WHY SHE’S GREAT:
Since diving into horticulture as ArizonaEast’s marketing manager two and a half years ago, Genovese has totally revamped the way the industry envisions the New Jersey-based succulents grower. She’s harnessed her background in public relations for clients like resort chains and food brands to rebrand and take the company’s B2B marketing to the next level — one of trendy Instagram posts, fully realized potted plant collections and even content marketing-styled Holiday Gift Guides. Genovese’s work mirrors that of fashion designers and high-end bloggers, leaving the guesswork out of wholesale buying and speaking to (not at) the Millennial and nongardener demographic. Here, she provides some insights into her plant marketing success.
Greenhouse Management: You’re also heavily involved in product development. How does that hands-on experience influence your marketing strategy?
Brianna Genovese: It’s really nice being able to work hand-in-hand with the two owners [Brian and Joe Vitale]. In the beginning, we were a small team, so I was involved in sales as well, and it helped me understand what our customers are looking for and what their issues are, trials and tribulations, and how that impacts product development. It helped me understand how to change it up to give us a competitive edge.
GM: Your Instagram page looks like a lifestyle brand. How were you able to make the photos in your feed a cohesive look, and stay on trend?
BG: We have a freelance photographer who [also] does workshops, and she came in on a Saturday and we did a 6-hour long [class]. She showed us how to take images on our phone using a VSCO app and ProCamera app. Also, [she explained] things you can think about when you’re taking pictures specifically for social media. She listed some great guidelines to make images to speak to your brand, and how you can look at your feed as a cohesive theme, and not just image-to-image. It was a hugely helpful investment.
GM: Why do you think appealing to an end consumer base can help you with wholesale sales?
BG: It’s something I’ve been grappling with ever since I started here. Honestly, it’s the past six to eight months that I’ve honed in on where we need to go. B2B communication is extremely important. That’s our No. 1 goal, but we also wanted to own our brand, and help the consumers-at-large understand our take on what these plants can be in the home. We need to do our due diligence to help our customers market to that end consumer. [Our customers] have so many other things to focus on that I just wanted to figure out how to strongly communicate [our message], and hopefully get them to recognize our brand, and that [be] the driver for them to go into the store and buy.
WHY THEY'RE GREAT:
Canadian grower Van Belle Nursery produces a wide variety of cold-hardy shrubs, perennials, annuals, hanging baskets and other combinations in the young plant and retail-ready categories. Fifteen percent of this production is being done in a greenhouse. To provide its customers with a better online experience, Van Belle created a mobile-optimized website about three years ago. However, even though that website was still working well, they decided to redesign it and upgrade to a newer mobile-optimized website in 2016 to better tell their story; offer a bigger variety of larger images; and take advantage of the technological advances of the past few years. So far, the response has been very positive, with “lots of feedback from customers where they’ve enjoyed having more images and a faster experience,” says Rebecca Gebeshuber, Graphic and Web Design at Van Belle. “[Also,] our analytics have been quite good. We’ve seen a general boost.”
ADVICE FOR OTHER GROWERS:
- Have clear goals and objectives. “It’s okay to have a static business card sell site if that’s what you want, to tell the basic facts, who you are, where you are, who to contact,” says Gebeshuber. “It should look good and it should look professional. But if you’re going to make it a hub like we have, it’s really important to keep it fresh and updated.” Van Belle’s goal included making the website easily navigable and look great on any platform or device. The design of their first mobile-optimized site wasn’t as flexible across different tablets, mobile devices and computers, and the images weren’t as large due to the available technology.
- Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing the redesign. Van Belle has outsourced its web work before, but did it all in-house this time. Gebeshuber advises outsourcing the work if you don’t have anyone internally who has the necessary skills. If you go that route, make sure to have a point person who can coordinate with the outsourced help to make the process go smoother and quicker. Also be sure that you’re able to update the website internally after its completion. Van Belle requested that their first mobile-optimized website be built in WordPress for easier updating. But in general, keeping it in-house is preferred. “[It] makes it a lot easier to tell your story [as] someone who lives it every day,” Gebeshuber says. “Having an in-house team is really powerful because you can respond to things quickly.”
