Curtains And The Y Chromosome

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For years, I have been blaming our industry woes on gender issues, and this morning it really hit home. I think I had an epiphany. Simply put, fire all your male employees. We have failed. We do not "get it" and we never will. We are but dinosaurs. It is time we all lumber out to the dinosaur plains and munch on tree limbs, waiting around until the meteor hits. We are toast and it’s all because of curtains.

Some of you have met my wife. She is an amazing person. Robin has been the major part of my life for 15 years. Rob has been a greenhouse grower, a flower seed person, a dog trainer, a dot-com guru — more importantly she has been my confidant, business partner, mother to our six dogs, has an MBA and is an all-around good egg.

A few minutes ago, she let me know that this weekend we would finish hanging the new curtains. She was giving me a few days to get used to the idea so I would not balk, complain or stress out come Saturday.

I could live in this house maybe 15 to 20 more years and never feel the need to hang curtains. Never, ever. The mini blinds the house came with are fine. They work. Open them and light comes in. Close them and it gets dark. As a boy, I am perfectly happy. I suspect most of us Y-chromosome-challenged types would feel the same way. That is why we are good at growing plants. Open the hose, shut the hose, add more light, shade some light. We grow an even and uniform crop. We look at a greenhouse and notice the heating and lighting systems. We have opinions about a lot of on/off, black/white stuff.

We grow plants! We do not even call them plants. We call them products. We see them the same way we would sell widgets or pork bellies. My wife sees the world a wee bit differently. She looks at the mini-blind and sees a lack of color. She notices how colors work together and has opinions about texture. She cares about style. If I pull a Y-chromosome move and wear brown and blue at the same time, I hear about it. I admit, I have heard the phrase, "Don’t you have some black shoes you can wear?"

So, we may be able to grow petunias, but we sure have no idea why! We do not get it. We should not be allowed to do any of the following:
1 Select colors. We like the color orange. That says it all.
2 Select texture. We care about sandpaper grit numbers. That was the last time we thought about texture.
3 Select height. We like things uniform; flat. We all really want that new Black and Decker laser level. How could we possibly deal with heights in a garden? Face it, we are no more capable of controlling the product mix for female shoppers than we are of flying to the moon. Actually, being an industry full of Y chromosome types, we could figure out how to fly to the moon, but not how to make it pretty.

I think it is time we admit our shortcomings and immediately turn over the biz to better-qualified individuals. People who can see our widgets for what they are. We sell decorating elements, not plants. We sell color, not products. We sell texture, not petunias. The sooner we get decorators driving product mix, the sooner we can all go and munch some tree branches and meteor gaze! I will admit it is not totally gender driven. There are guys who can see colors and I am sure there is a gal or two who will naively wear blue and brown at the same time. But generally, our little ag biz is full of too many farmers making too many decisions for home decorators.

Lately we have taken to watching more HGTV, and I have yet to see any of the decorator TV shows turn to design expert ‘Farmer Bob’ for advice. How do we fix this? In lieu of complete staff replacement, I suggest we at least do the following:
1) Admit we have a problem. I am guessing that as an industry each year we leave millions of dollars on the retail bench because we have the wrong stuff. A braver person would suggest that millions is really billions, but whatever it is, it is a big number.
2) Listen to customers. Watch how they buy paint and fabrics. Get color savvy. Follow color trends. If you need help just Google color trends and see what you get. I saw 49 million hits on Google.
3) Rethink how you display your products. If we sell to decorators, why do we put perennials with perennials? Why not put all the red flowers together?
4) Rethink how you tag, sign and POP. How about talking their language?
5) Look at your staffing. Is the right person making product decisions? It may not be about gender, but it is about talent. Do you have the right people picking plants, colors and display?

I think we have a big problem, but I have a bigger problem. I have to hang curtains this weekend!

Laurie Scullin is a marketing consultant helping get new ideas to the consumer marketplace. For more information, contact him at lscullin@gmail.com or 352-495-3375.

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