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Growing in the Green: Magic in marketing

April 16, 2014  By Melhem Sawaya

Since the dawn of history, marketing has been the backbone of every successful industry.

Since the dawn of history, marketing has been the backbone of every successful industry. The guiding principle and cornerstone for any successful marketing campaign requires three main factors:   

There’s always a market for quality plants.



One: There is a need for the product or service.

Two: The product or service lives up to the customers’ expectations.

Three: It helps customers be more successful and beneficial using this product or service.

The prime skill of the marketer is how effective they are in convincing customers that the product or service meets customer expectations. To be able to communicate all this, an understanding of the following is needed.


  • Women buy more than 80 per cent of retail products.
  • Women make the majority of all purchases in nearly every major category, including automotive, home improvement and financial services.
  • Sixty-five per cent of all women still think that marketers and advertisers do not understand them.
  • Consumers don’t spend more time gardening, mainly because of a lack of time.
  • Eighty-five per cent of consumers will shop at stores and garden centres that provide gardening ideas and backyard projects.
  • Ninety per cent of consumers find value in information that includes combination plants and garden designs.
  • Eighty-five per cent of consumers are willing to try new products.
  • Women go shopping to see new trends, fashions and products.

Directing our marketing to the right customer is important. But what’s more important is for the customer to be successful with the product so they will spread the word to family, friends and
co-workers. Word-of-mouth endorsement still is the best advertisement. However, the best marketing efforts will be short-lived if the product falls short of expectations.

Always-check display  
Everyone enjoys well-maintained displays.


The product is what keeps customers coming back – or not.

Product variety is good but duplication of similar products with different names is confusing. Selection based on products that have different looks and enjoyable experiences is a good thing. However, selection for the sake of saying a large number of varieties are carried is confusing to the point consumers cannot make a decision on what to buy and many times they leave without buying anything.

The most important thing is to carry garden-tested varieties, and not varieties that look pretty in the catalogue but will not survive the growing conditions in your market area.

The days of 48 plants per flat are gone, the smallest configuration is a 32 and more than 90 per cent of the packs are 2-0-12 or 3-0-6 or just 1-0-24; this is a great step forward for consumers and sales. The less shrinkage the better! Consumers need plants that are not overly growth-regulated with chemicals, because fewer PGRs usually means better garden performance.

Pot sizes are 10 cm and 15 cm for single varieties to be planted into gardens. And of course the hanging baskets and different combination pots are selling well.

Consistently good-quality plants mean higher prices. Most gardeners will pay more for quality, especially if the garden centre builds that trust with their customers and does not abuse it.

Packaging adds value and consumer appeal.


Don’t sell plants that are too old; half the life of very flowery plants is gone. Instead, let your customers try plants just about to flower. I guarantee their gardening success will increase 100 per cent. Plant young plants and they will adjust to Mother Nature much faster than old ones. As well, young plants have more energy for their roots to go faster and deeper in the ground.

  • Old plants in hanging baskets or combinations are almost completely root-bound. This replaces the growing media that will subsequently not have much water-holding capacity.
  • Containers that are not meant to be transplanted need to have the media low enough from the top so it can hold water when it is watered.
  • The best quality plant, if not watered, will die. Carry and sell drip systems; these are easy to use and very affordable.

Carry plants that are appropriate for the season, i.e., plants that can take the cold for early spring.  Do not sell tender plants until the end of May. Always have the success of the consumer in mind and do not set them up to fail.

Gardeners need information and they are willing to pay for it when they trust it. That trust is established and re-affirmed when they are successful.

Remember also that everyone likes to feel important. Anything that makes their shopping enjoyable is welcomed by consumers.


Patios as new areas to decorate.


There are many avenues for advertising, including newspapers, radio, coupons, flyers and social media. However, the most important advertisement and the most dependable is word-of-mouth. The only catch here is that you must have successful and satisfied customers. Customers with bad experiences will spread that frustration among their friends.

Any successful business plans for the future and for any changes that may happen along the way:

  • Product selection.
  • Customer base.
  • New technology.
  • This year’s colours.
  • Plant of the year.
  • New employees.

All of the above are ongoing changes to follow. But when it comes to major changes, such as opening another outlet, many things need to be considered. I know of operations that were doing very well in a single location and decided to branch out, only to lose both operations because the ramifications for expanding were not well studied, especially manpower requirements. So the bottom line is that bigger is not necessarily better.

What is more important is improving the bottom line and eliminating the total dependency on banks.

Every owner should realize his or her strengths and hire somebody to cover their weaknesses. Always try to capitalize on the strengths of others and build a dependable team to help you build for the future. ■

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are welcome at

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