After many years of sustained growth, the green industry appears to have hit a speed bump. Maybe it’s a function of the languid economy, or maybe it’s because our core customers, the boomer generation, are changing their buying habits based on lifestyle changes. Maybe it’s because we’re not capturing the minds, hearts and wallets of the emerging millennium customer. Some say it’s caused by the growth of the mass marketers, the big boxes and their impact on commoditizing our products, leading to a lowering of the perceived value of our products.
Or possibly, it’s caused by something more fundamental that retailers and growers in our industry haven’t recognized or taken seriously. Something we’ve lost. Something called consumer relevance.
There are some that say a national promotion campaign, with producers footing the bill under a USDA authorized mandatory promotion order, might be the panacea to solving our growth problems. In theory, this sounds like a great response to our slowing rate of sales growth, but our industry is so broad and the sales peaks vary so significantly based on geography that this approach becomes difficult to manage. Unless everyone in our industry leverages this universal message locally, we’d never achieve the potential results.
What all product categories and sales channels in our industry share is the beauty and benefits our products provide. We know the tremendously positive psychological, emotional and physiological benefits our products provide. We know the positive environmental benefits (i.e. reduction of greenhouse gases or positive oxygen footprint).
We know the increased financial housing value of properly maintained landscapes. We know how important our products are to decorating and lifestyle. Unfortunately, we haven’t effectively communicated these to our customers. We’re still selling plants for gardening and focusing our promotional image on price.
Focusing an industry message on the benefits that plants and flowers provide is the first step in becoming more relevant in our customers’ minds. We need to show and explain to them why plants are important in their lives and lifestyles.
Though there will always be (and we should continue to encourage) plant and flower hobbyists, we also need to recognize the changing social dynamics of consumers. They’re time starved and stressed out, yet they still want the benefits our products offer, but without the work or time commitment. We need to discover more ways to provide plants and services that deliver on this need for instant gratification and ensure our customers’ success and satisfaction.
Our industry needs to come together to create our own message, focused on the benefits our plants and flowers provide in context of the needs and lifestyles of our consumer. Based on the fragmented nature of our industry, our industry message is best delivered at the local level, by retailers in their advertising and store presentations. Each retailer is different in terms of image, customer demographic, climate, etc. and I’m not an advocate of a one size fits all approach to marketing. But the benefits of a plants and flowers industry message has application to all customers. The broader industry message just needs to be tailored by each retailer. If every independent garden center and mass market retailer preached the same consistent message to their specific customer base, just think of the leveraged power our industry would create to help change consumer perception of our products!
Creating demand for plants and flowers isn’t about product or national advertising programs. It’s really all about developing relevance and communicating the benefits plants and flowers provide to the lives and lifestyles of our current and potential customers!