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Is THIS a Fair Test?

Read Time: Approximately 2 minutes.

NOTE: Click HERE to read a November 10, 2009 follow-up to this post titled “Fair Follow-Up to Proven Winners Fair Test?”

You’ve probably read or will soon about yet another recent case study claiming again that branded plants outsold non-branded 5:1. CLICK HERE to go to a report on the research in Garden Center Magazine’s OPEN REGISTER blog.

A Fair Test?

A Fair Test?

Maybe I just don’t understand how  anyone could dispute the results of the study after looking at the photo of the two displays that consumers compared. What were they trying to prove? I would HOPE that the display in the foreground would outperform the other.

Which bench would you lead a well-heeled customer to if the grass is even damp? One is on a gravel paved area, and the other on grass. What would we see if we watched the customers approach identical benches in the same physical environment?What would happen if we had a talented merchandiser fix up the unbranded bench? Would it outsell the proven winner? I’d place my bet on some of the garden center associates I know to create a better performing display. The first thing they would do is fight for the better location.

This type of claim is why you should be skeptical of research and statistics. I know I use stats to illustrate points, but I am always leery of the process and conclusions of the research. You should be too.

Maybe there is more that we should know about the research. Let’s see if anyone from the brand or their research firm will Comment or Leave a Reply below here to let us know.

I’ll stand by my own claim that its the total picture of store layout, merchandising, personal selling, and in the case of branded products – the packaging that makes the difference in consumer confidence and sales results. I’m certainly FOR partnering with brands if it makes sense and can increase profits. But let’s also compare margin dollars and GMROII while we’re at it.

One major thing that has been proven in the photograph of the two displays. Better located and merchandised displays are more appealing. I have absolutely no argument that the display in the foreground on gravel should have outsold the other display at least 5:1. So get out there in your store and DO your magic to make more plants more appealing so they will sell.

Some folks will be unhappy that I posted this and dare to question them publicly about this claim. I considered this carefully and decided that you deserve to know my opinion about the research information so you can make your own informed decision. If I don’t have every fact here that is fine because this is an interactive process where they and you can comment, question, discuss, clarify, dispute, and become more informed and make better decisions about your business.

Should I be skeptical of what companies say about their products? What about you?

Direct Link:  OPEN REGISTER blog: http://tinyurl.com/BrandorNot

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32 Responses

  1. Dear Sid,

    Thank you for posting this. I just do not like the deceptive marketing Proven Winners uses. This is not really an equal comparison. The sad part is that they will not even own up to it. In the ANLA connect posts they did not address the deceptive marketing Proven Selections causes. They do not own up to the problem they have with many of their plants and the high PH issue with them turning yellow for consumers.

    The sad part is that many folks that grow PW just eat all this up. You know the saying if you hear it often enough you begin to believe it.

    I am wondering has anyone seen (other than in our greenhouse) bench wrap with the garden centers name on it.

  2. Are you kidding? A fair test would compare properly labeled and signed benches against branded properly labeled and signed benches with similar quality and species on both.

  3. Wow Sid…Great Story. Several years ago we stopped selling the proven winners in the branded pots. With the “5/1″ ratio in mind that should have translated to a 80% or so decrease in sales of PW. Our 4” sales actually increased that season. Also since there is a premium cost attached to having the plants in those pots, our margin also increased.
    Proven winners does have some cool plants for next season (lobularia and that picasso petunia) but I agree with you that a well merchandised display will sell equal to the proven winner merchandised display. I also think that a high quality pretty nonbranded plant in bloom will outsell a nonflowering PW branded plant with a 5:1 ratio. Our customers want high quality pretty plants.

  4. I can’t recall specifically where but I have seen bench wrap in other garden centers with their logo on it. GrowTech Solutions has the “plastic paper” in strips that can be fed through the Xerox Phaser printers to custom make bench tape on demand.

  5. Thanks for commenting Joe. If all things were equal EXCEPT for ONE thing then it would be logical to conclude the difference made a difference. I think we all believe better merchandising is better already. What we may not know is exactly how much better it is. I suspect it is enough better that we should all do a better job of it.

