Advertising Nursery Plants in National and Regional Magazines

Some mail order nursery companies still continue to advertise their plant products in magazines. To determine whether or not a selected magazine may have editorial pages and content concerning plants to attract mail order customers is important. The advertiser must predetermine whether or not his nursery ads will result in orders after receiving a free printed catalog or after a visit to a plant nursery website, and that is not an easy task for the inexperienced nursery man. One simple test could be: are plant nursery or other agricultural advertisers focused towards advertising in this particular magazine? A fascinating development has occurred in the past 15 years concerning the shocking and contradictory absence of nursery plant ads in so many agriculturally focused magazines. Many nursery plant advertisers in those magazines appear to have fled the marketplace and are now replaced by ads from automobile companies, farm and garden implement and tool companies, pool and fountain manufacturing companies and statuary and plant container, pot companies.

Fifteen years ago magazine subscribers could turn through a publication, page after page, of black and white classified ads located at the back of the publication. There were also boring, page after page, display ads printed in fractional page sizes or in some cases full-page ads from plant advertisers. The reasons for the staggering dropout of advertisers are several. The primary reason for the retreat resulted from the collapse of so many mail order catalog companies in years past, that failed to update and change their catalogs to meet the changing needs of the modern mail order customers. The publishers of these mail order catalogs began experience an increase in their production costs dramatically upwards every year.

The mailing costs increased every year and the U. S. postal service became an aggravating bureaucracy to deal with . The U.S. Postal Service required mail order catalog companies to jump through many hoops in order to receive bulk rate delivery. Jumping through one of the precarious hoops required the catalog mailer to have many extra employees that were needed to arrange the stacks of catalogs into precise zip code progressions. Often if one catalog was found out of order, the post office would return the whole shipment with a requirement to be rearranged by the sender, often resulting in a delay of several days. There appeared to be no active interest by the post office to improve the time of delivery for the catalogs which took ten days or more, even at the closest locations. By the time the mail order catalogs were received, many potential impulsive customers had lost interest in buying the product, or either had already purchased the plant from a local box store. Many of the catalogs were mishandled by the U.S. postal service or miss-boxed to box holders who had no interest in ordering plants. The worst policy change of the U.S. Postal Service, 15 years past, was their decision not to deliver catalogs to street addresses used by U.P.S. delivery-possibly intended to damage the U.P.S. competition, and even though a person located in a city had an assigned post office box, there would be no delivery of that persons catalog, if his P.O. box number was not designated on the catalog's shipping label, instead replaced by a street address. At that point the postal service lost its personal touch and turned an indifferent, cold shoulder to the needs of the mail order catalog companies. These so called, “undeliverable”, catalogs were sent back by the U.S. Postal Service to the sender and the catalog company was required to pay first-class postage in order to recover the catalog and the disinterested postal worker was too lazy to deliver the catalog. It is unclear, whether or not, a profit motive was in-play that resulted in the new policy change requiring an additional first-class postage fee would be paid to the U.S. Postal Service, in order to recover the “undeliverable” catalogs.

Another huge problem with the U.S. Postal Service resulted from the issuing of postal money orders, normally sent through the mail after a customer received a COD order from the mail order company. The postal money order was in payment for catalog ordered COD plants. These money orders were often lost or mis-boxed by postmen for the C.O.D. orders, and sometimes the mail order catalog nursery company never received payment for the orders that were delivered to the customer. The tracing of these lost money orders was another bureaucratic horror, that usually meant that the post office emerged as the winner, and the catalog nursery did not get paid resulting in unprofitableness and in some cases business failure. The U.S. Postal Service today is floundering in lost business, poor service, email competition, dead wood, retirement pensions, and they may eventually ride down the road to extinction like the inefficient Pony Express of the 19th Century.

There are some large, subscriber, regional magazines with circulations of over one million that still run plant nursery, full-page, color ads for box stores and regional nursery chain stores, but most smaller display ads or classified ads for nursery products have vanished. These large regional, (Southern, Northern, Eastern, Western), magazines have become heavily advertised with automobiles, food, travel & leisure, Pharmaceuticals, furniture and clothing ads. It is difficult to find the editorial articles of interest, or even the index page of contents that lies buried somewhere within the necessarily, frantic exhaustion of meaningless page turning.

Magazines normally give discounts on display or classified ads, if the ads are repeated several times. If a nursery produces its own advertisements, and additional 15% discount is normally allowed for “in house” ad production. Classified ads are the least expensive form of advertisement and appear invariably at the back of the publication in small, hard-to-read, black and white letters, but often work well for an advertiser, if the ads are repeated several times.

It appears clear through expensive years of experience, that nursery plants and products are the least effective when advertised in magazines than any other forms of media, and improvement in the future is unlikely, because of the low cost, simplicity and fast results of the inter-net. For local nursery advertisers, newspapers, radio and television do offer specialty advertising that will work occasionally on a limited basis during the proper season for selling.

By Pat Rick