As many growers and garden center retailers can attest, houseplants and tropicals are having a moment, and that excitement was apparent at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo.
“There is electricity in the air, and it’s an optimistic show,” says Jared Hughes, owner of Groovy Plants Ranch based in Marengo, Ohio. “People are excited.”
TPIE, which featured 400 exhibitors and 6,488 attendees, took place Jan. 16 - Jan. 18 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Theresa Riley, owner of Rockledge Gardens in Rockledge, Fla., served on the TPIE committee for several years, and said the 2019 show was a standout.
“I really think this year is one of the best I remember in a very long time! Lots of positive vibes and buzz,” she says. We spotted interesting plants, festive people and creative displays on the show floor. Here are just a few highlights.
Embrace modern media
Media Strategies - Cover Department | Straight Talk
Consumers and retailing have changed, as has media. Here’s how to reach today’s customers.
We’re living and working in times where marketing and media are ever-moving targets. Technology continues to evolve at a pace that’s tough to match. With the way media continues to redefine itself, choosing and executing the best marketing tactics can be confounding. If you’re still trying to use conventional sales channels to capture marketing share, you’re likely losing ground. If you haven’t figured out how to use new media channels to capture market voice, your brand may be going wholly unnoticed.
Many of your customers have likely forgotten the times when they couldn’t simply pick up their smartphone, tablet, or laptop and get what they wanted or needed, right now. The consumer desires that strike us in the moment can now often be fulfilled in the moment. Entertainment, education, and engagement are also right at our fingertips, 24/7. Media just isn’t what, where, or when it used to be.
YouTube channels and Instagram reign supreme with many of our target customers, and podcasts have seen a big resurgence in the past couple of years. For many consumers, these media channels have completely replaced traditional media such as books, newspapers, magazines, and TV. Clearly, there’s a big surge in plant interest amongst new consumers, but they aren’t getting the bulk of their plant education from us. Where is the green industry and garden center presence in the right-now marketing mix? We’re a bit hard to find.
Our struggle to adapt to and embrace evolving media stems, I think, from our primary systemic challenge in the green industry: poorly developed soft skills. We’ve got our hard skills down: We know our plant science, and we know how to grow great plants. It’s those pesky soft skills such as organic engagement, relatability, and empathy that seem to trip us up. Modern day media requires soft skills to be authentically effective. The bottom line is that our customers don’t really care how smart we think we are about plants — they only care about how that knowledge on our part is going to benefit them in relevant ways.
If our industry doesn’t have much skin in the game when it comes to new media, who does? Amateur social media influencers, that’s who. For the most part, it isn’t the garden centers or plant growers who have well-developed educational and inspirational video channels and Instagram feeds with thousands of followers. The experts aren’t the ones producing online master classes. We aren’t the ones opening all the new plant shops with savvy online ordering options. It’s the amateur hobbyists. We didn’t give them the type of on-demand interactive content and media they wanted to engage with to feed their growing plant passions — or online purchasing options, for that matter. So, they did it themselves.
Now, there are pros and cons to the evolution of amateur enthusiast media channels. The biggest con being that when you have amateurs acting as media “plant experts,” you’re bound to get a lot of misinformation spread throughout the marketplace. I cringe when see misleading posts and photos about plant care, techniques, or ID pop up online, which happens daily. Most of these hobbyists just don’t know what they don’t know. You, as green industry pros, are the ones who are going to have to clean up those messes, and they could very well be hurting your business now and long-term.
The biggest pro for the green industry is that this momentum of consumer enthusiasm for plants can be a boon for your business, if you know how to leverage it. There is no reason we shouldn’t and can’t capitalize on the media engagement these eager plant enthusiasts have generated for us. To partner up with media influencers with big followings, you’re first going to have to be aware of them and acknowledge their existence. Sticking your head in the social media sand isn’t going to get you anywhere. If you’re not doing recon on Instagram, YouTube, or checking out all the new planty podcasts, then you’re missing out big time.