  6. Thanks for commenting Dave. I agree that the new Lobularia is a game-changer. The Picasso Petunia is one of those color combinations people will either love or hate, and those in the garden center business who hate will learn to love to hate if it sells as well as I think it will. It reminds me of the first version of Ford Taurus that came out in the mid 80’s. Half of the US population hated it but the other half loved it enough that it quickly became the number one selling car model.

  7. Agree. When doing scientific studies, all testing must be equal and comparable. Again, I am not sure why PW feels like they need to “WIN” by not being comparable. It is important for the retailer to make informed decisions and Sid, you are absolutely right in saying “This type of claim is why you should be skeptical of research and statistics.” Well said & put.

    We don’t have much branding with PW, we do sell Endless Summer Hydrangeas and Knock Out Roses. We do have signage and POP to go with those lines and I am not sure if it helped or not but people do recognize these two lines and ask by name. PW not asked for here. But you can go to any big box store around here and get PW. So why carry it?

    I have PW Deutzia that have not sold with the special PW pots. Doesn’t help, if I did a major display, yes, but unless they are flowering, they are not selling.

  8. Your response is appreciated Lynne. Endless Summer and Knock Out are great examples of what can happen. Not everyone has made the most of the opportunity with them, and few have exceeded what they have done. We’ll have to wait to find out if they will stand the test of time and continue to be productive well into the future. There are short-lived brands, and hopefully those that will only get better over time and continued improvement of the marketing of them.

  9. Is the alyssum (lobularia) really so good? At the IGC show, it looked feeble, even though the picture looked fabulous. I was told that plants in Michigan look like the picture, but PW did not choose to display one of those plants. Meanwhile, I think it is just a selection from Pan Am’s Clear Crystal series, which we grew this year. It is a very good cultivar, and has performed better than other alyssums.

  10. Great question David. Regional differences always make a difference. Has anyone seen it not performing well in their region?

  11. I am always skeptical of a “study” done by the beneficiary of the positive results. Proven WInners has proven why. No doubt they want to upsell their product, especially in the economic upheaval we have seen this season, which I’m sure has affected their sales even for this upcoming spring. As was pointed out, I would be interested to know the end result of the same “test” if the balance of the competition was equal.

    PW has not proven stunning to me through the years and as this years Lo and Behold shrub proved, it sat in the pot quite unimpressively until we stuck it in a planter with fresh soil and then took off. We repotted the rest of the shrubs we have had since spring and sold them at once with the new soil blend.

    I agree with Lynne about the Endless summer Hydrangeas and the Knock outs, as we are asked for them specifically since the marketing on them has been so thorough. However, the other material is not asked for by brand or variety name that is in that special pot.

  12. It’s always interesting to hear of the lengths retailers go to in order to make something sell. Whether the plants had become pot bound, the mix had run out of nutrition, or what else might have been the problem it is still a problem. Thanks for commenting.

  13. You NAILED it again, Sid. Frankly, I’m suprised the picture ever was shown. Every Consumer Buzz Live has drilled exactly the same point in—the ‘brand’ does not sell plants. It’s the plant!!!
    I have always said to PW that they DO NOT HAVE A BRAND. Mercedes is a brand–they take specific parts and manufacture a car to specifications, sell it in their own store, and warrant it with a promise of quality that they MUST deliver upon.
    PW sendsa bunch of parts to Joe’s garage (my apologies to Joe) and tell him to “Make me an S-Class Mercedes.” There is zero control over the finished product and zero warranty promised—except from the RETAILER. One thousand growers will give 1000 different results.

  14. Just a comment on the Alyssum from Proven Winners. We are in the process of growing it and have sold a few this fall under the fall magic banner. Regular snow Crystals which we also grow seems to preform better here in southern Wisconsin.

    Snow Princess seems to be rangy and does not flower as well as snow crystals alyssum. I think my landed cost was over 60 cents versus about 5 cents for a snow crystal alyssum plug.

