We're all in this together

Features - Management

Growers may feel far removed from end-users, but they certainly have a stake in every sale a landscaper or retailer makes.

January 21, 2011

Growers and retailers should work together to trial new products.The channel of distribution isn’t something you likely think about on a daily basis, unless you are an ag economist or logistics specialist. Moving product from one place to another certainly gets things to customers, but it takes so much more than that.

Every time someone touches a product, they should be adding value. Value is added throughout the entire chain from grower to consumer. Growers may feel far removed from end-users, but they certainly have a stake in every sale a landscaper or retailer makes. Firms that supply products to growers also have a stake in the success of the retailer and landscaper. Tags, pots, fertilizer and growing media are a part of what growers need to add value.

We may not spend much time thinking about how great this industry’s supply system is, but it certainly permits most of us to specialize and do our jobs very well without the worry of how to get plants to consumers or what kind of packaging to use or who will price it.

Growers want to retain their independence. Most businesses in the U.S. value their ability to choose markets, supply partners, and even who will buy their product. Still, there is much to be gained by working together.

Communication in a partnership
Communication is essential to a valuable working partnership. One of the keys to effective communication is timing. When is a good time to talk with retailers and other recipients of your hard work?

Ask them about when might be a good time to check-in and ask for feedback. If the timing isn’t good, growers aren’t as likely to get any information, and if they do get some, they may not get quality information.

Also, it makes good business sense to cultivate a relationship with several people at retail operations. A grower might work with one buyer, but others certainly see and handle the product. How can you get feedback from them? The grower might take lunch to a retailer on a slower day (planned ahead) to get several folks in a room talking about what worked and what didn’t. It might be a customer appreciation day when a grower brings retailers to the production facility.

Ask for problems
What right-minded business person would really ask for problems? A savvy one. Problems delivering product from grower to retailer might be fixed. If plants are damaged in transit (not using a common carrier), or if plants are too tall for packaging, improperly sleeved or have some other issue, the grower should know about it. The major problems may get reported promptly, but what if there is something relatively minor that could mean a big difference to a retailer?

Most growers have production trials, but how far does the trial information extend? What if growers provided trial information to some select retailers? Both would have a lot to learn about the transport, packaging and demand of new products. Both would be able to observe different aspects of the plants’ performance. Working together to trial new products makes sense because if there are production problems that can’t be resolved, there won’t be anything to sell.

Conversely, if there are shipping or retail issues that can’t be resolved, there won’t be anything to sell. Some retailers may value being among the first to put a new plant on the market. Consider those retailers as pioneers who can help grow the business.

Unique point of view
Growers are also in a unique position to talk with their suppliers about issues or problems their retailers or landscapers are having. Growers can be a powerful influence on the supplier and even manufacturers to provide information on shipping boxes, sleeves, growing media and fertilizers.

The growers’ perspective in the “middle” of the channel gives them this unique purview. Few retailers have direct contact with input suppliers or manufacturers, although there are some exceptions. Growers who stay in frequent contact with retailers can readily identify common problems with an input supply and send that message back to suppliers.

One retailer having an issue may not constitute a problem, but if several have similar concerns, growers can help communicate those concerns. Growers who care enough to voice concerns build trust with suppliers, when others might just seek out another supplier.

It also never hurts to reinforce some of the plant requirements in the store. Growers know the idiosyncrasies of plants, having invested the time and money to produce them. Sure, there is usually care information on the tags and labels, but growers can help retailers educate their sales staff by providing some supplemental information. This could be online information such as a tip sheet or even a short video. Growers should encourage retailers to use these educational materials in their weekly meetings to reinforce key messages about the plants to help ensure they stay looking great until they’re purchased.

Few words stir more heated discussion between growers and retailers than pay-by-scan. Although not initially welcomed by many growers, pay-by-scan can actually help improve product quality and communication within the channel.

Care on the retail sales floor really is a challenge for many. If plants don’t look good, they won’t sell. If plants don’t sell, smart retailers aren’t as likely to buy them again next year.

One definition of stupid is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Growers are partners with retailers on the bench. What they do to work together to influence plants sales to consumers will help them both be successful in the game of business.

Bridget K. Behe is professor horticultural marketing, Michigan State University, (517) 355-5191, Ext. 1346; behe@msu.edu.