Greenhouse Grower hosted a panel of young marketers and savvy growers from operations across the country in a Google Hangout. We asked these young leaders:
Aside from age, what other demographic changes should we be preparing for, i.e. marketing to different culture groups and nationalities?
You might be surprised when you read what they said.
Susie Raker, C. Raker & Sons: As an industry, we have to be prepared to market to everybody. That’s it, hands down. We can’t afford not to appeal to every nationality, every culture. So it’s just a matter of defining those groups and what speaks to them.
Jennifer Hatalski, Hort Couture: My boyfriend’s family is Hispanic and they just love to have their tomato plants because of how much fresh salsa they make. The one big thing for them is it’s a part of their culture and everybody is going to have certain things that they grew up around. They love making fresh salsa and fresh pico de gallo. I love visiting them because I like going out into the garden and helping pick the fresh tomatoes, and seeing how they make it and use their flavors. Every culture is going to have something different that we can really grasp onto and market to specifically, but it’s getting to know all of those specific cultures and nationalities.
Stephanie Whitehouse, Peace Tree Farm: We really need to work on marketing to our Latino groups, as well as Southeast Asian cultures. Peace Tree is just north of Philadelphia, so we have not only the big Italian market, but we also have Southeast Asian demographics. We had a huge run on lemongrass this year because everybody was starting to grow lemongrass and use it in cooking Asian cuisines.
I think we really need to try to focus on not just usual American culture, but see how we can diversify our palates and diversify the plants we offer. We can study the different focuses and offer the favorite plants for each culture, and promote those not just for specific cultures but as plants that everyone can enjoy for different purposes.
I also see a big shift from people living in suburbia to more urban areas, so it will be important to build on the trend toward small-space gardening.
Joe Lutey, Wojo’s Greenhouses: We need to be ready and available to market to everybody and be able to suit everyone’s needs, as cultures start to blend and consolidate into a lot fewer general nationalities. There is going to be fewer individual demographics to market to, and we really just need to be more general and promote the gardening lifestyle.
Soon, Google and Facebook are going to tell us exactly what customers are looking for when they come in our stores. We’ve been mining people’s data now for years and by the time my son is a little bit older, retailers will know exactly what he wants by the time he comes in and checks in to the store. They’ll have a shopping list already waiting for him. Things like that are really going to change. We’re not really going to be looking necessarily for age groups, but for shared interests, what can be tied back to gardening and what sections of gardening consumers are interested in.
Rob O’Hara, Rainbow Greenhouses: Recognizing the demographics of the area you’re in and catering to the geographical areas where you’re able to sell preferred products to different nationalities will be important. For example, one of our biggest sellers here is lucky bamboo. We have a big Asian population in Vancouver and our customers love this stuff and they buy a lot of it. So we recognize that but we’re not necessarily going to ship a lot of lucky bamboo up into Northern Canada because that population just isn’t there.
I also think there’s a lot of opportunity moving forward with more young men buying our products in the garden centers. There’s a big market there that can be tapped into more and more. The ideal was always that women were 80 percent of our market, making all the purchases on flowers, but with guys doing a lot more cooking, they want to grow more of their own food. I’m meeting more and more men who are interested in our products and are buying them now, and I think that’s going to really increase in the future.
Kristine Lonergan, Garden State Growers: We have a lot of customers right outside of Manhattan and this summer in particular, our container business and our vegetable business went through the roof. The customers’ questions were all about rooftop gardening and vertical gardening, so urban demographics are huge where we are.
The other trend is, there are a lot more women who own their own homes. They are not married and are choosing just to buy a home on their own. I think that particular market segues into our conversation about eCommerce. Those two trends are connected because it’s difficult, first of all, when you go to shop for gardening products. You have to have a car, it’s dirty, you get mulch and it’s heavy. To bring all those supplies home, it’s such an ordeal that by the time you get home, you don’t even want to plant. So that particular market – females owning their own homes – will have a direct impact on our industry.
The last opportunity is really honing in on the health benefits of gardening, particularly vegetables and herbs. I often wonder why (and I’ve reached out) Weight Watchers doesn’t come out with its own line of herbs or something. To me, it’s a no brainer. But I think that whole connection with our industry is huge.
Marta Maria Garcia, Costa Farms: Hispanics are definitely a demographic we need to keep our eye on. Hispanics make up 17 percent of the total population and are expected to be up to 30 percent by 2050. One out of six Americans right now is Hispanic, so you can’t ignore them. They’re here to stay. Eventually in the future, it will get all blended because they are acculturing to the U.S., but they’re not leaving their culture behind. They’re assimilating but culture is very big. I’m in that group. I can tell you that we are very proud of our heritage and we acknowledge that we’re here and we’re part of the U.S. but we don’t leave our values and what we’ve learned behind.
The beauty about this group is that they over index in gardening and it’s something that ties them back to their home country. Any nationality – South American, Central American, Caribbean – nature was part of our environment and being part of nature was in our day-to-day. So I think it’s a demographic to watch. It’s not about talking to them about this particular plant that they’re familiar with from their home country; it’s about lifestyle. Hispanics are about celebrating, entertaining, being together. So gardening is that activity that historically has always united them. It’s about sharing what we grow.
Jen, I thought it was interesting to hear about your boyfriend’s family and growing tomatoes, and I’m sure he probably brings tomatoes that his aunt grows. There is an underground exchange of fruits and vegetables between Hispanics because they love to grow their own. I think that’s a halo effect that they are going to bring to the general market. Hispanics are becoming more relevant and crossing over to the mainstream, so there might be that iconic person, that face we need to make gardening cool in the Hispanic culture. Because for them, it is cool. It’s what identifies them back with their culture, with their grandparents, that activity that unites them as a family. It’s a demographic that’s very important and we need to keep an eye out.
Another demographic that we should be looking at is the child-free couples and women. One of five women in the U.S. do not have a child. Back in 1976, that was one out of 10. That’s another group to watch because they have a lot of disposable income and a lot of time. They might have full-time jobs but they do have more free time than working moms. So this group is one to watch because they have something to invest in to entertain themselves, and they have the money and the time.
O’Hara: I’m in that group. I don’t have much time but there is expendable income to buy a $50 planter one weekend and let it die, then buy another one the next weekend. I think that’s what you see in that age group quite a bit.
Garcia: It’s not only women, it’s child-free couples. There was a great article in Time magazine that talked about this trend and it blew my mind. The statistics were strong.
Raker: It’s funny that you bring that up because I have a 2-year-old and I’m thinking about what my husband and I used to do, prior to the kid and watching Elmo and wiping noses. We spent a lot of time at home improvement stores. I can’t remember the last time I bought a new light fixture. It’s funny to put things in perspective when you step back and think for a minute.
O’Hara: I just may be naïve but when guys go to buy stuff, we don’t look at prices as much. We just think, “Oh, I like that. I’m going to buy it.” We’re kind of that way. We’re impulsive, we can make a quick decision and we can be in and out of that garden center and drop $500 pretty easily.