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Retailers Need Innovative Marketing

April 24, 2008  By Art Drysdale

At this time of year, for nearly two decades I have broadcast to my radio listeners a summary of recent statistics about gardening, as reported by the National Gardening Association from its annual Gallup Poll. 

And New Programs to Entice Consumers

At this time of year, for nearly two decades I have broadcast to my radio listeners a summary of recent statistics about gardening, as reported by the National Gardening Association from its annual Gallup Poll.  Back in 1980, when I was president of the U.S.-based Garden Writers Association (GWA), I talked with folks at the National Gardening Association (NGA) who shared a preview of that year’s survey results with GWA members before the full report was published. In more recent years the NGA has been unwilling to share their survey findings, rather keeping the figures for those willing to pay for the entire report.


Each year, while there may have been decreases in some segments, they were offset by increases in others. Vegetable gardening had been declining for over a decade, but perennial, indoor, and water gardening were a huge growth segment.

Recently, Dr. Marvin Miller, researcher with the Ball Company in Chicago, reports in Grower Talks that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its Floriculture Crops: 2003 Summary suggests the industry is changing in a way it never has before. The report focuses on the 36 major production states. Dr. Miller says that this annual survey serves as the best year-to-year barometer of the industry’s health. Unfortunately, he says the data suggests there are many issues currently challenging the industry, with many questions yet to be answered.

The perennial plant segment presents a trend of some concern, in an area that has always been booming. Total perennial dollars, which represent 25.5 per cent of total bedding/garden plant dollars in both 2002 and 2003, increased 1.2 per cent in 2003. Obviously that low percentage of growth did not match inflation. What were your perennial sales like this year?
From 2002 to 2003 unit numbers of all herbaceous perennials sold from wholesale sources fell 3.6 per cent – a significant drop. Sales of potted annuals weren’t much better. Potted bedding/garden plants accounted for 26.1 per cent of the segment’s sales in 2003. Though unit sales of potted annuals in 2003 were up 1.2 per cent for 2002 figures, sales still lagged the totals from 1998 and 1999. Dollar sales, which rose for the third consecutive year, were up 4.4 per cent in 2003, reflecting the increased value associated with larger pots – yet these sales still lagged the 1998 and 1999 dollar totals, Dr. Miller says.

There was one industry segment that looked a little better last year, and that was hanging baskets – the sales of which accounted for 10.1 per cent of the bedding/garden segment’s 2003 sales. Unit sales of hanging baskets increased 1.5 per cent from 2002 to 2003, continuing a general trend, and dollar volume increased to 2.5 per cent over that period, says Dr. Miller.

Miller points out that the influence of ‘large growers’ (those reporting at least $100,000 in annual sales) is increasing. These growers use an average of 3.278 h of open ground each vs. the 1.594 h overall average mentioned above. Also, the percentage of large vs. smaller growers using open land grew from 77.8 per cent in 2002 to 82 per cent last year.

The worst numbers reported in the USDA 2003 Summary may well be for the indoor aspect of the business. In the potted plant category, Miller says the sales of potted flowering plants in 2003 were off 1.8 per cent, this, after rising every year since 1994.  238.5 million units sold in this segment, represent the lowest number of potted plants sold since 1995. On close examination, the report would appear to indicate a reasonably large number of consumers actually lost interest in most of the potted flowering plan offering in the store and garden centres during 2003. The exception to this segment was potted flowering orchids, and when one considers the number of outlets currently offering these, there should be no surprise.
Dr. Miller says orchids represented the only potted flowering crop where both unit and dollar sales increased in the 2002 to 2003 period.  Sales of African violets, florist azaleas, pot mums, Easter lilies and poinsettias were all off in both units and dollars.

Miller does include mention of the generally bad weather experienced by much of the U.S. in the spring of 2003, indicating some of the drop-off sales may be attributable to the weather.  He also advises that the retail industry may well need to develop new, different and imaginative marketing campaigns to reverse what is obviously a scary trending last year.

Schemes to lessen the influence of weather are also needed.  This could possibly be a research project for the folks at Guelph University!

One concept that is seen by Miller as a possible aid in combatting the ugly trend is programs such as American in Bloom in the U.S., and the more extensive Communities in Bloom here in Canada.  Perhaps the industry should be supporting Montreal-based Communities in Bloom much more than it currently is.  For more information, visit
If your figures are trending anything like those of the U.S., it’s time now to be looking for help in overcoming these bad numbers!

Art Drysdale broadcasts on gardening daily to one of the largest radio gardening audiences in Canada on Ontario’s AM740, as well as on Easy 101 covering most of south-western Ontario. He is also seen weekly on “The Daily” on Shaw TV on Vancouver Island. You may write to him at, or check his web site at:

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