Quality is so Yesterday—Premium Rocks

The urge hit me as rain pounded my windows: time to organize—go through and file or pitch the stuff stacked in menacing piles on every office surface. Soon I was knee deep in my file cabinet looking at fascinating scraps of information abandoned to my ever-increasing reliance on Google for answers and insights.

I am not a fan of paperless. I love thumbing through photos and holding a book, magazine or newspaper in my hands, but those piles were ruining the feng shui of my office. While digging through one of them, I found a gem from the November 1997 issue of Greenhouse Grower—an editorial by David Kuack titled, “Quality is Out, Premium is In”. He said it’s time we find a replacement word for “quality”, since it is a given. His column asked what it would take to develop a premium line of plants. (I’m including flowers as well.)

Kuack referred to a June 1997 Newsweek article that credited Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma (also Pottery Barn and Gardner’s Eden) as responsible for “upscaling everyday life by offering premium products to replace the mundane and the ordinary.” In the same article, the editor of W&S catalog business, Pat Connally, said “…people rely on us to tell them what they should own.” Isn’t that what we do in the flower business, tell people what they should buy and why? Eighteen years ago, Kuack posed these questions: “Is this desire for premium products a short-lived fad or will the appeal for upscale and refinement become the consumer trend?” He continues by asking, “…can a grower or retailer change the consumer’s perception of plants” (and flowers)?  

A look at some of the events exerting huge cultural, economic and political force on our society since Kuack’s 1997 editorial helps put in perspective changes affecting business in the floral industry. It’s hard to believe that the Internet was still in its infancy in ’97—email beginning to eclipse faxes as the new mode of communication. Who dreamt that Google, founded in 1998, was a name destined to be used as a verb as Google evolved into a go-to information source? Martha Stewart was sitting in prison the same year (2004) Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, the site that started as a way for men to rate women’s attractiveness, and exploded into a social media phenomenon used by 1.18 billion subscribers ten years later. YouTube launched in 2005, resulting in a new-normal of video sharing (everything).

That same year the housing bubble began to burst, causing more than one million foreclosures by 2006. The 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, a financial crisis unlike any in history, affected both Wall Street and Main Street. Bailed out by the government program, TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), Wall Street rebounded, but Main Street (the job market) continues to struggle.

Highlights of 2015 include the 26th anniversary of the ASCFG,  the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage, and marijuana’s upward trajectory as a lucrative horticultural crop as more states legalize its use for both medical and recreational purposes.

Considering what’s happened in the past 18 years, how do you answer Kuack’s queries? Has the desire for premium products, the appeal of upscale and refinement, become a consumer trend? Do growers and retailers have the power to positively change consumer’s perception of plants and flowers to appreciate a premium product? Yes! On both accounts.

Consumer buying patterns and market indicators show that both “upscale” and “premium” are solid trends. Another trend firmly rooted is the buy local movement. Consumer surveys and scan data show that given the choice of products having similar price points, consumers favor purchases that support the environment, local vendors, and causes like breast cancer awareness.

Of course, electronic commerce and online purchasing has and continues to change consumer buying habits as well as marketing processes. If you sell to supermarkets, utilize scan data to obtain a clear picture of what sells and what’s lost to shrink. Take advantage of media sites like Facebook and Pinterest to share and gather information. Forrester Research forecasts a 10% online sales growth over the next five years, so increasing media presence is a no-brainer. Sites provide windows to discover what consumers consider “premium”.

When planning your cut flower crops, incorporate blooms that complement the 2016 color(s) of the year, Rose Quartz and Serenity. Greenhouse Grower’s benchrunner e-newsletter (December 15, 2015) article title says it all, 13 Varieties That Enhance Pantone’s Colors Of The Year.Even if you have no plans to sell flowers online, your customers are surfing for ideas, information and product sources.The beauty and uniqueness of flowers are built-in selling attributes, and handling tips ensure the consumer experience is successful. Staying attuned to cultural and religious influence on flower purchasing is critical.

Prior to Joan Thorndike’s Bulletin Board posts last fall, who knew the far-reaching demand of marigold blooms? If you’ve been reluctant to tap social media resources, now is the time to start surfing and hang ten. Resolve to substitute the word PREMIUM for quality in 2016 sales and marketing endeavors, and enjoy a prosperous New Year! 

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

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