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Bridget Behe and Susan Barton

SERVQUAL has been demonstrated to be a reliable and valid tool to measure customer perceptions and expectations of service quality. Two previous uses of the survey in the horticulture industry were identified. In Spring 1997, we adapted the SERVQUAL instrument to survey 701 customers of 10 retail garden centers (TR) and four nontraditional retail or mass-merchandise outlets (MM) in seven U.S. markets. Among the seven markets, customers differed on only two of six demographic characteristics: income and number of people residing in the household. Demographic characteristics of TR and MM customers were similar in terms of age (47 and 45 years), people residing in the household (2), percent female respondents (77% and 73%), and family status. Customers differed demographically on 1996 household income ($50,722 and $44,753). Customers of TR and MM had similarly high expectations for three of five service quality and one product quality dimensions. However, TR customer perceptions were consistently higher on all service and product quality dimensions than MM customers. This yielded consistently higher service quality gaps for MM customers when compared to TR customers. We concluded that TR hold an advantage in these seven markets with higher customer perceptions of product and service quality.

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Susan S. Barton

Few good texts for use in teaching a garden center management course are currently in print. But a wealth of excellent information exists in the form of trade journal articles and business management publications. The second edition of The Garden Center Management Manual combines pertinent articles into 21 categories (chapters). Each chapter begins with a “fill-in-the-blank” summary designed as a guide for note-taking. A teacher's edition is available with the completed summaries. The articles in each chapter appeared in trade journals or other publications between 1985 and 1990. This text can serve as the basis for a garden center management course or as a reference for garden center managers.

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Emily A. Barton, Susan S. Barton, and Thomas Ilvento

In the 2015 Delaware (DE) Master Gardener training, instructors synchronously delivered content to two trainee cohorts (Cohorts A and B) who met at three locations (Sites 1, 2, and 3) via video web conferencing (VWC). This reduced instructor delivery and travel time but warranted close examination of trainee learning outcomes and experiences. To evaluate the pilot implementation of remote delivery, trainees [number of trainees (N) = 30] answered two open-ended application questions after 11 instructional sessions. One cohort received instruction face-to-face, while the other cohort synchronously received instruction via remote delivery [number of participants in cohort 1 (n1) = 17; number of participants in cohort 2 (n2) = 13]; each cohort was remote for about half of the sessions. The overall average face-to-face score assessing session content mastery was higher than the overall average remote score by 0.1, a 5% difference given the possible scores range of 0 to 2.0. When we grouped sessions by remote delivery site, delivery mode only significantly predicted average session scores for those sessions delivered remotely to Site 2 and not those delivered remotely to either Site 1 or Site 3. When we considered each session individually, delivery mode significantly predicted session scores for 2 of the 11 sessions, both broadcast remotely to trainees at Site 2, where the bandwidth was 10% of those at Sites 1 and 3. We suggest the VWC system performed particularly poorly for these sessions due to limited bandwidth. Posttraining survey results suggest the VWC system did not function well enough to approximate face-to-face instruction. The overall educational rating of the training was significantly higher than the media naturalness rating suggesting poor technical functionality did not substantially undermine trainees’ perception of the education they received. This study indicates remote delivery is a viable strategy for improving the efficiency of training programs if it is consistently implemented with the appropriate technical infrastructure.

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Susan S. Barton and Bridget K. Behe

The retail portion of the green industry, valued at $50.55 billion, continues to provide a major connection between the industry and consumers. Given the importance of retailers in the green industry and little research exists that documents their advertising practices and impacts, the 2013 Trade Flows and Marketing Practices survey included questions to capture data for retail-only firms. This paper reports on the percentage of sales retailers allocate to promotion and advertising, including a breakdown of media used; point-of-sale (POS) materials and how they are acquired; how green industry retailers are using social media and mobile marketing [in particular, quick response (QR) codes]; the methods retailers use to collect customer demographics; customer loyalty programs (CLP); and how they are managed by retailers and a comparison of retail firms’ advertising practices by size of firm. A combination of mailed and Internet-distributed surveys resulted in a total of 699 useable retail business responses with greater than or equal to $1000 in annual revenue. The median expenditure as a percentage of sales on advertising was 3.6% for all retail firms responding with 33.7% spending no dollars on advertising. In examining the distribution based on media type, the Internet was the most frequently listed by firms (32.3%) with a mean expenditure of 42.5% of total advertising dollars. Social media was listed second most frequently (21.5%) with a mean expenditure of 29.6%. Newspapers were listed as the third most frequently used type of media (18.0%). Social media use is strong and among social media platforms, Facebook (60%) far exceeds any other platform. A third of the respondents (34.2%) reported the use of POS materials. A very small percentage of firms (3.0%) reported using QR codes and 19.4% reported having a CLP. Of those, 45.8% used customer purchase cards, whereas 35.4% used POS software. Nearly 33% of the firms collected demographic information about their customers. Of those, the method with the highest percentage use (multiple responses were permitted) was social media (50.7%) followed by CLP (48.9%), web visits (34.5%), questionnaires (15.7%), social coupons (13.5%), census data (3.9%), and marketing firms (3.1%). There were firm-size differences in seasonal employees and mean sales per employee with large firms having greater numbers than hobby, small- or medium-sized firms. There were no differences in the percentage of advertising media allocations based on firm size, but large firms used web visits, social coupons, and social media more than other types of firms to collect customer demographics. While, green industry retailers are currently using social media for marketing green industry goods, they have much more opportunity to use electronic media for CLPs and to begin using QR codes or other mobile-centric technologies to deliver in-store promotional information to consumers.

