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Fresh Ideas, Inspiration & Excitement from the 2016 California Spring Trials By Sherry L. Johnson, CMP, CEM

It’s hard to believe that another California Spring Trials has come and gone. If you had a chance to attend this year’s event, you know that each stop was filled with fresh ideas, inspiration, and lots of excitement over what is to come in our industry. If you weren’t able to make it this year, allow us to share some of what we saw during our journey.

Fresh Ideas It’s a whole new world of consumers and it’s changing by the minute. From messaging to social media to key social issues, the focus continues to move and the race is on to stay relevant.

We saw lots of ideas at Spring Trials this year that were consistent with the SHIFT insights. For example at Proven Winners (page 4) we saw messaging and marketing that appealed to the consumer in their language. We know that language that implies work scares people and the example you see here focuses on the finished product rather than the work. The plants around the signage are also in the same color focus appealing to the consumer who buys with their more on page 4…

What’s Inside: Fresh Ideas, Inspiration & Excitement from the 2016 California Spring Trials 1

It’s a whole new world of consumers and it’s changing by the minute. In 2014, AmericanHort launched a research initiative called SHIFT. Within the resulting research are nearly 30 insights which deal with many aspects of the industry and how we reach consumers including how we speak to consumers in a language that is easy to understand, educate them on plants, reach them through social media, and support causes that are important to them. Connect: An AmericanHort Member Benefit

Making the Pitch


Underutilized Perennials for the Landscape6 Member Spotlight: Windmill Nursery


Memorial Scholarship Continues Carville Akehurt’s Legacy of Improving the Horticulture Industry 10 AmericanHort: Doing it all, all for you—365 days a year


Business Solutions Organized for Your Business Interests The AmericanHort Knowledge Center is your go-to-resource for information you and your employees need. Visit AmericanHort.org/Connect for more business-building solutions.


Bart Hayes Floralife I approach the customer from the perspective of not “What do I want them to buy?” but “What do I have that can help their business?” It is a small shift in thinking away from a transaction to a partnership.

Josh Roggenbuck Vischer Colby Sales

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I begin the dialog by very briefly telling the customer where I come from and how I came to my current position in the industry. Having introduced myself, I try to get to know my customers on a more personal (but not too invasive) level. If they mention their families, I ask them a few more questions such as names of their spouse and children. One of my clients has children who are particularly active in sports, and I make a point of asking him how “Mike and Lauren” are doing with soccer this season.

I always try to find out how long a client has been involved in their current position. Since I’m not always the best with names and other identifying details, I will later note some of the details of my conversation in my phone’s CRM app to use for future interactions. Clients respond very warmly when a sales person remembers the stories they’ve shared. Conversely, I’ve learned the hard way to not mention specific details unless I’m very confident in my notes. A customer can be easily offended if the details are wrong, and it looks like I’m trying to fake it. Building rapport will allow the seeds of a relationship to sprout and take root.

Eric Foertmeyer Foertmeyer and Sons Greenhouse Tell them how thankful I am to meet them and how excited I am hear that they are excited about my program and how excited I am to see if my program can mutually help both of us!

Making the Pitch By Jennifer Noble

Whether you are selling business to business or direct to the consumer, finding just the right approach to the sale can be a little tricky. We recently asked some of our members for their best sales tips, and here’s what they had to say:

What advice do you have for overcoming objections or hesitations from the customer? Danny Gouge Willoway Nurseries I think that you have to listen and hear what they have to say. You need to have photos, video, and other things to show them what you are going to provide in plants and services. We have a photo gallery and videos of our products to keep them informed on just what the plants will look like when they arrive. We do not sell on price, but try to sell on our selection, quality, regional location, and services.

