Wag More, Bark Less

A lush display of blooming baskets can stimulate impulse purchases among gardeners in much the same way Hershey bars at checkout lines stimulate a must-have response in children (or in anyone, for that matter). Is the same true of cut flower displays? Do they push the needle on the Richter scale of impulse sales? Yes and no.
   
Our industry has spent considerable time, money and research working to nudge flowers out of the rut of a once or twice a year gift item into an everyday purchase category. The results have been somewhat successful, but opportunity continues to knock. Changing, even shifting, a consumer purchasing paradigm is slow going and requires input (and integrity) at every level within the industry. Stimulating everyday sales means the product must trigger a positive response in the consumer’s head motivating him to buy. What reason do you give your customers to buy?

Again with the “Lifestyle”
        
Success in shifting a paradigm requires redirecting customer expectations and then satisfying those expectations. In a recent GrowerTalks article, Kerry Herndon talks about aspirations and quotes Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.”  Kerry asks the reader, “Hope for what? A better quality of life, whatever that means to the buyer.”
    
To communicate the connection between floral products and a better quality of life, the Society of American Florists (SAF) has sponsored several research projects at Harvard and Rutgers Universities providing evidence that plants and flowers do indeed improve the quality of life. The studies proved that flowers and plants improve workplace productivity, act as air fresheners, strengthen feelings of compassion and decrease anxiety and worry. Popular trends including lifestyle, outdoor living and sustainability associate flowers and plants with quality of life, too. No one will deny that cut flowers and plants are distinctively “green”.
    
So why then, with so many positive attributes going for us, do we (and those we sell to) remain stuck in thinking of our products as commodities? The disadvantage of a commodity mind-set is that it generates a price race for the bottom. To break out of this mentality, Mr. Herndon suggests jazzing up packaging and presentation. The product itself may be beautiful, but dirty buckets or pots are not. Flower and plant aesthetics may drive impulse sales, but savvy marketers take it one step farther and smarten the entire package.
    
Following the mantra of all things lifestyle, consumers want products that provide an experience, not just a register ring.

Red Zinger or Sleepy Time?

What product do you consider a commodity? Is there any panache to its presentation? Lipton black tea is a good example: tea bags in paper wrappers. Now think Celestial Seasonings black tea: bags wrapped in foil packets (freshness) with a colorful picture of an English cottage and garden (commune with nature). The packaging identifies where in England the blend originates, Devonshire, (vicarious travel experience), has brewing directions (get most out of product) and a wise saying from William Wordsworth (makes consumer feel literate). All created to enhance the experience of enjoying a cup of tea.
    
Developing the experience aspect provides leverage to fight against attitudes that commodity products are synonymous with minimum acceptable quality.
    
Commodities lack uniqueness. Establishing uniqueness may be as simple as identifying the flower variety on the sleeve or sales placard. Name your bouquets using pop cultural connections or humorous monikers. Lean on titles that baby boomers relate to, like Moody Blues or Mellow Yellows. Make sure your company name (and logo) is apparent on everything. It teaches customers to ask for your product by name.
    
When selling to wholesalers, provide common names as well as Latin nomenclature. Phone sales are far more dominant than walk-ins at wholesale level, and people don’t sell it (or buy it) if they can’t call it by name. “Limited” is another way to denote uniqueness. It also generates excitement and provides a grand opportunity for taking pre-orders for the following week’s deliveries.

Educated Customers May Buy More Flowers

Another way to break out of commodity mentality is to provide information about the vase longevity and reliability of various blooms. People want and respect an honest appraisal of the longevity of the product. Telling customers that lilies will outlast iris in a mixed bouquet is an easy way to develop customer trust and avoid dissatisfaction. With that kernel of information, customers are now waiting to see how long the lilies last rather than feeling disappointed that the iris withered first.
    
Describe the postharvest treatments used to ensure top quality. Properly treated products demand more money than bunches placed in tap water. Postharvest procedures maximize shelf life and reduce the amount of dumped product. Shrink percentage is an important number on which buyers are evaluated. Wholesale buyers expect ethylene-sensitive delphiniums to be treated with STS in postharvest, and wilt-sensitive hydrangeas to be hydrated in a commercial hydration solution rather than tap water.
    
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think specialty cut flower growers view their products as commodity items, but the people to whom you sell may, and by doing so, feel justified to ask for ever-lower pricing. Arm your sales staff with the tools needed to break away from a boorish commodity profile.
    
How do you go about distinguishing your products? Grade flowers so buyers know they can rely on receiving consistent bunch size and quality every time they buy. Another deal-maker is offering information on handling techniques that maximize vase performance. Never assume customers know how to handle floral products. Adding aspirin or vodka to the vase may sound cute, but it’s not nearly as effective as a commercial flower food.  Know the basics of correct handling, because two days can make the difference between a delighted customer or one who sees flowers as a commodity item not worth the money.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

Gay Smith is the Technical Consulting Manager for Chrysal USA. Contact her at [email protected]