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  • Author or Editor: Bridget K. Behe* x
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Little information has been published on the business and marketing practices of landscape firms, an important sector of the green industry. We sought to profile the product mix, advertising, marketing, and other business practices of United States landscape firms and compare them by business type (landscape only, landscape/retail, and landscape/retail/grower) as well as by firm size. We sent the 2014 Trade Flows and Marketing survey to a wide selection of green industry businesses across the country and for the first time included landscape businesses. Herbaceous perennials, shade trees, deciduous shrubs, and flowering bedding plants together accounted for half of all landscape sales; 3/4 of all products were sold in containers. However, landscape only firms sold a higher percentage of deciduous shrubs compared with landscape/retail/grower firms. Landscape businesses diversified their sales methods as they diversified their businesses to include production and retail functions. Landscape businesses spent, on average, 5.6% of sales on advertising, yet large landscape companies spent two to three times the percentage of sales on advertising compared with small- and medium-sized firms. Advertising as a percent of sales was three to four times higher for landscape/retail/grower compared with landscape only or landscape/retail firms; most respondents used Internet advertising as their primary method of advertising. The top three factors influencing price establishment in landscape businesses were plant grade, market demand, and uniqueness of plants, whereas inflation was ranked as the least important of the nine factors provided. A higher percentage of small and medium-sized firms perceived last year’s prices as more important in price establishment compared with large firms. A high percentage of large landscape companies said the ability to hire competent hourly employees was an important factor in business growth and management, but this was true only for about half of the small and medium-sized landscape companies.

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Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has pushed to increase the number of farmers markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps) via Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). However, a small percentage of farmers markets accept SNAP and little is known of the experience of the farmer-vendors who participate in central terminal model EBT programs at farmers markets. The objective of this exploratory study was to elucidate farmers’ attitudes regarding central terminal model EBT programs at selected Michigan farmers markets. This study used qualitative research methods and a case approach. Thirty-two farmers that participated in central terminal model EBT programs at farmers markets were interviewed. Three main themes emerged. First, based on their experiences, farmers expressed a positive attitude toward central terminal model EBT programs at farmers markets. Second, positive attitudes were often associated with the view that market managers had made it easy for farmers to accept EBT benefits and freed them from the administrative burdens of redemption and federal reporting. Third, farmers believed that accepting food assistance benefits attracted new customers to the farmers market thus expanding their customer base. While these results may not be reflective of farmers’ attitudes in other regions, the themes that emerged highlight topics that may be important considerations when making future decisions about the expansion of electronic food assistance programs at farmers markets.

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After a survey describing the range of products and services offered by Texas florists and supermarket floral departments, a modified SERVQUAL instrument measured customer perceptions and expectations of floral service quality. Florist customers were 3.2 years older, had a slightly higher household income, bought floral products twice as often from a florist, spent $14.53 more on each florist purchase than supermarket customers; they also made four fewer floral purchases from supermarkets during the previous 6 months. Supermarket customers spent $14.40 more on each supermarket floral purchase than did florist customers. Reliability was the most important and tangibles were the least important of the five service quality dimensions. Although expectations for both groups were similar on 18 of 22 service quality items, florists' customers perceived higher service quality than did supermarket customers. Although customers of both retail outlets had expectations higher than perceptions, florist customers had smaller, less negative gap scores. This result showed that florists better met customer expectations than did supermarket floral departments, a potential competitive advantage.

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A survey instrument developed to assess service quality in non-horticultural industries (SERVQUAL) was modified and administered to customers of eight florists and 22 supermarket floral departments in Texas. Sixty-six percent of 722 florist and 409 supermarket floral department responding customers had made a floral purchase within 12 weeks of the survey. Their responses were used in the service quality evaluation. Florists met consumer expectations better than supermarket floral departments each of five issues: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy (p=0.0001). Florist customers perceived their retailer gave higher quality service than supermarket floral customers.

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Most bell peppers (Capsicum annuum L.) produced and consumed are green. However, yellow, red, orange, white, black, and purple bell peppers are also available. While bell pepper consumption in the United States has been increasing in the past 10 years, limited information is available on how their color, retail price, and vitamin C content influence consumer preferences. A conjoint analysis of 435 consumer responses showed that, for the total sample, color was about three times more important than retail price in shaping consumers' purchase decisions, while vitamin C content was nearly irrelevant. Six distinct consumer segments were identified through cluster analysis. Four segments favored green peppers, while one segment favored yellow and one favored brown. Demographic variables generally were not good predictors of segment membership, but several behavioral variables, such as past bell pepper purchases, were significantly related to segment membership. While green is generally the preferred color, market segments exist for orange, red, yellow, and even brown peppers. Applications to marketing strategies suggested that price sensitivity could explain why green peppers were priced individually, but those of other colors were priced by weight, and that promotion of increased vitamin C content would be most effective if associated specifically with yellow and orange peppers.

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Two surveys were conducted to determine characteristics important in containerized edible flowers that could be sold in retail outlets. Self-selected participants at Bloomfest at Cobo Hall, Detroit, were assigned to one group that rated the importance of attributes such as color of pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana Gams. `Accord Banner Clear Mixture'), color combinations, container size, and price. Participants assigned to a second group rated color, color combinations, and container size. Flower color was allocated the most points in the purchasing decision (63% for the first group and 95% for the second), with a mixture of all three colors (blue, yellow, and orange) being the most desirable. Responses were subjected to Cluster Analysis (SPSS Inc., Chicago), which resulted in the formation of three distinct groups. The groups were labeled “Likely Buyer” (those who had eaten and purchased edible flowers before and rated characteristics of edible flowers favorably); “Unlikely Consumer” (those who had eaten edible flowers before and had rated characteristics of edible flowers unfavorably); and “Persuadable Garnishers” (those who had not eaten edible flowers before, but were very likely to purchase edible flowers for a meal's garnish).

