Marketing Partnerships Key To Future Success

By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief, Produce Business

Supermarkets and other mass market outlets are an enormous resource for the floral, foliage and ancillary supply industries. But they are a resource still in development, and one being tapped by only a small portion of the supplier community. Increasingly, however, it is becoming clear that an opportunity, in the form of increased sales and profits, awaits those suppliers and retailers who are able to work together in a comprehensive marketing partnership.

Mass-market outlets have one resource of inestimable value: CUSTOMERS. Virtually every family in America has a representative, ready to buy, in one of these outlets each week. At the most elementary level, this means that mass-market floral outlets are the market of opportunity for introducing new products. So many of a traditional florist’s orders come in over the phone that people are bound to be conservative and order what they know – a dozen roses… a funeral arrangement made with lilies.

But in mass-market outlets, customers are there, in person, to look at the product. They can be enticed to try new things in new ways. So the opportunity is obvious to use mass-market outlets to promote new products.

The opportunity goes beyond this, however. It includes an overall ability to market all floral, foliage and ancillary products, both new and established, on a vastly increased scale. But there is an obstacle. If supermarkets and other mass market outlets have a great resource in the form of customers, they also are handicapped by limited promotion budgets, scarcity of trained staff, a paucity of experienced floral managers and the necessity to pay low wages. Overall, the mass market outlet is limited in its ability to do much more than display product.

But this is where the progressive supplier and the marketing partnership come in. Once upon a time, it may have been enough for a supplier to simply have a team of salespeople. By roaming the land with a shoe shine and a smile, they sold a product and didn’t worry very much about what happened to it after it was sold. But today we know that approach almost guarantees that only a fraction of potential sales will be reached.

On the other hand, if suppliers are prepared to work in partnership with their retail customers, sales can boom. It requires money, it requires time, it requires commitment. But it can pay off in sales and profits.

Each marketing partnership is distinct, carefully designed to meet the needs of both parties. But some of the elements a partnership is likely to include are:

RESEARCH – Who are the customers for a particular product? Why is it selling in one store and not another? What is the satisfaction level of customers who have already purchased the product? What percentage of existing shoppers noted the product in the store?

TRAINING – Teaching the staff how to sell. Training the staff on specific product knowledge and giving general lessons on attentiveness to customers. Supplying video, workbooks, workshops, and more.

ADVERTISING – Pre-sell the consumers so that when they walk into the store, they are pre-disposed to buying the product. Bring in those consumers who specifically want to buy a floral product.

Some suppliers run for the hills when subjects like this come up. And indeed, a lot of so-called “marketing partnerships” degenerate into a grab for the supplier’s margins without any real extra effort to sell the product.

Some retailers like to call up suppliers, ask for a check for some vague advertising the store was going to do anyway and call it a “marketing partnership” – when this type of attitude prevails, suppliers turn sour as they foot heavy bills without getting any benefit.

But done properly – in the context of a relationship between retailer and supplier, a relationship of commitment where both look to work together to move product, develop better products and please the consumer – a marketing partnership can be a boon to both the companies involved and the industry as a whole.

Creating a true marketing partnership requires a change in thinking on the part of both retailers and suppliers. No longer can the relationship be viewed as a spot relationship, where each day trading goes on the whims of who offers the cheapest price. Instead, the maturing mass-market floral industry has to lead to more mature, more committed relationships between suppliers and retailers. They must develop a sense that they are in this together, in it for the long haul and had better make it work. Together.