Joe Lamp’l is creator, host and executive producer of the award winning PBS series Growing a Greener World, which focuses on the stories of people ,places and organizations that are doing good things for the planet, with an emphasis on gardening. As an industry leader in environmental media, he also shares his expertise on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Victory Garden and other national media.
Lamp’l talked with Greenhouse Grower about how our industry can grow its customer base by connecting with potential gardeners — and the Millennial generation in particular.
GG: What are some of the shared characteristics of Millennials?
JL: What we know in general, whether it’s the horticulture industry or the television industry or anything else is that this Millennial, the Generation Y group that is age 17 to 32 right now doesn’t have a lot of money and marriage and home buying aren’t top priorities. They’re into family, into doing things for others, but they’re sort of into self-expression rather than seeing what they can accumulate quickly.
A lot of industries are still trying to cater to them even though they’re not at the point yet where they’re spending a lot of money on our products. The reason why we need to really get their attention is to develop consistent buying patterns and loyalties to whatever our product and brand is so when they start spending money, they’re already loyal to us.
GG: What’s the best way to reach them, to get them interested in gardening?
JL: The reason our industry is so ripe for a little bit of a facelift is that Millennials are into self-expression. As an example, look at the way the food network as taken off. The whole food and restaurant scene is so hip and hot these days. I think television had a lot to do with making that happen by lifting up these celebrity chefs. You didn’t even hear that term ten years ago. Younger people are cooking now; it’s not just a dish — it’s a process in expression and creativity; it’s a whole experience.
There’s no reason why we can’t take that concept and bring it out into the garden and the landscape — because that’s where the real self-expression takes place. That’s where you can make a statement about who you are. It’s the first impression people get when they come to visit you and hang out on your balcony. Maybe you don’t have a house, but you have created a pallet garden on your balcony with some really cool succulents or edibles. Just like farmers’ markets can supply great ingredients for a food dish, we can supply ingredients for that young Millennial so they can put together a great creation with plants.
Millennials work really hard — they’re very driven. Yet at the same time, when they get their down time they want to slow down. You know, we have emphasized this low-maintenance, easy-gardening thing, but maybe that’s not really what they want. Maybe they want us to help them understand that this is part of a lifestyle — and it doesn’t have to be something where you just throw it in a pot and forget it.
GG: That does run counter to the message we’ve been hearing for a while now. How can we make the process of gardening appealing.
JL: It requires work on our part in the green industry to think of different plants and different ways to provide that inspiration so people can see it. People are visual. Most people aren’t creative enough to come up with this on their own, especially when they don’t know their choices. If we can give them the pieces and help show them the process, I think we’re going to make some great strides.
Going back to the food industry — you can’t just weigh out some ingredients in front of somebody and cut to the finished dish and say, “There you go.” People like to see the process — they like to see why one ingredient goes with another. They want to learn. The more they know the more empowered they feel to do it themselves. In our industry we just sort of hand them the planted container — the finished product and say, “Here you are.” Where’s the self-expression in that? If we can give them a container with the different ingredients and talk to them about the soil, the container, the things you can do to make your whole creation healthier — maybe that’s the link we can create outside that the chefs and the Food Network are doing inside. It makes the whole process sexier.
GG: Do you feel like the green industry is lagging behind other industries when it comes to marketing?
JL: Yes I do. I don’t think we’re doing as good a job as we could to make the experience of gardening desirable. We can all appreciate how a good landscape or a nice garden looks. I don’t think enough people understand that the process of getting there can be pleasureable. Definitely there’s some sweat and some dirty hands involved. But that can be a good thing.
Going back to the Millennials, they like getting their hands dirty however they get them dirty. Again, it’s a vehicle and outlet for self-expression. I don’t think the gardening industry gets that. They haven’t made gardening sexy like the food industry has at all. We need to show more young people gardening, telling what they like about the process. It’s not just the plants, it’s everything together. We’re just not telling the story right.
We need to get some cool-looking people involved in some marketing and advertising campaigns. Let’s face it — that’s what sells and everybody does it that way. They use sexy people to make the product sexy. That’s a huge opportunity that we’re missing there to help people see that our industry is cool and the products we provide for them are cool too.
GG: What do you say to growers who say, “There’s so many different ways to market. I don’t know where to begin —how do I know what works?”
JL: I say to growers, maybe you don’t worry as much about your advertising. You support the people — the retail garden center — that are buying your product who are connecting to the end user. You do the best job you can growing the best plants you can and see how you can support the retailer. It’s a partnership. Don’t stress out about not being so connected with social media, because frankly, the end user isn’t going to have a personal connection to the grower. But they do have a personal connection with their independent garden center. I think that’s where the social media comes in and where the real integration between product and end user happens. Growers need to provide the best support they can to make the retailer’s job as easy as possible so they can focus on the end user. Then it benefits everybody.