OFA Bulletin Nov/Dec 2009 : Page 4

Marketing Grower Merchandising – Why It Works And How To Do It by Laurie Scullin E ven though grower merchandising has been around for awhile, many people still have questions about what it is, why they should do it, why it makes sense, and exactly how to do it. Basically, it’s the task of a wholesale grower putting staff into the retail setting and having them build displays, keep plants alive, and keep the retail benches full. Grower merchandising is a topic for all growers of any size, not just big box growers. If you sell plants wholesale you need to pay attention. When you talk about grower merchandising at the store level you have to go back a few years to see how it started. I recall a few growers getting into this area very early – on the east coast Ivy Acres was a pioneer, on the west coast Colorspot and Altman Plants got in early and with great success. But I think the true epicenter of grower merchandising was Gary Mangum of Bell Nurseries. My first memory of Gary Mangum and this wacky idea called grower merchandising was about 10 years ago – at pack trials in California (Gary says it was more like 15 years, but he must be wrong since we just cannot be that old). Gary had a three-ring binder that he showed to store managers at every Home Depot location he sold to; back then Gary sold plants to six or eight Home Depots. One page in the binder showed two full shopping carts: one with flats and packs of annuals, one with baskets and premium 4-inch and quart pots. What was memorable was that a staff member had taken both carts through the cash register, and Gary had the cash register receipt with each cart photo – the cart full of packs was about $80, and the cart with all the premium items was about $400. That was one of those “ah ha” moments – being able to articulate in one simple image how valuable retail bench space is and the importance of the product mix on display. This is the “why it works” part! The reality is that retail shoppers only take one cart. Growers need to find ways to display material that will encourage customers not only to fill that one shopping cart but fill it with the most profitable product (Figure 1). The “ah ha” is that we as growers had to STOP thinking about our greenhouse bench space and concentrate on the retailer’s bench space. But many of us grew up in the era of rapid industry growth, those glorious decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s when all we had to do was grow and deliver product, and as soon as we dropped the rack, it was the retailer’s headache. More than one grower told me that what happens at retail is the retailers’ job, “I just grow the plants” was the mantra. And for a long time, many of us did just fine in that world: grow quality plants, have reliable shipping, and the world was our oyster. 4 Figure 1. This is what we all hope to see: a customer with a full cart. Welcome to 2010. So to get into this topic a bit deeper and find out “how to do it,” OFA asked me to interview Gary Mangum and try to tease out why we all need to be paying more attention to merchandising. LS: When did you start putting your people into stores and why? GM: About 15 years ago, and to be honest, one of the big reasons was to make sure the product was watered and that the product sold through. In those days, we competed with many other growers for space, often four of us wholesale greenhouses sharing a store, and in some Home Depot stores Bell had only 5 percent of the space. We wanted to demonstrate that larger, more mature plants were better for the retailer – that customers vote with their pocketbook and will purchase the more- developed product. Back then, most big box stores were full of flats and packs and carried little mature baskets. I took that page showing the two carts and the register tape, one cart with flats and the other cart with premium items, and showed everyone that would pay attention at the stores. I still have that picture; it is framed in my office as a reminder about the customer. When I was a kid (probably 7 or 10) I grew veggies, and my dad let me set up in a parking lot behind his flower shop. If I remember right, it seemed like I was making $7 to $10 a day while he was doing his thing inside the shop. I know deep down that has something to do with why I love seeing carts full of plants going out the doors. It’s my favorite part of visiting stores O F A B u l l e t i n

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