  15. Glad to have you join the fun on this one Lloyd, but I’m surprised you picked up another target for your back. I guess I’m just getting to know you. Interesting analogy.

  16. Re: Snow Princess—had VERY good performance in Landisville Trials, held up well in heavy, summer-long rain. Also heard it did well in Florida heat.
    But…is it really a ‘game-changer’? I’m not convinced yet, but do know that the ‘snow’ part is true. It will shed over everything below it. Also, I believe it will still be seen as another, much-improved allysum, but still an allysum, with all the associated pricing issues attached.

  17. It looks fine to me, and I also found this great deal on property in Florida. This study was conducted by the same lab that researches those great weight loss programs I see on late night TV. Wow! That’s more bologna than an Italian deli. This gives new meaning to double blind study.

  18. Thanks for sticking your neck out on here John. If that doesn’t bring a response from the researchers or the researchees I don’t know what will. I’m certain they meant well. After all everyone in this business is so nice. I am looking forward to hearing any explanation they can offer.

  19. Bottom line to me; it’s all about the plant. Cool looking plants that the customer believes are cool looking too sell well. A great display helps, but should be a given scene at all good GC’s. As the PW people try to guess what consumers will like there will be dogs left on the bench everyone thought would sell and then the customer says nope, I just don’t like it. So when a rep expounds how wonderful this plant is and tells me my customers will love it; when they don’t I ask the rep to put it back on the next truck or give me a deep discount so I can deep discount it. I prefer to put it back on the truck and get fresh material and restock. There should be a shared responsibility when picking new plants that PW rants about, instead of leaving the IGC’s holding all the dogs at the end of the season.

  20. Superbly said Larry. I understand this to mean you’re talking about product from any vendor and you are right on. If vendors want help testing new things it is great to work with them to do so. I wish they would hold back another year on pushing things to market so they were time-tested in the marketplace not just in selling to the retailer. Testing should go beyond selling to retailers and include selling in the store, bench performance, and garden performance for the consumer before plants are pushed through. With so many new plants available I really have to question the rush to sell-to the retailer when it is unknown how well the retailer will be able to sell-through and create a clientele for new plants into the future. If just one breeder would take one new introduction and push it back a year they would probably get better results – worth the wait.

    We need more plants that consumers will come back for time and again – at the independent garden center. When the same plants are available later at box stores (like Wave, Endless Summer, and Knockout Roses to name a few) the payoff for the upfront effort is eroded. How many consumers bought these things from an independent first, then bought more later at the boxes? Don’t answer, that’s a rhetorical question. You know the answer is a LOT. Sorry vendors, I’m not drinking this Cool-Aid. I understand vendors have had trouble getting independents to buy into programs in the past. It takes a while to get new concepts such as branded plants into your psyche. Get over it. I’ve heard all the arguments. The game was changed now years ago when independents sold a ton of Endless Summer first year out the gate. Give independents something we are all asking for – something that won’t be in the boxes EVER. When it runs its course move on to something else.

  21. Dear Mr. Knapton:
    I see you have moved on from discussing Proven Winners on the ANLA Connect List-Serve to Mr. Raisch’s blog to further discredit Proven Winners and I’d like to take the opportunity, again, to respond to your comments.

    “Deceptive marketing.” Those are very strong words to write, especially in a public forum. I continue to be perplexed why you continue to publicly express strong objections to the Proven Winners brand – especially since you claim to grow and sell our plants, boast that through our certification program you have the largest Proven Winners trained staff in Madison, WI, and bought a Proven Winners Fall Magic banner on August 24 which I’m assuming you plan on displaying in your store.

    Regarding the study that Mr. Raisch discusses, not all of the facts are represented and as such, you are drawing the conclusion that there was not an equal comparison. We will be sending Mr. Raisch further information that will address the concerns he raised.

    I’d like to address your claim regarding what you believe is “deceptive marketing” for our Proven Selections brand. I believe your complaint is that you shouldn’t have to pay a marketing fee for the plants in the Proven Selections brand and that consumers don’t know the difference between Proven Winners and Proven Selections.

