April Herring is the New Product Development and Marketing Manager at Pacific Plug & Liner. Consider that PP&L grows enough young plants to fill their 250,000-square-foot facility, and let your mind boggle at the product development and marketing heavy lifting that would require. Luckily, April is an endless font of energy, and her cheerful personality makes any project seem easier.
I interviewed April as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
I talked to April about how a catalog gets made, how she uses microbrands to promote her products and the exciting changes that are making PP&L an undisputed leader in the young plant industry.
1. We recently helped you design and lay out your 2013 catalog, which is 130+ pages of gorgeous plants and flowers. For the uninitiated, could you explain the process of how such a huge project comes together?
We knew we wanted to go in a different direction with the catalog this year, especially to improve its overall look and professionalism. I was familiar with BatesMeron’s portfolio of work and had a received a recommendation from Josh Schneider.
After initial design consultation interviews with BatesMeron, we agreed on the “Eden” theme, partly a result of the ideal growing conditions we have here at our Watsonville, California facility. We also had some key messaging: we wanted the catalog to help us portray our new management and our re-commitment to service and to tell the story of how our products are brought to market. From there, my team and I got to work on a thorough review of our product line and a culling of under-performing products. Our star performers were identified and given prominent and strategic positions in the catalog. Finally it was a matter of lots of product information gathering, photographing of plants and submission of content to BatesMeron via their Basecamp online portal.
2. We also helped you develop microbrands for two new collections of plants: Frostkiss™ Hellebores and Bombie™ Aussie-Born Plants. We’ve presented microbrands in previous articles and talked about why we like to create them and where we see the value. Why are microbrands important for promoting new plant series for PP&L? How do you use them to set the new plants apart?
Like the name implies, “microbrands” give us an efficient way to promote numerous products with a simplified and recognizable brand message. Rather than individually promoting each plant and each new product introduction, we can talk about, promote and refer to a single collection of plants such as the Bombie line, and our brokers, growers and end consumers can identify and ask for a line of plants without having to know or recognize each individual variety or plant name.
3. One of the messages you really wanted to communicate through the 2013 catalog was your renewed commitment to service and logistics. What changes has PP&L made, and how are you sharing those changes with your customers?
Pacific Plug & Liner has a new management team, lead by General Manager Hank Bukowski. We have a new Head Grower that has made significant improvements to our crop timing that is already resulting in order fulfillment improvements. We now use the Ellepot system that improves root quality and inventory estimation. We’ve added trucking routes and improved our packaging systems, allowing us to be more responsive to specific and unique customer requirements.
The company has invested heavily in improving our relationships with growers and brokers. Hank and I have been travelling extensively to visit our customers at their sites to better understand and respond to their requirements and to discuss improvements we’ve made. Of course the catalog has been an effective tool to help tell that story as well.
4. Page through the catalog, and you’ll see dozens of brands and microbrands alongside the main PP&L brand. How do you balance the PP&L brand with all these other brands—some of which are your own and some of which belong to your suppliers?
We listen to what our customers are asking for and try to anticipate trends as well as introducing new products that we think will be well received and offer value. Naturally we try to strike a healthy and profitable balance between our own offerings and those of suppliers and then we also have some contractual obligations that we need to honor as well.
5. PP&L is located in a small agricultural community along the coast of the Monterey Bay. This spot is so great for growing plants, we dubbed it “Earth’s Eden” in your catalog. Why is location so essential for growing young plants, and how else do you ensure a quality product for your customers?
Watsonville, California provides some of the best growing conditions in the world—the year-round high light levels help us produce a plug that is full of energy. This really makes a difference in the wintertime when we are still getting over 8 moles of lights a day and other growers around the country are barely getting 2! Also being so close to the ocean means our temperatures are regulated by that big blue Pacific. It is never too cold or too hot in Watsonville, it is always just right. Well, maybe not too cold for plants—this Texas gal is still getting used to 60° mornings, that is wintertime in Texas!
With the natural DIF our climate provides, warm days/cool nights, we are able to use less growth regulator to control height—we let Mother Nature do this for us. This allows Pacific Plug & Liner to deliver plugs that are full of energy and less growth regulated so that when the grower plants the plug it will explode in growth for a faster and healthier finish.
We strive to ensure only the best ends up at our customer’s doorstep. We do this by having multiple eyes on the crops, including growers and the inventory team. As crops move through the system any problems are noted and proper personnel are alerted. From here we try to come up with a solution. Our biggest goal is to try and spot problems early enough that we can replant a crop without it affecting the ship date too greatly.
6. The BatesMeron team has given rave reviews to our experiences working with you, April. Your boundless energy and stellar organization made easy work of a daunting production schedule—helping us keep the project on time and on budget. How was working with BatesMeron different from other agencies you’ve hired in the past?
First of all, thank you for the rave reviews! My energy comes from just being a plant nerd being able to work in a plant fantasy land! But, it takes a team effort to keep energy on a project like this high—without the help of BatesMeron keeping me to my deadlines my energy might not have been as high! Also I love to see a project go from absolutely nothing, which is what we had, to then start to take shape with those first designs, and then the energy kicked into high gear as we all went for the home stretch of a finished product.
Working with BatesMeron was great. I loved using Basecamp to manage all the deadlines for this major project—it was nice to break things down into smaller, more manageable tasks that I could do day by day. Also it was so refreshing to get regular updates from BatesMeron on the progress of everything….and without having to ask for the updates! BatesMeron really impressed me with everything you did and proofing of the entire catalog was just over-the-top fantastic—I could not have asked for a better service.
Speaking of rave reviews, Pacific Plug & Liner had gotten some stellar compliments on the new catalog. I have heard from many of our customers that it is the best they have seen in the industry. I feel BatesMeron has helped Pacific Plug & Liner move to the next level and look forward to continuing the relationship with more projects in the future.
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