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Seizing the Boom

December 1, 2010  By Andrew Hind

For years, marketers have stressed the need to focus on the under-35 crowd, as if they were the Holy Grail of consumers, and in the process snubbed baby boomers as yesterday’s news. The reality, however, is that if a retailer wants to thrive – and this goes for garden centres as much as for any other – then they had best not turn their backs on the over-60 crowd.

For years, marketers have stressed the need to focus on the under-35 crowd, as if they were the Holy Grail of consumers, and in the process snubbed baby boomers as yesterday’s news. The reality, however, is that if a retailer wants to thrive – and this goes for garden centres as much as for any other – then they had best not turn their backs on the over-60 crowd.


In the U.S., the 78 million people who were 50 years or older as of 2006 controlled $28 million, or 67 per cent, of the nation’s wealth, according to the U.S. Census and Federal Reserve. Although no firm numbers exist in Canada, they would be similar, as we have followed an almost identical demographic and economic path. We do know that in Canada, households headed by a 55- to 64-year-old have a median net worth of over $100,000, or more than seven times the net worth of the average under-35 crowd. A 2009 Deloitte & Touche study entitled “The impact of ornamental horticulture on Canada’s economy” notes that the boomer population will almost double in the coming decade and that’s a good thing for garden centres – they are expected to spend $2,400 per year on gardening and related activities. That’s an additional $5.5 to $10.1 billion in ornamental spending at the retail level over the current market.


It’s clear, therefore, that boomers have disposable income. But are they spending it, and if they are, how?

“Aging boomers have achieved a level of affluence during their working lives and have no intention of giving that up just because they leave the workforce,” explains Anthony Stokan, founding partner of the strategic marketing firm, Anthony Stokan Inc. “As a result, they continue to spend on upmarket goods and services younger people can’t afford yet. Renovating is big with this set: some feather their recently emptied nests with top-of-the-line appliances and expensive fixtures.”

This crowd would rather purchase better quality plants or décor from a garden centre than less expensive options from a big-box store, and they have the disposable income and ready time at hand to undertake expansive landscaping projects that younger consumers would consign to their bucket list. It’s clear that garden centres should embrace the boomer crowd. The question is, how do they do that? The challenge for marketers is to reach the mature consumer without alienating the younger customers – the garden centre consumer of tomorrow. The answer is micro-marketing.

Tailor your marketing message
The decline of mass marketing has been underway for decades, and has seen both newspaper circulation and prime-time network TV ratings drop. Speeding this decline in the last decade has been the proliferation of wireless communications, digital networks, and specialized magazines that have largely replaced the old general-interest titles. The result is a media and communications landscape in which the average person’s attention is fragmented, so that it is no longer feasible to send a message to the masses in the hopes of reaching individuals.

The most effective way to respond to this fragmentation of audience and markets is by micro-marketing. Rather than relying on old-fashioned mass media, marketers are focusing on more targetable media, such as Internet, direct mail, e-newsletters, in-store displays, and focused publications. This allows you to send target-specific messages to your consumers, ensuring your intended audience hears exactly what you want to communicate.

“While the new media landscape presents its challenges to marketers, interactive digital media, especially the Internet, have a couple of important advantages over the old mass media,” explains Stokan. “Their interactivity allows marketers to gather a wealth of personal data from consumers and adjust their sales strategies accordingly. The same interactivity makes it easier for advertisers to measure the impact of their online marketing efforts.”

Customize your stock
It’s important to be subtle when catering to boomers, because the last thing they want is to be made to feel old. That being said, they will be particularly interested in certain product areas.

Ergonomically correct tools are among the most obvious of these product areas that garden centres should be certain to explore. “There’s a lot more interest in ergonomically correct tools, which are specially designed to be better balanced, help prevent injury and be kinder to people with chronic problems such as arthritis,” says Aldona Satterthwaite, former editor of Canadian Gardening. “Ergonomically correct tools have allowed people to prolong their time as garden hobbyists into their later years by making tasks easier to perform and less stressful on the body.”