How do you successfully engage a prospective customer from the beginning of the interaction? Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow, Peace Tree Farms When working with a potential customer, we ask a lot of questions: What is their type of business? What is their customer demographic? What needs are they looking to fulfill? What is their store or firm missing? The answers tell us a lot about the customer and whether Peace Tree is a good fit. We work closely with the new customer to build their first order, asking them for a wish list of 2 | AmericanHort.org

their favorites and then providing suggestions of companion plants or flagship favorites. I oftentimes equate the first order to a sampling of Peace Tree’s finest—“Try it, you’ll like it!” We also direct new customers to use our website as a guide to our plants, as every plant is listed with a photo and helpful cultural information. Order forms are hyperlinked to each plant’s individual page so if a customer doesn’t remember the difference between Acalypha and Alternanthera, they can review a plant on or website to refresh their memory.

Suzanne Di Staulo Armstrong Growers Listen to their reasoning or concerns and be understanding. If you know your product/service well enough, and if you are empowered by your employer, then think on your feet strategically and decide what you can do to maintain the ability to continue to negotiate a solution. If a customer is asking for unreasonable amounts of “perceived added value”—then you have to wonder if this is a customer that you actually want to take on. They may end up costing you more to have then to not have the business. If the customer is hesitant, consider giving them a “trial run.” For instance,

we sell plants. If a customer is hesitant to try our Organic vegetable line, then I might offer them three trays of different Organic items to put on their tables and sell. Let them see how their customers respond to it. Do they buy them, do they inquire about them, how fast was the sell-through, etc? If you do this sort of strategy, there has to be a mutual understanding that you as a vendor are taking valuable inventory out of circulation so they must make every effort to sell it. That means your client can’t shove it to the back of the store and hope their customer sees it; it must be take care of so it’s in sellable condition at retail; and encourage them to compliment it with signage to help spotlight it. Sometimes it may be better to table the conversation—let them know that you understand their concern or situation, and let them know that you’d like to think about your conversation and get back to them within a stated timeframe. This allows them to think about what you are presenting to them as well as you to develop a better strategy based on what you’ve now learned. Talk with some colleagues who may have similar situations. Sometimes walking away works in your favor as long as you leave the door open. more on page 11… 2016:5 | 3

Fresh Ideas, Inspiration & Excitement from the 2016 California Spring Trials…continued from page 1

With their focus on Culinary Couture, Hort Couture showed the beauty and benefits of edibles whether they are in a garden or in the landscape.

eyes first and is often in search of a specific color rather than variety. Another great sign we saw from Proven Winners was regarding social media. In your business it’s important to look beyond Facebook and we loved the example from Twitter they shared.

Pollinators were also showcased in new and creative marketing from Ball. In addition to highlighting pollinators, they used stunning images to draw attention to the display.

Excitement…What’s to Come? The roots of Spring Trials are in the actual trial testing and this year we saw a resurgence of trials for example Pacific Plug and Liner showcased a lavender trial and OHP trialed different control products which they shared with us at American Takii.

We found more inspiration for the landscape in these woody ornamentals from Planthaven.

At GroLink we saw excitement for the future in how they have utilized hydroponics with their tomatoes.

Inspiration From Syngenta we saw a focus on pollinators which we know are top of mind for consumers. They shared with us their pollinator garden and bee hives that they keep onsite. This stop was great inspiration on how to share pollinator friendly plants in your business.

As edibles continue their popularity with consumers, it was exciting to see many great varieties that customers are sure to love. During our Spring Trials journey we had the opportunity to see two great edible varieties which happen to be All American Selections winners, Kale Prizm and Strawberry Delizz. Strawberry Delizz from ABZ Seeds actually bears the honor of being the first ever All American Selections strawberry winner.

We were inspired by the Heartbeat flower by Suntory with its fresh coloring and full bloom. The heart shape on each petal stays just as sweet as the picture when grown cool and with moderate fertility.

To find more fresh ideas, inspiration, excitement, and photos from this year’s Spring Trials visit the AmericanHort Facebook page. We can’t wait to see what debuts at Cultivate’16.