- Know your strengths and customers’ needs. Previously, Van Belle had plant listings and information included on the website. However, they noticed that very information was already easily accessible on other websites, such as perennials.com. “There’s not really a point for us to replicate that because we’re not selling to the end consumer,” Gebeshuber says. “Our Reference Guide has the information for the growers, and we also really promote having a very good account rep-to-customer relationship, so a lot of that information is offline and is happening person-to-person as well.” Their plant availability is now sent out through an automated email service that growers and retailers can sign up for, instead of being listed on the website.
- Share your culture. Owner Dave Van Belle has been focusing more on strengthening and promoting the company culture over the past five years or so, Gebeshuber says. “We try to tell stories [on our website] that highlight our culture,” she says. “We’re trying to make sure that people can get a taste of that wherever they are.” And it’s not just shared with customers in mind. Suppliers can also get to know the company culture, as can potential employees who may want to work for them. The culture includes core values like “Respect people” and “Do it now.”
- Include people and faces. “We really want to tell the story of the people behind the plants,” Gebeshuber says. So that meant listing the growers first and foremost on their About Us page, whereas other companies might put them after the office staff. “They’re the ones that are actually creating these plants and doing the magic with them,” she says. Also, they wanted customers to get to know all of the people at the company in order to develop stronger relationships. “We love people to do business with us because they like us,” she says. “We think that really promotes trust and we have a better relationship all around.”
- Consider adding video. “Video is a great way to tell your story, whether that’s highlighting a hot buy on a plant program and sending that out to our retail customers, or telling a cultural story or how we deal with shipping [for our grower customers],” Gebeshuber says. It can also highlight the people behind your plants and create a stronger connection, she adds.
- Always be looking for fresh content ideas and ways to tell your story. Van Belle’s goal is to update the website’s blog at least once a week, so they’re always searching for new content. The marketing team is reading all the time, Gebeshuber says. “We keep in touch with what’s happening in the industry; we read your magazine [and] other industry magazines; we look and see if any of those things tie in with what we’re doing at the nursery,” she says.
- Give yourself enough time. The time from planning the redesign until the launch of Van Belle’s new website was about five months, with a slight delay because of the busy spring season. The project could take even longer if the company is outsourcing the work. And website upkeep time should also be considered. “People don’t often realize that keeping a website relatively updated and also working through social media [has] a time component to it. It’s not all organic,” Gebeshuber says.
- Know that the time commitment pays off. “We really do see the benefit of carving out the time to make sure that we can have that [online] presence available. It’s making a big difference in our relationships with our customers,” Gebeshuber says. “We want to meet them where they are, and sometimes they’re browsing the web at 10:30 at night and there’s no account rep to be found. But they can still find some information about us or what’s going on here [on our website].”
WHY THEY’RE GREAT:
Thorsen’s Greenhouse has successfully finished an entire poinsettia growing season using solely biological pest control. And with 50,000 square feet dedicated to this holiday plant production, that’s no small feat. It was made possible through a three-part regimen of biologicals (the “good bugs”) released during the cutting stage all the way through finishing, which suppressed and/or eradicated fungus gnats and whiteflies.
Assistant grower Marilyn Norman was inspired to implement a biological control program after attending a grower seminar at Four Star Greenhouses in Michigan in 2015. After conducting some independent research, she checked in with suppliers at AmericanHort’s Cultivate event that year, and tried it out for the first time with their poinsettias. While Thorsen’s is no stranger to biologicals (they use them for thrips on several other crops), they hadn’t relied solely on a biological regimen all the way through a production cycle. The first year, they learned a few valuable lessons, including the need to purchase higher-grade sticky cards to keep an extra eye out for pests. “[I learned] what to look for and to really pay attention to certain areas, hot spots, where [pests] can pop up, and [also] how to place the biologicals,” Norman says.
As the poinsettias began to root, Norman sprayed nematodes within a preventative fungicide drench, which took care of fungus gnat issues at the beginning of the 2016 season. Amblyseius swirskii mites were distributed using an AirBug gun to combat early stages of whiteflies, then a combination of wasps on tiny packet cards — Eretmocerus eremicus and Encarsia formosa — were placed on stakes in the middle of the crop and released on their own. And after all that effort, “We finished completely spray free,” she says.