Because bending and working on their knees can be painful experiences for them, older customers tend to gravitate towards container gardens, specifically hanging planters, wall baskets, and cube planters. They also like lightweight options and those without harsh edges that could cause injury should someone fall upon them. With this in mind, garden centre should invest in a large and dynamic container gardening department.

Boomers have more time to enjoy the outdoors than any other demographic, and are increasingly bringing their living spaces into their yards. They’re on the lookout for patio fireplaces, comfortable furniture, outdoor cooking spaces, and other amenities designed to prolong their time within the confines of their yards. These are potential growth areas, but garden centres have been slower than the big-box stores to invest in them.

Design for comfort
Perhaps the biggest challenge for garden centres is to make their retail spaces comfortable for older people without making it obvious that they’re compensating for boomers getting older.

One strategy is to subtly group displays meant for specific demographics. For example, clustering items more likely to be used by boomers nearer the entrances and parking lot, based on the assumption that they won’t want to walk through a large store and yard just to reach their needs, has been met with some success. Certainly, many modern shopping malls have explored that avenue.

Another option is to encourage boomers to linger longer and explore the store at their own pace. This is the rationale behind the proliferation of lifestyle centres, which serve as gathering places where shoppers can linger and meet friends by offering sit-down restaurants, entertainment venues and an overall “experience.” Chapters has recognized the value of this model and encouraged Starbucks outlets to open within their premises. Outdoor and sporting goods retailer Bass Pro Shops, for their part, feature beautiful waterfalls, freshwater aquariums, and instructional classes. The result, in both cases, is that the average customer remains within the store for more than two hours, during which time “the brand” silently but effectively sells itself.

What does this mean for garden centres? It suggests they have to begin exploring the concept of the lifestyle centre with atmospheric sit-down cafés, botanical gardens to explore and serve as inspiration, and tutorials and workshops. The more welcoming the environment, the more frequently people will visit, the longer they’ll stay, and the more effectively the store and its products will sell themselves and the lifestyle they represent.

Because they feel younger than they are and want to continue feeling that way, boomers reject any environment that reminds them of their age. For retailers, that means making any kind of movement easier. Shelves will have to be positioned so that boomers won’t have to stretch or bend down too much, signage will have to take into account failing eyesight and product displays will have to make it easier for people to make a choice.

It pays to cater to baby boomers, or at least keep them firmly in mind because they are the dominant demographic in terms of both size and wealth. The challenge of keeping them as vital customers requires some thought and effort, but is certainly, worth accepting.

Baby boomers enjoy active retirement
A November Investors Group poll reveals that 59 per cent of Canadian boomers disagree with the picture of quiet retirement living painted by legendary Beatle Paul McCartney in the song, “When I’m 64.”
In January 2011, the first of Canada’s boomers – an estimated 344,000 – will start to turn 65 years of age. Instead of worrying about becoming older as McCartney’s lyrics suggest, Investors Group research shows that 61 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 45 and 64 are looking forward to retirement as an exciting new stage in life.
“Boomers won’t be knitting by the fire and taking quiet Sunday drives,” said Debbie Ammeter, Vice President, Advanced Financial Planning of Investors Group, in reference to McCartney’s lyrics. “They are gearing up, not shifting down, for what is around the corner. This generation is defined by their youthfulness – they are upbeat and energetic in their approach to getting older.”
Boomers expect to enjoy more than 20 years of retirement living and a majority (66 per cent) have a clear vision of their retirement lifestyle. They believe that it will be comfortable (54 per cent) but fulfilling (43 per cent), busy (42 per cent) and exciting (25 per cent). Only 12 per cent of boomers think retirement will be lonely and boring.
Lack of work pressures (58 per cent), opportunity to travel (61 per cent), more time for hobbies, recreation and fitness activities (64 per cent) and community involvement (36 per cent) will bring them the greatest enjoyment.
Half (51 per cent) will take McCartney’s cue to be doing the garden, digging the weeds. More will be enjoying other quiet activities including reading (73 per cent) and watching TV (67 per cent).

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