Lessons from Down Under
Allow me here to paraphrase the Britney Spears song: "Oops! She did it again!" Mother Nature, that is. As I mentioned in last month's column, I was out of the country for a while in March, spending two weeks in Australia followed by a week in California. So here I was thinking that I would make it home to northeast Ohio just in time for some great spring flower photography opportunities. Boy, was I ever wrong!
As we all know spring sprang pretty early in many parts of the U.S., so instead I've missed just about everything blooming. Truth be told, I think the weather was actually a little warmer in northeast Ohio than where I was. But then again, I was experiencing life in Australia and California, not Ohio, so I was okay with that!
What did the warm temps mean for us? Hopefully it meant an extended buying season for both retailers and consumers, equating to one of the best springs our industry has had in a long time. And goodness knows we need it! Some garden center operators took advantage of global warming to jump-start their spring business. Others thought the hot temps were temporary and we'd return to winter. They sat by and didn't even begin to bring in plant material until their competitors down the street were already placing reorders. For them this season might be a lesson in planning better or differently for future years - provided they have more seasons to come.
If it makes you feel any better, please take comfort in the fact that we are not alone with all of our everyday business challenges. This was actually one of my biggest take-aways from my trip Down Under.
We're currently dealing with Boxwood Blight hysteria and they with Myrtle Rust, two diseases that are producing a dramatic and devastating effect on particular crops, as well as on those who grow, sell and buy those plants. We both struggle with getting members involved with grass roots politics and understanding that greater constituent representation does matter. And, having politicians hear from those businesses they represent makes a difference; your voice and vote count!
Our green industry hasn't been able to unite to find a way to pull together, let alone pull off, a national marketing campaign, but the Nursery & Garden Industry of Australia (NGIA) has created one that I really liked. Last year our Aussie counterparts launched the "Improve Your Plant Life Balance" campaign. It is an industry initiative to boost green life sales and get people talking about plants. They initially focused on the positive effects of office plants, and their first initiative was a "Put a Plant on your Desk" day promotion. I'm thinking this would be a great promo appropriate for our Boss's or Administrative Assistant's Day.
The NGIA specifically targeted office employees because research shows how plants in the work environment can reduce stress, improve productivity, increase job satisfaction and reduce sick leave. There are 7.2 million workers in Australia, and a significant portion of them have daily access to the internet and social media sites where the campaign predominantly was focused. The campaign is continuing this year, and the theme is "More Trees Please." The campaign is doing well, but it could be a better promotion if more of the industry got behind it with their support. Sound familiar?
Australia does not appear to have labor problems similar to ours, and they aren't dealing with H-2A and H-2B crises like many U.S. nurseries and landscapers had to endure this year.
But the Australian government is trending toward being a policeman rather than a gatekeeper to manage or contain disease and pest outbreaks. On the flip side, their legislature has continued to provide support for horticultural research and development.
Some people may ask, why would I care what happens in Australia? I think that many in America may very well imagine Australia through the image of "Crocodile Dundee." We envision the nation as red dirt bush country. While that is true for certain areas, I was surprised to find Brisbane and the Gold Coast having flora similar to Florida. Melbourne was a shocker as the landscape could have been Anywhere USA with birch, crabapples, maples, hydrangeas and many familiar genera, species and cultivars. The Monbulk area and Dandenong Range reminded me of Oregon or California; imagine a redwood forest, but with eucalyptus trees and a fern floor. Just add the water dragons and it was a scene out of "Jurassic Park."
This trip reminded me of how small Mother Earth really is. When it comes to learning and collaborating with others in the green industry, we don't have to limit ourselves to ideas within our own country. In this day and age of social media and advanced technology, there are practically no boundaries to educating ourselves - and to borrowing a few good marketing ideas along the way.
I leave you during this busy spring season with the hope and a prayer that our good fortune continues through the summer months, and finally with a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: "Learning never exhausts the mind."
Maria Zampini is president of Lake County New Plants LLC, Madison, Ohio. She co-founded the company with her father, Jim Zampini. Their focus is sales and marketing of LCN Selections along with research and development of new plant introductions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.