Sherry L. Johnson, CMP, CEM AmericanHort SherryJ@AmericanHort.org

4 | AmericanHort.org

2016:5 | 5

Underutilized Perennials for the Landscape

And some underused plants for shade. Astilbe

By Jesse Hensen

I love perennials, and after more than 30 years of selling perennials my love for them has continued to grow. And now with the explosion in new varieties being introduced it seems like a perfect time to identify and sing the praises of some of the perennials that are not used often enough in the landscape. I’m not talking about echinaceas, coreopsis, and heucheras. Today, they have become the backbones of the modern landscape for perennials. Instead, I’d like to more closely examine some other genera that can add form, function and value to today’s gardens.

Let’s start with some plants for the sunny garden. Amsonia


Autumn Fern

Figure 6.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Allium is the botanical name for onion, and the new introductions of ornamental onions bring surprisingly long bloom times along with unusual forms to the sunny garden. Allium ‘Millenium’ (Figure 3) is quickly becoming a best seller and must have for the landscape with butterfly loving 2-inch rosy-purple flower heads for 5 or more weeks in late summer. The deep green leaves are fragrant and resistant to deer. It is a compact, tidy grower, with foliage reaching 8 to 10 inches tall, and very suited for the front of a border. Allium ‘Sugar Melt’ (Figure 4) offers the same great features with light pink flower heads.


Astilbes have been offered for the shade garden for hundreds of years, but have fallen out of favor with American landscape designers over the last few decades. But with some of the wonderful new selections being introduced it’s time to give them another look. With the introduction of Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions’ (Figure 6) and all of the other color selections that came from it we now have astilbes that are much more adaptable for the landscape. They don’t require as wet of conditions to perform well, they have a longer bloom time, and they have more attractive foliage and habits than older forms. Another new introduction that offers even more garden features is Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ (Figure 7), an award-winning selection with chocolate brown foliage topped by blush pink to white flower spikes.

Figure 2.

6 | AmericanHort.org

Figure 5.

Another native North American species, heleniums have the unfortunate common name of Sneezeweed. But don’t let the common name fool you; its pollen is too heavy to get airborne so it isn’t the cause of fall sneezing attacks. It blooms the same time as ragweed, and gets a bad reputation because of its neighbor. Heleniums have also been overlooked as a garden plant because the species form of Helenium autumnale grows tall, up to 6 feet, with the flowers on top. But plant breeders have come to the rescue with several new species maturing at around 3 feet, making it a perfect addition to the sunny garden. The Helenium ‘Mariachi’ (Figure 5) series offers five different varieties in shades or combinations of yellow, orange, and red, with a perfect upright rounded habit up to 3 feet tall. They flower in summer and fall, and will add a touch of prairie look to your garden.

Figure 10.

Dryopteris erythrosora, the Autumn Fern, gives four seasons of interest to the shaded garden. It is a colorful ground cover fern with lustrous dark green mature fronds that make a great backdrop to the coppery-orange new fronds that emerge all summer long. It’s more tolerant of drier conditions than most ferns, but still looks best in the more traditional ferny location. Foliage is evergreen and looks good through the winter. A newer selection, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ (Figure 10), introduced by Casa Flora, offers even more color with lots of new fronds emerging bright orange/salmon throughout the summer. These are just a few perennials that I see as not being used enough in today’s landscapes. Perennials should bring new interest every season to the garden, and I hope that using some of these outstanding but underused perennials can expand the seasons of interest to the gardens that you design.

Figure 1.