    Proven Selections is a name we created to brand the plants that the Proven Winners propagators are selling that fall outside of the Proven Winners line of plants. Before Proven Selections came along, the propagators were selling these plants generically. We firmly believe that our industry needs to embrace marketing and branding and therefore decided to group these plants under the Proven Selections brand instead of just selling them as “plants.” By doing so, these plants now have a large and informative tag which aids the consumer as they garden. The tag and branded container are similar in style to the Proven Winners versions and as such, Proven Selections plants benefit from the considerable consumer advertising that is done to promote the Proven Winners brand. Lastly, because so many of the Proven Selections plants are complimentary to Proven Winners plants, it allows retailers to merchandise Proven Selections along with Proven Winners to create an eye-catching display. In my opinion, this is not deceptive marketing.

    With regards to your claim about us not owning “up to the problem they have with many of their plants and the high pH issue with them turning yellow for the consumers,” I’ve never seen you address this before. I’m assuming you are talking about petunias and calibrachoa leaves turning yellow when they don’t get enough plant food. I’m not a grower, but I believe with pH ranges varying so widely across the country, when consumers don’t feed any petunia or calibrachoa, the leaves are going to turn yellow.

    To specifically address the yellow leaves issue, Proven Winners does extensive trialing to select the best performing plants that are going to make consumers successful. Year after year, we win independent university field trial awards backing up this claim. To help growers select the proper plant food products to maximize the quality of their Proven Winners plants, we have a line of 7 different plant food products that are available to you with the proper formulation recommended to you based on a water test and the specific water quality in your greenhouse. Lastly, we offer a water soluble plant food for consumer gardeners which is the only consumer plant food that I know of that includes Iron EDDHA – this product allows plants like petunias and calibrachoa to maintain dark green leaves under wide pH ranges.

    Regarding your comment that “many folks that grow Proven Winners just eat all this up” – we believe this is because the growers and retailers that are supporting the program and believe in the program are having success with it – it works for them because they embrace all of the support that we offer.

    With regards to Snow Princess, this is a groundbreaking new vegetative Lobularia that is unlike any other Lobularia on the market. Just as Supertunia varieties changed the seed petunia market, Snow Princess is going to completely change the seed Lobularia market. I don’t believe I can post a picture taken this week of two Snow Princess hanging baskets on my front porch in Suburban Chicago unless Mr. Raisch can help me post it. I have two 12-inch hanging baskets planted with Snow Princess that are now trailing 3-feet and are completely covered with flowers. They have been hand watered and fed 3-times since May with the Proven Winners water soluble plant food. If you are having success with a seed lobularia in Wisconsin, more power to you. But, I’ve tried to grow seed lobularia for years in Chicago and it never lasts past the middle of July.

    Mr. Knapton, as I wrote in response to your ANLA postings, please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to discuss the Proven Winners program. And anyone else reading this is welcome to also contact me.

    Dave Konsoer
    Director of Sales
    dave@provenwinners.com
    630-323-2886

  22. A reply from Proven Winners about specific points raised in recent posts and comments about the market research study:

    1. Is this a fair test?

    Yes, it is. The research occurred at two different garden centers – Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland, NH and Churchill in Exeter, NH. It was set up and managed by StandPoint Market Research. The image that is being referred to was taken at Rolling Green Nursery. While it may appear in the image that the merchandised bench in the foreground is in a better location as it is on gravel, while the non-merchandised bench is further away on grass, this is not the case. The non-merchandised bench is actually right on the main walkway through the garden center, while the merchandised bench is located off and behind the main path. The image shown was only one of a number taken; if anyone would like to see others, please let me know.

    A couple more comments about the study:

    The location was chosen by Rolling Green and StandPoint. What is also not shown is an image of the test at Churchill. In that study, both the merchandised and non-merchandised benches were on gravel and were located side by side. Again, the results were similar – the Proven Winners merchandised “Store Within A Store” bench outsold the non-merchandised bench by 5:1.

    Also, the quality of the plants and the species on both benches were the same. The only difference was the merchandising and packaging.

