Communicating Our Value

September 28, 2010
Written by Brian Minter
As we see the front end of the baby boomer generation retire with increasing frequency and generation X suddenly become far more important to the garden centre industry, there’s a tendency to shift our retailing approach to a younger demographic. It’s very important to be aware of this subtle change and cater to each group’s specific needs, but quite frankly, the big issue facing the gardening industry today is shared by all generations, and it is one of relevancy.

Our products, especially plants, have become less relevant. The still fragile economy, lifestyle changes, smaller space living, fewer homes being built and increasing numbers of ‘brown thumbs’ have crunched the demand for traditional plants.

I’ve been doing a great deal of speaking about the relevancy of our industry in today’s world and the fact that we are quickly becoming irrelevant to all generations by not tapping into their changing lives and lifestyles.

Health care in Canada, according to the latest polls, has crept up over the economy as the public’s number 1 concern. Many people are becoming more health conscious, and are taking a closer look at what they eat.  Whole wheat bread, for example, has now replaced white bread as the preferred choice. Food gardening has grown out of nowhere to become a highly relevant issue for all generations. Instead of simply selling more vegetable seed and transplants, the relevancy opportunity will come from promoting more nutritional foods with higher antioxidant values that are easier to grow. It’s also about varieties that perform great in containers because over 50 per cent of all food gardening is now done in pots. After visiting the OFA Short Course in Ohio this July, it’s reassuring to see so many new container vegetables and combinations such as “Simply Salad” on the way. To further ramp up the relevancy, it’s very much about more cultural foods that have unique flavours and higher levels of hotness and spiciness. Food discovery is the name of the game, and if we can inspire all generations with our unique menus of new food options that are easy to grow and can be grown organically, suddenly we hit the relevancy button on the nose.

The environment is another all-generational issue. Trees by themselves are not as relevant as they used to be, but when we talk about their oxygen production, pollution absorption, shade creation to cool us and our homes, their carbon sequestering and their capacity to attract birds, trees take on a whole new level of importance. Trees can also help reduce energy costs, improve property values and mitigate urban heat islands – all very current issues today.

Indoor plants need to be marketed as air purifiers that have high therapeutic values to help us feel calmer and be more productive. If we provide plants that are the easy to grow and require minimal care, their relevancy levels jump.

Our products appeal to the senses, and add value to people’s lives, yet we don’t sell these facts to customers. Creative colour blending has been underway for sometime now and will go over the top in 2011. Dummen was the first company to provide combination plugs with unique colour combinations that both growers and consumers could pop into a four-, six- or 10-inch container or basket for a beautiful, professional look. As more companies join in next year and vastly expand the colour blending, it will have a greater connection to all the generations. The beauty here is that folks who are not experts in putting colours together can now have very professional colour combinations in their favourite tones.

We need more fragrant plants, as they are far more popular with shoppers. Arabian jasmine, gardenias and citrus are great, but all are fairly difficult for the new gardener to care for. As for annuals, heliotrope is one of the few perfumers, and in perennials, oriental lilies, lily of the valley (convallaria), some phlox, dianthus and lavender are just a few of the varieties that give off a strong scent. Lilacs are a classic for outdoor sales and just look at the value of their sales. We sold over 400 of the new Proven Winners ‘Bloomerang’ lilac this spring in just six weeks from mid-February through March.  Perfume is huge, and it has unusual appeal. Sensory plants make connections and are very relevant.

Too often we see the same seasonal containers over and over again. Boring! We must make a concerted effort to raise our containers to the level of “art.” The acid test is if you take an image of the container, would you want to frame it and hang it on a wall? Containers, created as art, are unusual, have a broader appeal and create a far higher degree of connection to folks. Our container art needs to be unique, funky, fun and a little over –the top. They need to be displayed together as an art gallery for all to be inspired. That’s relevancy.

Being kid friendly is another cross-generational issue these days that is taking on a life of its own. Young moms and dads and grandparents come armed with kids – do we have a kids’ area, kids’ merchandise and stuff only kids would love? They wield a great deal of influence. South African garden stores have taken this concept to a whole new level.

The bottom line now, and for the foreseeable future, is that independent garden centres need to create not only a fabulous experience, but also add new values to both traditional and non-traditional plants. From the exterior first impression to the interior look and feel, our products need to be relevantly differentiated from every other merchandiser. They need to be well laid out with outstanding displays and exceptionally high quality product. Signage needs to be clear and should highlight plant benefits. Team members need to be both passionate and professional about the products they sell, and they need to talk up the advantages plants offer. Our approach to retailing has to change quickly to meet and exceed the new lifestyle expectations of all generations.

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