Consumers will get the most from bulb plants bought in bud
by Amy Bauer
Soon your department will be awash in the colors and scents of
spring, but have you considered that green may be the best color
to boost repeat sales this bulb plant season? The Netherlands
Flower Bulb Information Center (NFBIC) is pushing for floral
departments to go green by merchandising spring-flowering bulb
plants primarily in bud versus bloom this season.
Sally Ferguson, director of the NFBIC in Danby, Vt., says
merchandising plants only in full bloom represents a missed
opportunity. “For the wholesaler, they’re harder to ship; for
the retailer, it makes a very short sales window before they’re
fading; for the homeowner who’s buying them, they’re only
getting half the show,” she explains. “So the goal is to get all
of them to be handling green plant material, where the buds are
tight, the stems are still short.” Ms. Ferguson’s organization
has been communicating to consumers directly through the press
about buying in bud but has found that often such plants are
difficult for consumers to locate at retail.
Tim Stiles, president of Henry Mast Greenhouses and its sales
and distribution arm Masterpiece Flower Company LLC, in Byron
Center, Mich., says he agrees with the philosophy of including
bulb plants in their green stage among a store’s offerings and
related it to the sales of chrysanthemum plants, which often are
merchandised both in bloom and in bud stages. “We try to feature
a spectrum of maturity in the store,” he describes, “because I
believe that there’s a person who’s going to walk into the store
today who’s going to have a
party tomorrow and wants a flower that’s well-developed and
ready to go, but there’s also a consumer who’s going to walk in
there today and want to nurture the plant along and see it
develop on its own.”
Masterpiece Flower Company supplies plants to all of the Meijer
Inc. stores and operates that retailer’s floral warehouse,
acting as distributor for the company’s florals from Henry Mast
Greenhouses and other growers. Masterpiece sells its plants on a
pay-by-scan basis at Meijer and The Home Depot, Inc.—that is,
being paid for the product only when it is “scanned,” or sold,
at the stores—so the company experiences firsthand consumers’
reaction to plants and their merchandising. While the majority
of the indoor bulb plants Masterpiece Flower Company supplies
still are sold in the blooming stage, Mr. Stiles says, an area
of growth is the selling of outdoor blooming bulb plants that
are displayed just after sprouting for incorporation into yards
and container gardens. “We’ve found the sales of those items to
be growing steadily every year,” he says.
customer care tips
• Keep bulb plants in a cool spot in the home for
the longest enjoyment. Warmer temperatures will speed up
flowering. Avoid placing plants near furnace vents and drafts.
• Provide plenty of light for bulb plants; diffused or indirect
sunlight is best, such as that by which you could comfortably
read a newspaper.
• Keep the soil moist to the touch, but provide good drainage
and don’t overwater the plants. Occasionally mist the plants as
the flowers open to prevent them from drying out.
show and tell
Educating consumers about the value of buying bulb plants in bud
is one of the first steps, and Ms. Ferguson notes that can be as
simple as a little basic plant biology. “When you buy a bouquet
of cut flowers, you buy them when the buds are just barely
showing color because you need to know they’ll still open, but
that’s because the stems are cut and they’re not going to open
if they’re not in the right stage of development,” she says.
“But when the flowers are potted, they’re growing. They’re going
to open; they’re going to keep growing. Unless you stick them
under your bed and don’t water them, they’re going to keep
She suggests displays that are primarily masses of green plants
in tight bud stage, maybe with a little bit of color showing.
Just a few blooming versions of the same plant are arranged
alongside as an example of the color and form the plants will
take upon flowering. “Those are the sizzle,” she describes. “The
goal is that the ones that bloom will sell the ones that are
Another option, either instead of or alongside the live blooming
examples, is to have images at the point of sale that illustrate
the plants’ potential. Those could be images on sleeves that
surround the pots, on signage displayed prominently above the
plants or on picks that accompany each plant.
Mr. Stiles says Masterpiece Flower Company creates displays for
its outdoor bulb plant sales that may include large, colorful
“lifestyle” signage showing the plants in use as well as
full-color tags for each container that show the individual
plants in bloom.
tapping into strengths
Floral employees also can communicate the lasting value of
buying green directly to consumers in selling situations. If
customers are inquiring about bulb plants, steer them to the bud
versions, suggesting that they will get a
showing of color and added enjoyment. Such suggestions can seem
counterintuitive for departments that need to sell flowering
plants that may have been on the sales floor for a while, but
the longer-term benefit provided by a customer’s satisfaction
with a longer-blooming plant beats the short-term benefit of the
individual sale. That customer is more likely to return to shop
again in the floral department.
Those looking for blooming plants to give as gifts may be among
your toughest sells, so having those blooming samples on hand
will be one way to satisfy their immediate need for color. But
even they may be convinced by your expert floral staff that
going green makes sense so that recipients get the longest
enjoyment from their gifts. And you can dress up the sale by
offering the addition of colorful bows and trims to satisfy the
need for some splash until the full blooms appear.
And Mr. Stiles notes that these strategies may vary based on a
store’s floral department sales volume. While high-volume floral
departments may sell through large amounts of both blooming and
green bulb plants, those with smaller volumes that may wait
longer between floral shipments will benefit from stocking more
bulb plants in their green stage, to extend their sales window.
tips for sales success
• Group by color. Keep your bud-stage potted bulbs gathered
in color groups, and include a few flowering examples among
them. Keep enough of these “decoys” on hand to show off the
plants’ eventual look and to satisfy those looking for currently
blooming gifts. Placing such plants in warmer spots a few days
earlier will help bring them into bloom.
• Display for effect. A display with a central theme or
featured flower, with several satellite displays to support it,
should be placed in your department’s most heavily trafficked
area to draw attention.
Make pricing clear. Consumers don’t want to hunt for pricing
information and are more likely to commit to a purchase if
they’re armed with all the information they need. Use large
signage and/or individual plant tags to share pricing
information. And if you’re running a special on potted bulbs,
make sure that’s communicated prominently.
• Keep it cool. To keep your potted bulbs from showing
off their colors too early, keep them as cool as possible
without freezing. If purchased at the correct stage, potted
bulbs should hold for several days in your department without
loss of bloom life for consumers. In extreme circumstances, if
bulb plants are developing too quickly, they can be kept in your
cooler, but if buds or blooms are present, the plants can’t
tolerate temperatures lower than 40 F for longer than one week,
or the foliage and blooms may show signs of damage.
• Water regularly. Soil should be moist but not soaked.
As the flowers open, mist the plants to prevent drying out. A
layer of moss atop the soil can help hold moisture.
• Upgrade containers. Place the plastic pots into larger
decorative containers, adding a layer of soil, moss, wood chips
or gravel across the top to hide the plastic pots. Or transplant
the bulbs themselves into new soil in an upgraded container. For
a quick fix, wrap the plastic pots in jute or patterned papers
or wraps and secure with staples or ribbons. Or place
coordinating containers and wraps nearby and allow consumers to
choose their favorite combinations.
• Keep like flowers together. If selling containers of
multiple bulb flowers, choose the same bulb plant in the same
color within each container for maximum impact. Plant an odd
number of bulbs in the container for eye appeal.
Source: Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
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