There’s a dangerous trend in our industry of dumbing things down for our customers. I think we are doing a big disservice to all involved when we treat our customers like they aren’t smart enough — or don’t care enough — to absorb some detail. I’m good with simplification and packaging information into digestible and relevant pieces; but that’s different than dumbing things down. Once you do a little deep digging into modern media, you’ll discover that there is a real desire amongst new plant enthusiasts for more detailed botanical knowledge.
Recently I did a flurry of podcast interviews, mostly with amateur plant enthusiasts. What did they want me to talk about? Light science for plants. No joke. I was really surprised by how successful these podcast episodes were, given the technical nature of the topics I discussed with the hosts. Listeners are hungry for plant knowledge. Bloom and Grow Radio is a great example of how amateur enthusiasts are garnering big audiences of plant keepers. The host, Maria Failla, is a self-described plant newbie. But she’s done a bang-up job on her podcast, and she has a big following. Kevin Espiritu of the Epic Gardening podcast is another great example of home-grown media success.
As a brand, you must control your messaging. If you aren’t where your customers are, that’s not going to happen. As an industry, it’s time we got into the game to embrace modern media, and partner up with the people who have suddenly captured our market voice.
Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com
How stories can help you sell
Media Strategies - Cover Department | Retail Revival
Tales of plants and your business resonate with customers. Here are opportunities when you can tell them.
Let me tell you a story. I was on a design consultation a few years ago, and there was a perfect spot for three dwarf Hinoki false cypress. Because my consultation customers can go anywhere to buy the plants I have recommended, I decided to use a story to illustrate the importance of buying just the right variety. I didn’t want them to end up at the box store where someone would put just any random evergreen into their hands.
“Be sure that you get the variety called ‘Nana,’” I told them. “There are many types of Hinoki that grow higher. In fact, I did a consultation for a local funeral home once and recommended that they use three ‘Nana’ Hinoki cypresses behind their sign. But they planted another variety and those have grown really tall and skinny. Now every time I pass by that place, I see the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost looming over their sign.”
The customers laughed, but more importantly, they remembered. Two weeks later they were in our nursery with my plan, asking for the right variety of Hinoki. They couldn’t recall the shrub’s name off the top of their heads, so they handed the plant list to one of our staff members. As he was checking the plan, the husband told him, “We want to avoid growing the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!” The story had conveyed the importance of getting the right plant better than if I’d just encouraged them to do so.
You may have noticed that many who blog, speak, or write books about marketing emphasize the importance of storytelling. The fact is, stories function in several ways for any business. A story draws people’s attention. We perk up our ears or continue reading when a story is involved. Stories make information “sticky” so that it’s more memorable. My consultation customers weren’t going to remember “Hinoki false cypress,” but they did remember the punch line to my story. And finally, stories create human-to-human connections; such links sell plants and products without being a high-pressure sales pitch.
There are many ways to use storytelling to increase customer loyalty and your bottom line. Here are just a few suggestions:
If you’ve had personal experience with a plant, be sure to pass that on to your customers. A story that is a few sentences long that speaks to a plant’s hardiness or other desirable characteristics is akin to giving your plants a five-star review on online.
Use a story to begin blog posts or newsletters. These can be personal experiences or things your customers have told you over the years. After the story, sum up with the take-home message about the plant, product, or practice in question.
Every plant has a story. You can tell your own or use stories that are known in the trade. You might get a copy of “Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots: The stories behind the common names of some of our favorite plants,” by Allan M. Armitage, and put it in your employee break room. When a customer is considering a plant and you’re nearby, if you know a short tale about that shrub, tree or perennial, tell them about it.
Hold a “Garden Story Night” or “Plant Story Slam” and invite people to share a story about a plant or their garden. Most such events have people sign up in advance and give each storyteller a time limit. Have attendees vote for the “people’s choice award” and award the winner a gift card.
Finally, your business has at least one story, and probably many more. Do your customers know how your garden center came to be? Have you told the tale about the flood that washed your nursery stock away? Have you written about the time the petting zoo goats you brought in for an event got loose and ate the perennials? Such tales create bonds between your company and the community.
Think about what you want your customers to know and remember, and then tell them a story about it.