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Susan Barton, Tom Ilvento, and Jo Mercer

Keeping up with cultural issues, recruiting new employees, motivating employees, and weed control were the issues most frequently cited as “very serious” or “somewhat serious” by surveyed members of the nursery and landscape industry. The focus of important issues changed somewhat based on the type of business. Retailers were more concerned with marketing and less concerned with plant maintenance. Pesticide regulation was more important to firms that provide some form of plant maintenance for consumers. Small firms were less concerned with employee issues, and large firms were more concerned with regulation. The most desirable method of receiving information was still printed materials, but firms with equipment (i.e., facsimile machines, computers) were more likely (30%) to use these forms of communication. E-mail was a very popular form of communication with firms that had e-mail access. Technology-oriented communication will probably increase in popularity as more firms gain access to technology.

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Susan Barton, Jules Bruck, and Chad Nelson

A study abroad trip to Brazil was conducted by the University of Delaware's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in Jan. 2008 to study diverse ecosystems in three major regions: Mata Atlantica (Atlantic forest), Pantanal (wetland), and Amazon (rain forest). Students spent time in Cuiaba, Manaus, Brasilia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Different garden styles were studied throughout Brazil. Student learning occurred through student presentations, blog assignments, site visits, interaction with local contacts, observational exercises, reflection exercises, immediate feedback assessment test quizzes, cultural experiences, and a culminating project. Thirteen students attended the program with three faculty directors. Two courses were offered: Field Sketching of Landscape Subjects (PLSC 167) and Arts and Ecosystems (PLSC 267). Class goals were to understand the differences between ecosystems within Brazil and more familiar ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic United States; to learn how natural ecosystems inspire landscape design; and to become aware of major environmental issues in Brazil. An effective study abroad program not only exposes students to unique experiences, but also helps students use those experiences to change their perspectives and understanding. Because of the variety of human learning styles, offering a range of educational activities is important so that all students have an opportunity to respond favorably.

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Susan S. Barton, Jo Mercer, and Charles J. Molnar

Two focus-group sessions were conducted to determine the market potential of a new horticultural product—wildflower sod. One session included homeowners with suburban lots and an interest in wildflowers. Another session included landscape professionals, property managers, and garden center operators. Participants viewed a slide presentation about the uses of wildflowers and wildflower sod, a videotape illustrating wildflower sod installation, and a demonstration plot planted with wildflower sod. The discussion was conducted by an unbiased facilitator. Participants cited the instant effect of wildflower sod as a major advantage. The price was viewed as acceptable for small areas, especially if sod was broken apart and spaced as plugs. Comments from the participants were used to develop an ideal product description and yielded merchandising recommendations.

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Ariana Torres, Susan S. Barton, and Bridget K. Behe

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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Susan S. Barton, Rebecca S. Pineo, and Leslie Carter

Two students at the University of Delaware participated in independent study projects that helped the University of Delaware campus progress in their efforts to become a sustainable campus. Student projects included a volunteer organization for invasive plant removal, design of a wildlife habitat garden, development of an interpretive signage policy, coordination of publicity, development of interpretive signs, authoring fact sheets, and creation of a sustainable landscapes website. Students benefited from faculty mentoring, collaboration with other university and agency personnel, and real world project coordination. Both students are currently enrolled in graduate programs that will further develop the skills they learned in their independent study projects.

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Kristen A. Saksa, Thomas W. Ilvento, and Susan S. Barton

This research examines student perception of sustainable landscaping at the University of Delaware (UD), Newark and the impact of interpretation on student perception of the landscape. Students living on UD’s Laird Campus were surveyed before and after an interpretive campaign designed to describe the benefits of sustainable landscaping. The results of this study found that the majority of students surveyed perceive the landscape to be attractive, sustainable, well maintained, and functional, providing encouragement for the use of sustainable landscaping practices on university campuses. Reduced mowing (once per year), as it is implemented on Laird Campus, was identified as the sustainable practice least likely to be considered acceptable by students. Sustainable landscaping interpretation improved student awareness and acceptance of sustainable landscaping practices. Greater levels of engagement with the interpretation campaign increased students’ awareness and acceptance of sustainable landscaping. In contrast to students’ increased awareness and acceptance of sustainable landscaping practices, students’ perception of the landscape’s appearance did not significantly improve after the interpretation campaign, suggesting the need for future interpretation campaigns to directly address aesthetic issues in addition to interpretation of environmental benefits.