasterTag's consumer research looked at "the anatomy of a plant label". Giorgio says: "We asked what gardeners wanted from a tag and we were able to come up with a hierarchy of information. They started by wanting to know what type of plant it is - perennial, bedding, shrub. So this goes at the top of the label. Then comes cultural information, in either icon form or words, or occasionally both. Then there is the common name of the plant, then a bright picture, then the botanical name in smaller type towards the base. Professionals may want to know the botanical name, but the consumer generally doesn't need or want to know it."
He continues: "I liken a good plant tag to a beautifully designed aeroplane. It may look great, but you still want it to fly. A label should look great, but it should tell you what you need to know."
Giorgio is now looking forward to the widespread introduction of the next generation of plant labels with QR (or Quick Response) barcode technology. This is common in Japan, where it was originally created by a subsidiary of Toyota.
"QR is a two-dimensional matrix barcode, read by dedicated readers and camera phones," Giorgio explains. "It has exciting commercial potential and, with the so-called invisible watermarking clic2c technology, it won't be intrusive like traditional line barcodes. So it won't impact on label design."
In the UK horticultural sector, Nottingham-based branding and printing company Hortipak is at the forefront of barcode innovation. Head of marketing James Buffoni says: "Essentially, a QR code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. Information encoded within it can be text, URL or other data.
"Codes may appear on plant labels or packaging, as well as in more traditional printed matter such as magazines, on signs, business cards or on just about any object about which users might need information.
"Users with a smart phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text or contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone's browser. We know that 30 per cent of people in the UK own a smart phone, and this is only going to grow. The possibilities are endless."
Current television advertisements for Tesco are promoting this facility for customers to price their own purchases as they do their shopping.
The web is clearly an immediate medium, with the benefit of complete coverage (for those with internet access) and none of the associated print, paper and postage/distribution costs. There are set-up and maintenance costs and an annual hosting charge, particularly for a full e-commerce facility, but this is generally far less than the cost of traditional catalogue printing and mailshots.
Lowen says: "Like many companies, Ball Colegrave has moved into the 21st century. Our catalogues and late spring additions brochure are all on our website as 'flick books'."
Leicester-based James Coles Nurseries does not have a full online ordering facility, but it is utilising many of the opportunities of online business. Head of marketing Lynn Hunter says: "We have just upgraded our website and it is much more customer-friendly.
"But we also feel strongly that targeting customers with email campaigns, and even getting over our sales messages by using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are the ways forward. One needs time to do this properly, but we are beginning to find this very rewarding."
There is still a hard core of major horticultural businesses that prefer printed product listings. Hunter says: "More than 75 per cent of our customers actually have requested a printed catalogue.
"Ours has 64 pages of listings and plant information, and we know that many of our customers will fling it into the back of the car and take it with them when they travel about or come to the nursery. Paper product is much easier to manage than a laptop."
John Woods Nurseries press and PR manager Jo Davey adds: "We do a printed catalogue. It is our main tool for generating pre-booked reserve orders. Then, in season, we rely on 'looking good' lists for updating customers on stock availability, and these are posted, faxed or e-mailed to customers depending on their preference. They can also be downloaded from our plant buyers' tool kit, a restricted customer-only area of our website."
Displaying plants in a retail situation is a crucial part of marketing and this is seeing a change, too. Tom Davis, managing director of Powis-based bench and staging supplier Stagecraft, sees 80 per cent of his business supplying the garden retail trade.
"Increasingly, centres want year-round display equipment. This means it has to be made suitable for all weathers as well as inside and outside conditions. It has to be appropriate for displaying Christmas items and August bank holiday items," he explains.
Flexibility is another watchword at the moment. He adds: "We are also seeing a steady increase in demand for mobile staging units, built on wheels with brakes. This gives the planteria manager complete flexibility as to where and how his plants are displayed."
A small but important part of the Stagecraft portfolio is to make the frames and holders for POS material. Davis says: "This can be created to order. As retailers refine their offering to customers, they frequently have need of bespoke holders for POS, and if this can be linked to their overall plant display, it all looks so much more appealing to the customer."
REASONS FOR GOOD POS
- Helps shoppers notice offers, sales and new products.
- Helps shoppers find plants and products.
- Reminds shoppers to buy plants and products.
- Inspires them to use products.
- Generates impulse/unplanned purchases.
- Reinforces planned behaviour.
- Attracts new purchases.
- Eases the shopping experience.
- Be visually appealing.
- Maintains and enhances the products and the retailer's identity/image.
LINKING WITH POPULAR CULTURE
Clearly it is helpful if your product or message can be linked to something high profile. John Woods Nurseries, through its Mattocks Roses brand, is promoting three new roses this year named after characters from TV's Coronation Street, which itself celebrates 50 years in 2011.
The Rita Sullivan, Jack Duckworth and Hilda Ogden Roses have been developed by German breeder Kordes and will be available from garden centre stockists from July.
Mattocks plant development manager Gavin Shaw says: "With an average of 10 million viewers per episode and 50 years of history, Coronation Street is unrivalled in popularity. We will be marketing these plants not only to gardeners and rose enthusiasts but also as gifts for lovers of the soap."
The point of sale package from Mattocks includes colour label, A2 Correx posters and bed-edge cards.