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Feature Story

Selling green

Consumers will get the most from bulb plants bought in bud stage.

by Amy Bauer


Soon your department will be awash in the colors and scents of spring, but have you considered that green may be the best color to boost repeat sales this bulb plant season? The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center (NFBIC) is pushing for floral departments to go green by merchandising spring-flowering bulb plants primarily in bud versus bloom this season.

bulb benefits
Sally Ferguson, director of the NFBIC in Danby, Vt., says merchandising plants only in full bloom represents a missed opportunity. “For the wholesaler, they’re harder to ship; for the retailer, it makes a very short sales window before they’re fading; for the homeowner who’s buying them, they’re only getting half the show,” she explains. “So the goal is to get all of them to be handling green plant material, where the buds are tight, the stems are still short.” Ms. Ferguson’s organization has been communicating to consumers directly through the press about buying in bud but has found that often such plants are difficult for consumers to locate at retail.
Tim Stiles, president of Henry Mast Greenhouses and its sales and distribution arm Masterpiece Flower Company LLC, in Byron Center, Mich., says he agrees with the philosophy of including bulb plants in their green stage among a store’s offerings and related it to the sales of chrysanthemum plants, which often are merchandised both in bloom and in bud stages. “We try to feature a spectrum of maturity in the store,” he describes, “because I believe that there’s a person who’s going to walk into the store today who’s going to have a dinner party tomorrow and wants a flower that’s well-developed and ready to go, but there’s also a consumer who’s going to walk in there today and want to nurture the plant along and see it develop on its own.”
Masterpiece Flower Company supplies plants to all of the Meijer Inc. stores and operates that retailer’s floral warehouse, acting as distributor for the company’s florals from Henry Mast Greenhouses and other growers. Masterpiece sells its plants on a pay-by-scan basis at Meijer and The Home Depot, Inc.—that is, being paid for the product only when it is “scanned,” or sold, at the stores—so the company experiences firsthand consumers’ reaction to plants and their merchandising. While the majority of the indoor bulb plants Masterpiece Flower Company supplies still are sold in the blooming stage, Mr. Stiles says, an area of growth is the selling of outdoor blooming bulb plants that are displayed just after sprouting for incorporation into yards and container gardens. “We’ve found the sales of those items to be growing steadily every year,” he says.

 
customer care tips
 
 
• Keep bulb plants in a cool spot in the home for the longest enjoyment. Warmer temperatures will speed up flowering. Avoid placing plants near furnace vents and drafts.
• Provide plenty of light for bulb plants; diffused or indirect sunlight is best, such as that by which you could comfortably read a newspaper.
• Keep the soil moist to the touch, but provide good drainage and don’t overwater the plants. Occasionally mist the plants as the flowers open to prevent them from drying out.
 

show and tell
Educating consumers about the value of buying bulb plants in bud is one of the first steps, and Ms. Ferguson notes that can be as simple as a little basic plant biology. “When you buy a bouquet of cut flowers, you buy them when the buds are just barely showing color because you need to know they’ll still open, but that’s because the stems are cut and they’re not going to open if they’re not in the right stage of development,” she says. “But when the flowers are potted, they’re growing. They’re going to open; they’re going to keep growing. Unless you stick them under your bed and don’t water them, they’re going to keep growing.”
She suggests displays that are primarily masses of green plants in tight bud stage, maybe with a little bit of color showing. Just a few blooming versions of the same plant are arranged alongside as an example of the color and form the plants will take upon flowering. “Those are the sizzle,” she describes. “The goal is that the ones that bloom will sell the ones that are green.”
Another option, either instead of or alongside the live blooming examples, is to have images at the point of sale that illustrate the plants’ potential. Those could be images on sleeves that surround the pots, on signage displayed prominently above the plants or on picks that accompany each plant.
Mr. Stiles says Masterpiece Flower Company creates displays for its outdoor bulb plant sales that may include large, colorful “lifestyle” signage showing the plants in use as well as full-color tags for each container that show the individual plants in bloom.

tapping into strengths
Floral employees also can communicate the lasting value of buying green directly to consumers in selling situations. If customers are inquiring about bulb plants, steer them to the bud versions, suggesting that they will get a longer showing of color and added enjoyment. Such suggestions can seem counterintuitive for departments that need to sell flowering plants that may have been on the sales floor for a while, but the longer-term benefit provided by a customer’s satisfaction with a longer-blooming plant beats the short-term benefit of the individual sale. That customer is more likely to return to shop again in the floral department.
Those looking for blooming plants to give as gifts may be among your toughest sells, so having those blooming samples on hand will be one way to satisfy their immediate need for color. But even they may be convinced by your expert floral staff that going green makes sense so that recipients get the longest enjoyment from their gifts. And you can dress up the sale by offering the addition of colorful bows and trims to satisfy the need for some splash until the full blooms appear.
And Mr. Stiles notes that these strategies may vary based on a store’s floral department sales volume. While high-volume floral departments may sell through large amounts of both blooming and green bulb plants, those with smaller volumes that may wait longer between floral shipments will benefit from stocking more bulb plants in their green stage, to extend their sales window.

  tips for sales success

 
 
• Group by color.
Keep your bud-stage potted bulbs gathered in color groups, and include a few flowering examples among them. Keep enough of these “decoys” on hand to show off the plants’ eventual look and to satisfy those looking for currently blooming gifts. Placing such plants in warmer spots a few days earlier will help bring them into bloom.
• Display for effect. A display with a central theme or featured flower, with several satellite displays to support it, should be placed in your department’s most heavily trafficked area to draw attention.
• Make pricing clear. Consumers don’t want to hunt for pricing information and are more likely to commit to a purchase if they’re armed with all the information they need. Use large signage and/or individual plant tags to share pricing information. And if you’re running a special on potted bulbs, make sure that’s communicated prominently.
• Keep it cool. To keep your potted bulbs from showing off their colors too early, keep them as cool as possible without freezing. If purchased at the correct stage, potted bulbs should hold for several days in your department without loss of bloom life for consumers. In extreme circumstances, if bulb plants are developing too quickly, they can be kept in your cooler, but if buds or blooms are present, the plants can’t tolerate temperatures lower than 40 F for longer than one week, or the foliage and blooms may show signs of damage.
• Water regularly. Soil should be moist but not soaked. As the flowers open, mist the plants to prevent drying out. A layer of moss atop the soil can help hold moisture.
• Upgrade containers. Place the plastic pots into larger decorative containers, adding a layer of soil, moss, wood chips or gravel across the top to hide the plastic pots. Or transplant the bulbs themselves into new soil in an upgraded container. For a quick fix, wrap the plastic pots in jute or patterned papers or wraps and secure with staples or ribbons. Or place coordinating containers and wraps nearby and allow consumers to choose their favorite combinations.
• Keep like flowers together. If selling containers of multiple bulb flowers, choose the same bulb plant in the same color within each container for maximum impact. Plant an odd number of bulbs in the container for eye appeal.

Source: Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
 


 

Download printable versions of our handy tulip placards for your green tulip plants:
 

Right-click here and choose "Save As"
for the Tulip Sign
 

Right-click here and choose "Save As"
for the Tulip Plant Tag
 

Right-click here and choose "Save As"
for the Tulip Poster
 

You may reach Amy Bauer by e-mail at abauer@superfloralretailing.com or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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