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Two surveys were conducted to assess consumer and professional chefs' perceptions of three edible-flower species. Our objectives were to determine opinions, preferences, and uses of Viola tricolor L. `Helen Mount' (viola), Borago officinalis L. (borage), and Tropaeolum majus L. `Jewel Mix' (nasturtium). Flowers were grown using certifiable organic methods and chosen to reflect a variety of flower tastes, textures, and appearances. We quantified three attributes (taste, fragrance, and visual appeal) with a total of seven semantic, differential scales adapted from a scaling authority. The attributes were rated as: visual—“appealing”, “desirable,” and “very interested in tasting”; fragrance—“appealing” and “pleasant”; and taste—“tasty” and “desirable”. Garden Day participants were self-selected to evaluate and taste flowers from a consumer perspective. When asked to rate the three species on visual appeal and desire, no less than 76% of consumers awarded all flowers an acceptable rating. We found similar results when consumers answered questions regarding the taste of two of the three species. Results from this study support our hypothesis that customers would rate edible flower attributes highly and would be likely to purchase and serve the three species tested. Members of the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association participated in a similar survey. At least 66% of these chefs rated the three visual attributes and two fragrance attributes of viola and nasturtium acceptable. Chefs' ratings of the fragrance of borage as “appealing” and “pleasant” were higher than those of consumers, but the ratings were still low, 21% and 25%, respectively. Unlike consumers, chefs' ratings of the taste of viola as “appealing” and “desirable” were low (29% and 36%, respectively). We found some minor differences in ratings when groups were compared, using demographic variables as a basis for segmentation, indicating a homogenous marketing strategy may be employed.

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Consumers face risks each time they purchase and consume products. Guarantees provide a means of potentially decreasing risk for products that cannot be evaluated until consumption has begun, as with ornamental plants. Despite the potential risk reduction, the effect of guarantees on consumer purchases has been a source of debate for many retailers. Research conducted at Michigan State Univ. examined the effects of guarantees on consumer satisfaction and regret of three horticultural products: hanging baskets, potted roses, and perennials. Over half (56%) of respondents stated the retail outlet provided a guarantee. Twenty-six percent stated the guarantee was a deciding factor in choosing that particular plant while 27% stated it was the deciding factor in shopping at that particular retail location. Results show that guarantees reduce risk for consumers, reducing the incidence of regret but have no effect on customer satisfaction.

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Michigan State Univ. researchers surveyed 777 gardening consumers in an Internet survey on 24 Sept. 2003 to determine consumer perceptions of satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and regret of three horticultural products: hanging baskets, potted roses, and 1 gallon perennials. Consumer satisfaction has been studied in a horticultural context before, however, to our knowledge this is the first time emotion research, specifically regret, has been applied in a horticultural setting. Regret is an emotion experienced from a negative valenced reaction to an event such as a dead or dying plant. Consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction is a state of being derived from the expectation and performance of a particular product. Based on work from a doctoral dissertation, the objective was to investigate the behavioral consequences associated when gardening consumers experienced dissatisfaction or regret toward these three products. Questions were asked to pinpoint levels of dissatisfaction and regret and whether they switched from the product based on feelings of dissatisfaction and regret. About 27% (202) of respondents expressed some level of dissatisfaction or regret about the products specified in the survey. Results show regret drives switching behavior and those that experienced regret with their products were more likely to switch. Approximately 10% of gardening consumers switched to another activity outside of gardening because of failure of the plant purchased to perform where as 13.5% switched to another type of plant to remedy the situation. Regret has been shown to strongly influence repurchase behavior based on being an emotion. Results also indicate although dissatisfaction is unfortunate, it does not have the same effect on switching behavior.

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Do consumers prefer certain combinations of edible-flower species and colors over other assortments? Two hundred and sixteen people were self-selected for a survey at a Michigan flower show to rate 15 photographs of edible flowers arranged in 0.24-L, clear, plastic containers. Each container had either an individual species or combinations of Viola tricolor L. `Helen Mount' (viola), Borago officinalis L. (borage), and Tropaeolum majus L. `Jewel Mix' and `Tip Top Apricot' (nasturtium). To determine what color(s) of nasturtium participants would prefer, containers held either orange and crimson, peach and cream, or a combination of all four flower colors. Participants rated photographs using a semantic differential on a 7-point Likert scale (7 being the highest rating) based on their likelihood to purchase each container of edible flowers to serve to family and friends in a meal. Participants were asked an additional 21 questions regarding their attitudes about edible flowers, gardening habits, dining habits, and several demographic questions. Responses were subjected to conjoint analysis (SPSS Inc., Chicago). The addition of other species to nasturtium (viola, borage, viola, and borage) had a greater relative importance (53%) than the color of the nasturtium (47%). A mixture of all four nasturtium colors (peach, cream, orange, and crimson) was awarded the highest utility (0.091). Peach and cream nasturtiums or containers that did not contain any nasturtium flowers at all were least preferred (-0.070 and -0.083 utilities, respectively). Mean ratings that participants assigned to containers of edible flowers supported these utilities. The container assigned the highest mean rating included nasturtiums of all four colors, yet 66% were unlikely to purchase any container with 10% insect damage. Differences in preferences were noted using selected demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and income.

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