The Sun is Our Income

What insights did you capture in the whirlwind of summer 2012?  I’m always jotting notes in a desperate attempt to capture ideas before they fall off my radar screen, considering that the tidal wave of information drifts by and disappears faster than dandelion parachutes floating in the breeze. Since my “notepads” include any writing surface at hand used to record quotes, inspirations and viewpoints for future use, my autumn goal is to develop a system to organize this cache of insights. Otherwise, those cool facts continue to float around my office or get trapped in travel bags and float away like, well, dandelion seeds.

A few impressions that stuck with me during my summer travels have inspired me to start zeroing in on attitude shifts concerning sustainability. In June, as part of a company meeting in Holland, I had the opportunity to visit Floriade 2012, the Dutch-sponsored horticultural exposition featured every 10 years. This year’s theme underscored sustainability and recycling materials as a way of highlighting the program theme of “Cradle to Cradle” (C2C). Displays focused on recycling materials in order to upgrade them (upcycling instead of downcycling).

Although some may feel the C2C goal is unrealistic, a  utopian world vision at best, the Floriade marketing group grounded their goal by explaining that C2C is a “… theatre in which you learn about nature and from nature, which makes you realise that flowers, plants, trees, vegetables and fruits are important in our daily life…”

This eloquent statement got me wondering about the U.S. approach to raising public awareness of nature as theater. Have marketing efforts, focused on sustainability, positioned the concept as a new fad rather than a tenet of good citizenship? Somehow, I feel that many consumers perceived certification efforts and sustainable practices as a feel-good and are now ready to move on to the next big thing.

Has interest in recycling, reducing, upcycling and reusing stagnated in this country? While the Netherlands has slowly and steadily developed a platform of consumer awareness in the 25+ years I’ve been watching, other parts of the world now exhibit dramatic difference in food choices, packing methods, and recycling awareness. Ideally, the US will adopt the slow and steady approach of the Netherlands in accepting sustainable activities as normal behaviors rather than localized interests of individual communities.

Before you start yelling at me, I know it’s unfair to compare the effectiveness of changing consumer behaviors in a country of 311 million people to one with 16.7 million citizens. Regardless, Floriade sparked my interest to keep looking for positive signs that the sustainability mentality is more than a marketing fad in the States.

When the Audience is Willing to Listen

What other insights bloomed in summer 2012?  Did you catch Judy Sharpton’s article in the August 2012 greenProfit  in which she discusses how our customers give us great feedback, if only we listen! She cites examples of mining the depth of information available from in-store surveys. In one survey, the reason customers, who bought in record numbers in April, didn’t return the next month was because employees failed to greet them or make eye contact. An easily fixable problem, yet the store’s managers wouldn’t listen (or believe) the survey results.

Ha. I know how frustrating it is when people embrace truthiness rather than facts grounded in research. A huge part of my job is providing training workshops for supermarket floral clerks, retail designers, big box merchandisers, and growers. Many times, I notice body language that indicates participants are rejecting my information, no matter that I back it up with research and real-life results. Nothing hones one’s ability to separate naysayers from listeners like being on stage, trying to debunk crazy myths about flower care with fact-based information. My favorite urban legend this summer was an audience participant’s insistence that nothing works better than Pam as a spray to reduce leaf dehydration. I suppose PAM shines leaves too, at least according to Honey Boo Boo, that is.

Sharpton continues to provide tidbits of information gleaned from garden center customer surveys over the past decade including: too much variety, confusing product information, and staff not knowing enough about the products they sell. And although she is referring to plant material, the same holds true for cut flowers. Too many price points confuse customers who often use size or color as the discerning aspect of flower value. Training and signage goes a long way in remedying both issues. The curious consumer appreciates signage that gives insights on the product. Also, signage is a wonderful subtle weapon to engage interest without scaring away a potential client with a direct approach.

How can you use information from survey results to set yourself apart from the competition? Study after study shows that by far, the number one reason people don’t buy flowers more often is because consumers don’t think flowers are a good value because they don’t last long. Although growers know that longevity is a balance of variables starting with variety selection and continuing through postharvest handling, your customers don’t. Are you sharing the various efforts you employ to provide a beautiful product?

Thinking back to the late ‘70s when STS became the accepted treatment to counter the negative effects of ethylene damage, smart growers noted “STS Treated” on sleeves so customers (wholesale and retail buyers) would request (and pay more for) their brand over untreated bunches. Give information-hungry consumers reasons to buy your products.

Not sure what STS is? No worries, John Dole and I will share postharvest info at the Tacoma convention. I’ll have plenty of free samples in the trade show, too. Of course, I can’t complete an article without reminding readers that the 10 cent flower food packets is a cheap insurance policy to ratchet up consumers’ attitude of value—research shows flowers last more than 50% longer in commercial flower food vs. tap water. Longevity and value…surveys don’t lie, yet I run into doubting Thomases at every turn.

Why is “Change” a Dirty Word?

A naysayer popped up during training sessions I recently presented to the floral departments of a large Las Vegas hotel chain. I was there because they wanted to reduce costs. Their blooms didn’t last so they had to make complete product change-outs every 3 days, and it was expensive! As I made location audits, the problem soon became apparent. The hotel design companies treated everything in Las Vegas tap water (high total dissolved solids and pH.) After my presentations, I got the perfunctory “thank you’s” from managers. They appreciated staff education about the “whys” behind different floral practices, yet sighed with resignation and explained that their designers would never change old habits regardless of training or cost-savings. As one designer told me when I asked if she filled containers with flower food, “My first manager didn’t believe in that stuff so I never use it.”

Longevity and value: simple concepts to embrace, but a difficult paradigm shift to maintain.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

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