A genus of mostly native North American species that offer multiple season interest to the sunny garden, amsonias are bone hardy in zones 5 to 9 and easy to grow. All feature light blue clusters of blooms at the top of the stems in spring and early summer, and all are deer-resistant. Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia (Figure 1) is an upright grower, 2 to 3 feet in height with willow-like leaves that turn an attractive yellow in fall. My favorite amsonia is A. hubrichtii (Figure 2), with very fine, threadlike leaves that turn a brilliant golden-yellow in fall. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and is a beautiful complement to ornamental grasses and summer/fall blooming perennials.

and the attractive deep green foliage makes an attractive mass through summer. Phlox stolonifera are more of a flat mat groundcover with soft green foliage that is also disease resistant, topped by huge clusters of fragrant blooms in spring, in colors ranging from pinks and blues to white. The stolonifera varieties form a thick enough ground cover to keep weeds out once established.

Figure 7.

Jesse Hensen Eason Horticultural Resources JHensen@ehrnet.com ehrnet.com


Figure 8.

Figure 9.

Phlox are usually thought of for the sunny garden, but the divaricate (Figure 8) and stolonifera (Figure 9) species are both native woodland forms that make showy additions to the shade garden. Phlox divaricata species are mounding forms that trail nicely and are covered with fragrant blossoms of blue, purple, or white in spring. Unlike the summer phlox, the divaricatas don’t get powdery mildew, 2016:5 | 7

Michael Roe, has evolved our media into an eco-friendly blend that has reduced our need for chemicals and helped us to produce healthier, better quality plants. That’s not to say that we don’t have our growing challenges. But we’ve been able to see the results in the success, quality, and productivity of our products. By changing our media and fertilizer inputs we are creating an environment where most insect and disease issues are mitigated through nutrition. We have not yet perfected this process for all of the different crops we grow, so an occasional insecticide or fungicide application is still needed from time to time. When the decision is made to spray chemicals we now choose low toxicity chemicals that are safer for beneficial insects, our employees and especially our end consumer.

Member Spotlight:

Windmill Nursery Franklinton, Louisiana Todd Ellefson, Owner

Tell us a little bit about Windmill Nursery’s history and background.

accomplish this with a good product mix that is reliable, consistent, and demanded.

Our green industry legacy goes all the way back to Wight Nursery, which was started in the 1880s by my great-great grandfather. I grew up in the industry at Wight Nurseries and through the Monrovia transition. In 2003, I teamed up with George Hackney and my grandfather, John Wight, to purchase Windmill Nursery, and today share the ownership with three top-level managers. In an industry that doesn’t seem to be getting any younger, I can say that we’ve successfully made the transition to the next generation. Our younger ownership team has put us in a position to grow with current leadership for a long tenure.

We are heavily influenced by the Wight Nursery model, so a big goal is to increase our customer diversity. That means including both box stores and independent retailers and adding to our sales staff. This strategy has helped us weather the recession and gives us the ability to meet the needs of all customers.

We’re a wholesale nursery that serves Southeast U.S., including Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri areas. We operate 490 acres, 178 of which are under irrigation, including 180 greenhouses and shade houses. Our specialties are container-grown shrubs, perennials, trees, and groundcovers. The big focus in our growing practices is being 100 percent pollinator friendly and growing neonicotinoid-free. We’re always keeping an eye on trends and trying to be ahead of the curve when it comes to making adjustments for the future.

What are Windmill Nursery’s goals and visions for the future? As a still relatively young company, we’re actively building a sales/production team capable of continuing our rise to the next level. This allows us to expand our sales territories and become the vendor of choice for all of our customers. We also 8 | AmericanHort.org

What sets Windmill Nursery apart? The fact that we focus on quality and customer service above all else. Our young management and ownership team is also unique. When I started at Windmill and was recruiting our leadership team, I was very transparent about needing to begin with an exit strategy in place for handing the nursery over to the generation after us. This helps us all maintain perspective and keep an eye on constantly growing for the future. We’re also unique in our innovative, “green” growing practices. For example, our head grower,

We are a customer-oriented company, and we always put the customers first. We make a lot of decisions, day-to-day, based on our customers, like additions to trucks, 24-hour shift turnaround, and more. We try to stay as connected to our customer base as possible to maximize our opportunities with them and our value. We have this constant awareness of trying to meet our customer’s expectations and satisfy any needs they have.