    2. Which bench would you lead a well-heeled customer to if the grass is even damp?

    Almost all customers (with or without heels) would have to first pass by the non-merchandised bench to get to the merchandised bench. The photo used is taken from what would be considered the back of the merchandised bench. And although it is hard to tell from the picture, customers had to walk across the grass in order to get to the merchandised bench. There was no advantage to accessing the merchandised bench and in fact, it may have actually been harder to reach it.

    3. What were they trying to prove?

    The goal of the study was to show that a merchandised Proven Winners “Store Within A Store” concept would sell faster than a non-merchandised area. When you look at the picture and see how much better the display looks, it seems obvious that this would be the case. But what is surprising is that many garden centers still are not adopting this approach. A 5:1 ratio is something that we believe garden centers should take notice of. Providing more proof that it works was the goal of the study. We all want to see merchandising at retail continue to improve.

    4. What would happen if we had a talented merchandiser fix up the unbranded bench? Would it outsell the Proven Winners (bench)?

    This is the point that we are trying to prove. Fixing up the non-merchandised bench will lead to significantly greater sales. We welcome anyone to hire a third-party firm to see which one outsells the other. The more research and surveying we do of our customer the better we as an industry will be.

    5. This type of claim is why you should be skeptical of research and statistics. I know I use stats to illustrate points, but I am always leery of the process and conclusions of the research. You should be too.

    This is why we hired StandPoint to do this research. The results are unbiased and conclusive of what a garden center would find during the mid-summer months.

    We believe that people should always ask critical questions about any research and numbers they see and we welcome the chance to provide more information about the study.

    Mark Broxon
    Executive Director
    Proven Winners North America LLC
    mark@provenwinners.com
    408-871-7925

  23. Thank you for commenting Mr. Konsoer. You may call me Sid please. There are several off-topic comments you are pulling into this discussion that were apparently on another forum (ANLA Connect) so at least some of the readers here are not aware of the background. The photos and additional information you wish to share are very welcome here. I will gladly post photos of the new lobularia if you send them to me.

  24. Thanks for discussing the test here and providing more information Mr. Broxon. The photograph does present something very different from what you describe. I would love to post additional information you, including photographs that more clearly illustrate the actual test. There is no doubt or argument that better merchandising sells more plants.

  25. Sid:

    I can assure you that if my firm coordinated a market test it was done fairly and would pass all of the tests of responsible research.

    My firm coordinated the entire study, supervised the counting, and experienced no interference from Proven Winners. As we do with every study we try to control as many variables as we can. You cannot fairly judge the quality of the research from one photograph and a magazine article.

    For most products in this industry (where there is little to no consumer advertising) the packaging is the only consumer touchpoint. Proven Winners strategy is to differentiate its products via enhanced packaging. When a consumer has a positive experience with the plant, that brand impression sticks.

    This study proves that if you call more attention to a product at the point of sale, you increase turns. Sure, any garden center can create effective merchandising and achieve the same thing as our study. But, I’m still astounded at how many don’t do it.

    Each retailer needs to evaluate the product margins and turns for themselves and decide if they have an alternate solution for increasing the value of that real estate. Branded items are certainly one of many options.

  26. Thank you for commenting Kip. The one photograph was unfortunately represented a bigger picture. Fair or not, reality is as it is perceived. We’re looking forward to seeing more. I share your astoundment at how good people who know what good merchandising is allow so much bad merchandising to go on in their stores. In the case of your test one thing the one photograph does is clearly show the difference between good and bad merchandising. There is no neutral. And there is no argument here against brands, except to say that if you are going to sell brands merchandise them well in a brand partnership to get the full benefit. Still, we need research that gets into more than sales numbers which impress many people on the surface. It is not true that selling more units is always better. The margin yield comparison would be a real “selling point” to reinforce the value of a brand partnership. Perhaps that is another part of the study we have not been made aware of? Any details of the research your sponsors would like to share is welcome here.

