Posted by sustainable_hort on February 2, 2011
Monrovia’s recent sales woes may indicate that a new marketing message is needed to revive a shell-shocked consumer.
I now look back at my years working for the Oregon nursery industry and realize it may have been a Golden Age for wholesale plant growers. The state’s sales skyrocketed over several decades from few hundred million to nearly one billion. Then it all collapsed. As the housing market dropped, so did landscape plant sales. Then, almost all commercial work stopped abruptly. Architectural firms shrank over night. This ripple hit the plant industry, especially the growers, and we have seen numerous growers go under or move into other horticultural crops. Sales this spring will probably improve slightly, but not enough to save many growers.
Monrovia has represented the peak of nursery industry production and marketing. Yet, like any industrial designed production systems, the operating costs are substantial. The company created new plants, led the “branding” effort (a marketing strategy that I always thought was over-sold), and used the garden centers to provide an effective distribution/sales platform. Now, with sales down drastically again, the company has been forced (by the banks) start selling “non-branded” plants to Home Depot to force sales. This obviously undercuts a basic part of their marketing/branding strategy of selling only to the independent garden centers. It has also created some severe comments from their customers.
But, it is not all their fault. All the quality products and clever marketing cannot “create” markets if there is, in this case, very little building going on. Add to this the panicked consumer…a one-two punch that has not just Monrovia but an entire industry on the ropes.
There are a few bright spots. Some narrow niche producers are keeping their sales at least even. Greenhouse operations that concentrate on annuals and especially vegetables are surviving. There was actually shortage last year of organic vegetable starts. Food costs, food safety concerns and a desire for better taste/nutrition are all driving this home garden trend. (See the next post on the urban homesteading movement.) A complimentary trend uses permaculture techniques to add native plants and create more plant diversity to draw beneficial wildlife.
But, the more general ornamental plant growers will need another marketing hook to push up sales. I propose turning to the strength of plants to provide a better, less polluting environment and lower energy use. I like to call the many uses of plants to improve our water and air a new “plant technology.” Sell plants because they provide solutions, not because they “decorate” our world. It is an old idea really. There is adequate research and successful examples to get consumers to look at plants, not as a “discretionary” expense, but necessary to improve one’s home and life. This “message” will sell better in the new consumer economy, one that is moving away from the wild spending of the last two decades.
Tags:bio-retention ponds, biofilter, bioswales, carbon sequestration, environmental benefits of trees, gardening, healthy landscapes, native plants, natural landscaping, rain gardens, soil health, Sustainable landscape, trees, Urban agriculture, Wholesale nursery