evident as inventory moved less. We’ve managed to establish a rifle approach, and with that, we’ve stayed that much more in tune with our product mix. Any product on the ground today needs to be successful—inventory mistakes aren’t really an option any more. The success has been in learning how to maximize our investments during the recession, which has since taught us how to operate more efficiently moving forward. Being able to diversify our product portfolio by successfully growing many difficult and unique plants has also been an accomplishment. This is a testament to our growing practices and the innovations in media. Expanding our market share with the addition of highly qualified sales reps and a more diversified plant palate is certainly an area of growth for us.

What are some of Windmill Nursery’s biggest challenges and what are your strategies to achieve success? Finding quality workers in a labor pool that is filled with individuals not trained in this line of work is a major challenge. Four years ago, we were 100 percent “free labor pool” or non-guest workers. We received an I-9 audit and realized we needed more reliable labor. We moved to the H2-A program, and it comprises about 50 percent of our labor today, and the other is 50 percent local/domestic labor. As we grow, filling our labor needs and balancing the labor supply is proving to be a big challenge, as is staff training. Our supervisors are continuously involved with employees on a day-to-day basis to help guide and teach them. It’s a very hands-on process. Our industry is also very disconnected from the end consumer. We’re trying to help bridge that gap. Our sales staff is well educated in our processes and decisions so they can inform our customers, and they in turn can inform their customers. For example, in our decision to grow 100% neonicfree, we’re able to explain to the retailers how and why this is important, so that they can then communicate that to their customer and increase awareness of how plants are grown and produced.

What have some of your greatest successes been in the last few years? Pre-recession, much of the industry (ourselves included) operated in a shotgun approach because everything sold or some things sold well enough to cover any inventory mistakes. But in the recession, mistakes became that much more

How does being an AmericanHort member benefit your business? It’s important to stay in touch with the industry on a national level. It allows us to see some concerns that others have that may not have reached us yet, but that we can begin preparing for. Also, the resources that help make us a stronger company are invaluable. A perfect example is when we recently underwent a Department of Labor investigation. AmericanHort provided access to a law firm that we could turn to for help gathering information on how best to handle the situation. Most nurseries like us are not large enough to have a lawyer or CPA, so we rely on AmericanHort to provide resources that give us the briefing we need to make a better decision moving forward. When the DOL investigation happened, the help from AmericanHort and the law firm was there immediately. The law firm was able to give me some quick tips on handling the process. It was a great resource for me to lean to and get some advice to better prepare for the investigation.

2016:5 | 9

Memorial Scholarship Continues Carville Akehurt’s Legacy of Improving the Horticulture Industry By David Kuack

Making the Pitch…continued from page 3

Joshua Roggenbuck Vischer Colby Sales Integrity is key when fostering a relationship with a customer. If you honestly care about the success of your clients, you will not make lofty promises that

cannot be replicated in future interactions. Instead, you will look for ways to assist your customers in improving their current situation. Unless there is a disparaging difference in price, a legitimate solution will always overcome objections and corner out competitors.

The Carville M. Akehurst Memorial Scholarship was established in 2002 by the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show Inc. (MANTS) and is administered by Horticultural Research Institute (HRI). The scholarship was established to memorialize Carville M. Akehurst who served the horticulture industry as one of the founders of MANTS. “My father was very engaged in the horticulture industry in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region,” said Vanessa Finney, who is president of Quercus Inc. and executive vice president of MANTS. “He was a fourth generation nurseryman in his family. He was not only involved in the growing aspect, he was also very interested in advancing the entire horticulture industry.” Finney said her father’s involvement with the Maryland Nurserymen’s Association led to working with a group of nursery growers in the late 1960s that resulted in the establishment of MANTS. The show is sponsored by the nursery and landscape associations in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The first show was held in Williamsburg, Va., in January 1971.