C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com
How to establish boundaries at work
Departments - Learn to Lead | Managing your business relationships
Set clear, concise and consistent guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Football fans may lament that the 2018 NFL Season is in the rearview mirror, but lessons linger long after events fade. The Pittsburgh Steelers / Antonio Brown drama grabbed the headlines this year as he missed practices, walked away from the team multiple times, had sideline flare-ups, and went off on present and past teammates, proving once again the wisdom of Dr. Brenda Freeman: “Bad behavior left unchecked grows.”
While you may not have an employee with a multimillion contract airing dirty laundry in public, you might have a rock star or specialist whose actions are inexcusable. The sooner you address bad behavior, the less likely it is to spiral out of control.
Boundaries, or clearly defined indicators of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, protect resources and relationships. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to take steps to establish boundaries, including:
Set and maintain boundaries for you.
Establish and articulate boundaries for your team.
Monitor and maintain boundaries.
Respond and repair when boundaries are violated.
In order to lead effectively, it is imperative you have clear boundaries for yourself personally and professionally. Your management of your boundaries serves as the model for boundaries within your team. Navigating them successfully empowers you to oversee boundaries within your team.
The first step in setting good boundaries is awareness. You must know what is essential for you, and for your team, to function at the highest level. It is equally important to know you and your company’s deal-breakers.
For your boundaries, identify what energizes you, what drains you, and what pulls you off track. Encourage your team members to make the same assessment for themselves. Then, work together to identify the same information for your team as a whole. Boundaries that your team may discuss could include a commitment to a drama-free work zone, where each individual works hard, makes time for fun and treats each other with respect.
Find a way to communicate boundaries within your team in ways that are clear and respectful. When individuals express their boundaries, they don’t need to defend, debate, or detail their feelings. For the team, it’s important that boundaries are negotiated and agreed upon by consensus, understanding that as the leader, you may need to set specific boundaries and negotiate the middle ground between competing priorities. Examples of powerful team boundaries include talking to people, not about people, handling conflict civilly, being on time, meeting deadlines and producing quality work.
Too many boundaries create confusion, exhaustion and opportunities for conflict. Make them few and make them important. Monitor your team’s process and progress and address issues when it appears boundary violations are imminent. Recognizing potential problems ahead of time empowers you and your team to be proactive and make adjustments, rather than forcing you to respond to the damage that occurs when a boundary is broken.
Once you’ve created a boundary, view it like a fence. It separates what is acceptable from what is not. Keep in mind that fences have gates — places where people can get from one side to the other with permission. Know when it’s time to open the gate or adjust the boundary, and do it with intention, clarity and consistency. Take time to periodically review your personal and team boundaries to see if they are working and whether new boundaries are needed.
Good boundaries make good teams, just as good fences make good neighbors. Become a boundary master and you will increase engagement, productivity and your impact as a leader.
Dr. Sherene McHenry, The People IQ Expert™, works with organizations who want to improve their people skills so they can increase engagement, productivity and profitability. Learn more at sherenemchenry.com.
Tourmaline Intense Fuchsia
Departments - Plant Spotlight | Showcasing new varieties in the market
Bred by Ball Ingenuity, available through Botany Lane Greenhouse
How long has it been on the market?
New introduction for 2019-2020
Sun or mid shade
Zone 9-11 but can overwinter in a container indoors in colder climates
Grows to height/width
15 to 20 inches
Consumer care requirements
Diamantinas thrive in warm days and temperate to cooler nights. This makes them suitable for summers everywhere and a winter crop in frost-free areas
Grow in sizes ranging from 6-inch containers to solo large pots or mixed containers.
Colors to come
In 2020 the line is set to expand with orange-coral bicolor choices in both bush (Jade Series) and vining (Opal series), and this deep fuchsia bush type, part of the Tourmaline Series, will complement the pale pink Tourmaline Bush Pink that’s available now.
Both bush and vining types from the Diamantina series bloom earlier than other Mandevilla/Dipladenia varieties and keep going when the mercury climbs — but the real reason why home gardeners go for these plants is the color.