‘If you think people are buying plants, they are not’

It’s safe to guess that most readers of FloraCulture International are probably part of, and immersed in, the horticulture industry. Day to day, it’s our working world to the point that we rarely have the opportunity to step outside of it. But does that come at a cost – not only for each of us as business individuals, but also for the health of our industry as a whole? This revealing interview gives you an insight into the mind of plant breeder and marketer Anthony Tesselaar. What are the most effective ways to market your flowers and plants? Food for thought from Down Under.   

What follows is one man’s concerns with a focus on marketing. In this conversation with industry veteran Anthony Tesselaar*, describes how we can work together to create a marketing environment where there are returns for everyone.

Anthony Tesselaar.

Anthony Tesselaar International is based in Australia. The business was established over thirty years ago following Anthony’s solid grounding in his family’s floriculture business which, in turn, had been founded by the previous Dutch émigré generation.

Tesselaar’s forte has always been marketing, from the classic 1980s catalogue format through to the radical branding of the world-renowned Flower Carpet rose. This first-of-its-kind marketing approach carried the Flower Carpet to achieve stratospheric sales figures that continue today: it is evidence of where thinking outside-the-box can take you.

Having to work across various world markets has helped the Australian plant breeder to enjoy a horticultural perspective that’s not available to everyone. He is very aware of the benefits that his business has reaped by keeping his eyes open wherever he travels for inspiration both within and outside our industry.

Tesselaar doesn’t talk theory for theory’s sake: his business walks the talk and the profits have followed. Which is why he strongly believes the essence of this approach is a valid blueprint for our industry as a whole.

Together we stand…divided we fall

In his words…together we stand: divided we fall. “We are all passionate about plants, especially our own products. As individual businesses we offer up our selections assuming that there is a consumer market waiting – as it always has done – to buy plants.”

But Tesselaar is quick to add that the world is forever changing. “We shouldn’t assume that market is there or will always be there. Of course each of us must market our plant products separately, but we should also make our contribution towards creating and tending the greater market. We need to band together both through thoughtful campaigns and our industry bodies, to lead consumers to horticulture. We need to feed consumers plant options. We should be showing consumers how exciting their lives can be when a little horticulture has been introduced.”

Solution and experience

A plant will sell, and the industry will be boosted if you meet consumers’ emotional need.

The pertinent question is how to reach out to the consumer? “Whether we’re selling one particular plant or horticulture as a whole, it’s the same approach. If you think people are buying plants, they are not. We’re currently competing in one massive marketplace filled with limitless product categories and seemingly endless competition. Whether the consumer walks into this notional market looking for a plant, or a pair of shoes, or a holiday – they want a solution. And they want an experience. And possibly also a background story. This is what modern shopping is all about. In the same way the consumer may buy new cushions to refresh their couch (solution), they will buy potted colour to refresh their front door (solution). They may be thrilled with a weekend away in a nearby city (experience) or get a buzz from harvesting freshly-grown window-sill herbs (experience).”

Tesselaar emphasizes that the consumer will always be intrigued by the story – the provenance – of a potential purchase. A shopping basket woven by a women’s collective in a third world country has added appeal (background) as has the story behind a well-bred rose.

Tesselaar asks us to synthesize the above to find out that it all boils down this: a plant will sell, and the industry will be boosted if you meet consumers’ emotional need. “People are usually not looking for a specific plant. They are looking for a solution. Give them that solution. Give them a good experience. Together these will help increase your future personal sales and help the market image of the industry as a whole.”

The Jamie Oliver approach

Surely everyone has been exposed to the marketing approach of chef and healthy eating advocate, Jamie Oliver.  Tesselaar says Oliver is not alone in having made the food industry more interesting and accessible to the general public, but he has made a major contribution. “Thanks to his marketing model, food is fun and easy. Consumers have enjoyed success thanks to his skill sharing and they now buy all sorts of related products because they enjoy cooking and eating their own food. These product purchases – recipes, ingredients, equipment, even kitchens and food-related travel – they work together to offer solutions, experiences and background stories. It’s not hard to imagine our horticulture industry marketed along similar lines. The related purchases – how to garden guides, plants, tools, garden-inspiring travel – they also could work together to offer solutions, experiences and background stories.”

Consumer surveys: are we on track?

“We should be showing consumers how exciting their lives can be when a little horticulture has been introduced.”

Tesselaar is very sorry to say that consumer surveys can be very misleading. “People will usually tell you what they think you want to hear. What they do in real life is often very different,” outlined Tesselaar. He added, “Someone may declare that they use environmentally friendly products over a chemical product. Then the cockroaches arrive and these same people quietly take up the toxic option. Or what about that delicious bit of research that came out recently, where diners in restaurants who were served by plump wait-staff ordered more food, than if served by a slimmer person. The theory being that they unconsciously felt less judged by the former.”

So if the ornamental horticulture and gardening industry wants to find out how their consumer really thinks, Tesselaar advices to spend extra time on survey questions to make sure they are as ‘blind’ as possible. “Don’t shy away from asking the tough questions: valuable survey results should give you reason to be a little unsettled. In business it’s always better to know the truth than to create a scenario where the survey results are guaranteed to wrap you in a false rosy glow.”


The most effective marketing program is?

Tesselaar mentions the many existing marketing programmes on the international scene at present with fantastic ideas and directions. But he questions whether they manage to follow through and extend the marketing to create relevance to the consumer. “Co-ordination and cohesion is what is needed: a difficult challenge granted. But as an example: imagine the marketing leverage possible if the phenomenal success of consumer-swamped Keukenhof was to work with Royal Flora Holland as partners in an integrated marketing programme.

Pre filled with fresh potting soil Algoflash containers avoid gardeners from getting dirty. Like it or not, but this is an example of providing consumers a solution and why not jumping on this marketing bandwagon by displaying live plants and Algoflash containers side by side at point of purchase.

Jumping on existing marketing bandwagons, is it a good idea? “It’s always an idea to think before you leap. Many plant breeding companies have well-funded marketing programs so it would seem worthwhile to make the most of these. Two things to consider, some are more effective than others and your reputation should always be safeguarded. I would welcome a ride in a band-wagon where the plants being promoted were few, of exceptional quality and guaranteed to perform well. Consumers swayed by this particular marketing band-wagon will become happy, returning customers. I would let any band-wagon roll past that was over-filled with any-old release of questionable quality. Customers buying from this source may remember the brand for all the wrong reasons and I wouldn’t want to be tainted by the association.”






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