Polly Bailey-RuleLast month, Polly Bailey-Rule celebrated her second year as landscape account manager at Four Star Greenhouse/Proven Winners in Carleton, Mich. Rule has been in the horticulture industry for 25 years, operating her own landscape business in Colorado for seven years, prior to moving to Michigan to direct the Four Star Greenhouse/Proven Winners’ plant movement from the greenhouse to the landscape.
Rule knew her new position that the job would be challenging, but despite hard economic times in Michigan and the surrounding states where Four Star ships its finished product, the company increased its sales to landscapers by 19.5 percent last year.
This month, Rule talks about how landscapers can use branding and enhanced relationships to maximize opportunities even during tough economic times.
Proven Winners has a history of branding successes. How do you see branding fitting into the landscape mix?
So much of what we all do in this industry is about marketing. It’s about the way a product or service is promoted, not the product itself. At Proven Winners, for example, the emphasis isn’t on selling plants; it’s about offering solutions. Part of the brand identity is that the plants answer some need that the consumer has recognized. When the consumer finds a product that meets their needs, they are drawn to that brand.
Can you give an example?
I recently wrote a story about how landscape contractors could expand business by offering a service to create specialty gardens designed to attract wildlife – butterflies and hummingbirds, in particular. This is the perfect opportunity; landscape contractors are seeking additional revenue sources and ways to differentiate their business, while homeowners are looking for ways to improve their property values and elevate their enjoyment of their backyards. This and attention generated from the sustainable movement have created an increased interest in attracting wildlife.
In the story, I referenced how butterflies need good nectar plants and noted the ColorChoice Bloomerang Syringa Lilac, which Proven Winners also promotes as a longer bloomer than traditional lilac plants. That’s two needs met: It’s a good nectar plant that also blooms far longer than its contemporaries.
What other strategies help Four Star push plants to the landscape?
A little understanding goes a long way in developing a solid relationship between landscapers and growers. Landscape companies aren’t much different from consumers when it comes to the product and services they need. They want a large selection of plants in a variety of colors.
Educating landscape contractors is critically important. A fair amount of seasonal color installation work is performed by landscape companies that do not normally provide that type of work in their scope of services. A typical example of this is the landscape maintenance and/or lawn service company that is approached by a customer to install seasonal color in plant beds while these companies perform their routine services.
The landscaper is going to rely heavily on the resources and knowledge of greenhouse or garden center staff to assist in selecting the appropriate plants. Information about proper placement, cultural practices and fertilizer recommendations will ensure success for the contractor and further a positive relationship.
Four Star does in-house training with landscape contractors’ key employees, including crew foremen and designers. The company also provides educational printed material. It holds a spring open house during which landscapers can come into the greenhouses, see the product and ask questions.
What other ways can landscapers and growers “team” to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship?
When the end of the landscape season approaches, recognize that this is a time to evaluate and reflect on product offerings and procedures. The off-season is a great time for growers and garden centers and the landscape and maintenance community to build relationships and develop realistic strategies for the next season.
Dedicate time to talk about new products, to discuss potential project designs, and to build or improve a system for placing orders. Communication is so important to the success of all facets of the industry. It just makes sense that we all work together.
The author is editor of Garden Center. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.