If you could share one tip for making the pitch what would it be? Importance of Education Finney said when her father died in 2001 the MANTS board of directors discussed what could be done to recognize and remember her father for what he had done for the industry. “One of the main reasons for setting up a scholarship in my father’s name was because he was a strong believer in education and advancing the next generation,” she said. “The board decided establishing a scholarship was a good way to memorialize him. Since the MANTS board did not have the expertise to manage the scholarship, the board asked HRI to administer it. HRI was already managing scholarships for other industry organizations.” Finney said MANTS funded an initial amount over $100,000 for the scholarship so that an endowment could be created. “We have many MANTS exhibitors that contribute to the scholarship fund annually,” she said. “MANTS then transfers the money over to HRI every year to administer the scholarship. HRI and MANTS are not doing any direct fundraising for the scholarship. MANTS offers a variety of sponsorships in which exhibitors can participate. One of the sponsorships is my father’s memorial scholarship fund. There have been some very loyal exhibitors that have been making contributions to the scholarship fund every year since it was established.”

“My father was working with the Maryland Nurserymen’s Association and was also managing MANTS,” Finney said. “In his professional capacity, he also worked closely with the American Nurserymen’s Association (ANA). In 1994, ANA held its annual meeting in conjunction with MANTS. Over the years my father was a relationship builder. He was involved with many horticulture organizations. He had the resources to advance the cause of what he was trying to accomplish.” 10 | AmericanHort.org

Suzanne Di Staulo

Stephanie Whitehouse-Barlow

Armstrong Growers

Peace Tree Farms

Wow—one tip … Since you only have one time to make a great impression, KNOW your product, BELIEVE in your product, and be SINCERE in what you are pitching, and then pitch with CONFIDENCE. A customer will pick up on someone who is fake or “rehearsed” from a sales book. And whatever you do—never ever use “clichés.

If a picture can speak a thousand words, using our long-standing customers as Peace Tree Brand Ambassadors helps to build brand loyalty. We point new customers to our brand ambassadors because reviews from peers speaks volumes. We don’t try to build an order with every potential customer we meet—sometimes Peace Tree is a logical fit and sometimes we’re not. We are more focused on building a partnership with our customers, for without them we have no purpose. This partnership builds trust and brand loyalty, which in turn drives sales. At that point, we let the beauty and quality of our plants speak for themselves.

Bart Hayes Floralife Understand what you are asking of the customer. Why is what you are offering them worth their investment? Whether it is asking them to make an investment into a piece of machinery, shift from tried-and-true genetics to something different, or adding a process that is different from what they are accustomed, it is important to understand their reasoning and not to discount their concerns. Change can be scary, especially when the change is “fixing” something that is not outright broken, but simply an improvement. Going from 50 percent efficiency to 90 percent efficiency is an easy argument to make; going from 50 percent to 55 percent is harder. It takes understanding what their return is, if there is any emotional reasoning, and if the hassle of change worth the resulting improvement.

Josh Roggenbuck Vischer Colby Sales David Kuack dkuack@gmail.com

Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show may be contacted at 410296-6959; Vanessa@mants.com; www.mants.com. David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; dkuack@gmail.com.

I would suggest that all sales people get into the habit of selling solutions, not things. A good sales person genuinely believes that what he or she provides to customers will be a fundamental change for those who purchase from them. When that belief exists, the pitch will come incredibly naturally and it will compel clients to act in a swift manner.

Eric Foertmeyer Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse Be as excited as possible when you are meeting with a new customer. Be excited about helping them, learning about them, learning FROM them, and always try to have your goal with new customers to be hopefully making a new friend.

Danny Gouge Willoway Nurseries Be honest and become a partner with your customers. Understand their needs and try to fill those needs by being the go-to person for information and products. Go into it for the long run. Try to develop and create a relationship where both parties can grow and make profits. Jennifer Noble AmericanHort Knowledge & Professional Development Administrator JenN@AmericanHort.org 2016:5 | 11


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