  27. While we’re awaiting additional information on the research, Garden Center Magazine posted additional photos of the displays that were involved in the above mentioned research here – http://bit.ly/3TFDC2

  28. Sid,

    Your post was really interesting but then it got better in the comments with all the different perspectives and PW getting into the mix.

    As an outside observer to it all, I appreciate you starting this conversation.

    I will say that it seemed a bit like an unfair comparison because the non-branded display looks boring and the dark shelving doesn’t do it any favors.

  29. I appreciate your comment Ramon. It’s great to have our first garden blogger chime in. The comments are the life of a blog. I hope to make people feel comfortable to get in on the action and express different viewpoints, clarify facts, and “keep it real”. Embracing this new style of transparency is a stretch of thinking for most of our industry. I have found myself that once we get used to it and allow our imagination to expand to understand the concept it is really quite interesting and engaging. We still have not received more information from Proven Winners since their comments, but look forward to sharing the additional facts they can provide so readers can fairly understand the study.

  30. Sid & all –

    As promised, here is additional information about the sell through study:

    — The research was conducted over a nine day period from June 6th through June 14th.
    — Two garden centers (Churchill’s and Rolling Green) were selected for the study. We felt that using two different locations provided for a basis to compare results.
    — Each garden center assigned two benches to the research.
    — The first bench included only Proven Winners products in Proven Winners white branded containers. This is the “merchandised” bench as it also utilized bench tape, a Colorwise® tag sign, a Plants for Sun sign, and a combination idea flip book.
    — The second bench contained 50% unbranded product in green pots and 50% Proven Winners plants in our white branded containers. The second bench was split in order to gauge the impact of the POP materials on the first bench’s sell-through.
    — The benches were side-by-side at Churchill’s and had relatively similar placement within the store at Rolling Green as was discussed previously.
    — Stocking levels were maintained for the duration of the research.
    — The plant material was counted twice daily. In the morning, the plants were counted to evaluate “lost stock” (i.e., plants that were stolen, misplaced, or deemed unsuitable for sale). In the evening, the plants were counted to evaluate the number of plants sold during that day.
    — The varieties selected and price points on both the merchandised and non-merchandised benches were the same.

    Over the nine day period, plants in the Proven Winners branded container from the merchandised bench outsold unbranded plants from the non-merchandised bench at a rate of nearly 5 to 1. Further, plants in the Proven Winners branded containers from the non-merchandised bench outsold unbranded plants on that same bench at a ratio of approximately 2 to 1. The data indicates that the branding materials result in higher sell-through rates.

    The goal of the study was to show that a merchandised Proven Winners “Store Within A Store” concept (i.e., a merchandised bench or dedicated area) will sell faster than a non-merchandised area. While it may seem obvious that this should be the case, many garden centers still are not adopting this approach. We all want to see merchandising at retail continue to improve; proving proof of this was the intent of the study. It works!

    Mark Broxon
    Proven Winners North America LLC

  31. Visiting major IGC’s in the midwest for the many years and asking them specifically about PW branded results: Conclusion I arrived at were that they all carried selected PW products in store brand containers or basic containers because of cost and prior results. The consumers were not asking for PW by name. Consumers were asking for Waves but meant a spreading type petunia like a Supertunia or Ramblin. They were dissatisfied that Lowes and Home Depot both carried PW. They felt the similar efforts to display quality store branded and merchandised product paid bigger returns and were more rewarding for the company and staff. It was the exception and not the rule to see PW containers and standout PW displays. Are these retailers wrong? Are my observations wrong?

  32. Are you wrong Joe? It would be hard to say anything near that from my perspective. Your comments mirror my own findings. No one seems to have an argument, and in-fact agrees with PW that a better merchandised bench will sell better either in a before and after comparison, or in comparison to a poorly merchandised display, all else being the same. To get a higher margin you can sometimes just increase the price as long as the perceived value is still met. Normally though you need to increase the merchandising effort. PW makes available the pieces of the puzzle for those who will just open the box and put it together. Better merchandising without their toolbox is another choice. My advice would be to just do one or the other, inspire the consumers, increase margins, and improve the business.

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