Focus On Color

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Color is something we identify with from a very young age. The moment we open our first 24-pack of Crayolas (or the even more glorious 64-pack), we begin to choose our favorites – periwinkle, sea green, midnight blue – and those colors invoke emotions – serenity, happiness and contentment. Garden center retailers have the advantage of having color everywhere in their stores, and if you market it right, color can be a great tool to help you differentiate yourself and increase your bottom line.

Where To Look

For years, the fashion industry has dictated what colors will be hot each year, but floral industry expert and consultant J Schwanke notes it’s no longer about just the new suit or new dress. It’s about who’s wearing it. The entertainment industry plays a huge part in determining the next hot colors. “If George Clooney wore a yellow tie with his suit, that would be a big deal,” says Schwanke.

Colors then trickle down to home interior design, the automotive industry and tabletop, which is where the floral industry falls, according to Schwanke. “By the time it trickles to tabletop, we can usually determine that’s a really good thing,” he adds (see the End Cap for more thoughts from J).

But, it’s not just fashion and entertainment determining color trends. There’s also a psychological aspect to color that plays an important role in what colors are most appealing to consumers in any given year. For example, Schwanke says that during times of war, chocolate brown becomes a very important color, which explains its recent popularity. “It [chocolate brown] makes us feel safe and secure, and it starts to take over where  black was used before,” he says. “Although black is classic and will always remain, when we’re at war, black can be too morbid for us, and so we go to chocolate brown.”

This tendency toward dark browns during times of war can be traced back to the Vietnam era in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when brown kitchen appliances were suddenly en vogue, he notes.

Another reason for the rising popularity of chocolate brown? Pop culture, says Schwanke – namely “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.” “‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ was the No. 1 DVD, and all of a sudden, chocolate brown had a really strong surge,” he says.

Jim Monroe, co-founder of the fashionable plant marketing brand Hort Couture, says he, too, looks to pop culture. Print media and television ads, as well as the fashion and home design industries, help him pinpoint hot colors. “We are trying to close that gap and grow right with the trends we see there,” he says. “Fabric and textile companies, young up-and-coming fashion designers and print layout concepts are things we enjoy looking to for inspiration.”

Marketing It

As for marketing color in the garden center, Monroe suggests being bold and different and visiting retailers in different industries to glean inspiration. “Go to the mall or window shop,” he says. “With Internet shopping, your customer literally has the world at their fingertips when they want to buy. Make them want to see what is hot and exclusive at your place first.” He notes that paint is cheap and should definitely be used when building a color campaign.

“I think we need to tie our marketing color trends to the popularity of new plant varieties,” he adds. “Retailers do little or none of this.”

Having color in your store constantly and changing, it up frequently also is important, according to Monroe. He says building eye-catching, monochromatic displays will grab customers’ attention and keep them coming back. “Color is what people want,” he says. “It is inexpensive and changeable, and we want the customer to come in often and change as often as our stores do. This should be what we’re marketing, not something we are figuring out how to do.”

Schwanke also strongly recommends color blocking in the garden center. “There is no statistical evidence that has ever told me anything else,” he says. “Color blocking is the way for them to go.”

He points out that the major concern most retailers have with color blocking is the increased difficulty in caring for the plants, which often means retraining the staff. If all the pink flowers are together, the petunias, for example, might not need watering when the wisteria do. But, the extra effort is well worth it, because the American consumer purchases by color, everywhere from the grocery store to department stores.

Don’t be afraid to look at what box stores are doing, either, he adds. They have the capital to conduct research to determine what exactly consumers want, and by taking a leisurely stroll through Target, you can easily see what’s popular. The box stores have done their research, and you can run with it – in your own way. If pink seems to be a hot color, think about how you’re going to address that in your garden center, Schwanke says. Are roses and bougainvillea your specialty? Make your pink section all about roses and bougainvillea, he suggests. “Identifying what your strengths are, and then capitalizing on them, too, is helpful,” he says.

Get On Board … Fast

Trends travel fast in today’s global economy. What would typically have taken three years to make its way to the United States from Europe is now reaching us in as little as eight months, explains Schwanke, noting this rapidity can present a problem. “It can be so fast that it isn’t accurate,” he says. “Something can come and go very quickly, and it can be hard for us to react in the plant and flower industry, because we need time to think about it.” Schwanke points out it can take about eight years from the discovery of a rose to getting it to market.

There are plenty of companies out there you can look to, though, for innovative colors, designs and ideas you can incorporate in your store. John Henry Company, for example, subscribes to trend-forecasting publications and attends gift markets to develop color palettes based on the information found there. Brenda Vaughn, marketing manager at John Henry, says containers in black and white color palettes are still holding strong from 2007, and lots of grays will be available for 2008 – a trend that is forecasting ahead to 2009, she notes. Purple containers are also predicted to be popular this year, and greens and whites, inspired by the environmental movement, will be hot, too.

You can add extra pizazz to potted plants, as well, with creative packaging, says Vaughn. “Packaging is going to continue becoming more and more important – potted plants dressed up in decorative containers, unique packaging for plants that make for convenient and stylish gift offerings, coordinating gift cards, etc.,” she says. “It’s all about the complete presentation and the shopping experience.”

Hort Couture effectively uses color, including black and white and its iconic fleur de lis symbol, in its marketing materials to appeal to fashion-savvy consumers. “The idea for the black was to create a truly rich, sophisticated backdrop for the marketing pieces,” says Monroe. “You will see lots of other colors being interjected into our marketing with a new program you will see for 2009.”

Schwanke believes color is the No. 1 element of design garden centers should focus on. “It allows us to change peoples’ emotions, sell more product and get inside their heads a little bit more,” he says. “Color is a tool that if we start to learn more about, we can use effectively – not only the emotional impact we have on our customers, but also how much profit we make.”

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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