R U Ready?

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So the other day I was attending the Canadian Greenhouse Conference and had a chance to sit in on the keynote address. Anna Ball gave a fantastic presentation, talking about the industry and trends, sharing how she sees our future. Anna has been very consistent the past few years talking about sustainability and she talked about that again. In case you have been doing space travel the past few years, with the good help from former VP Al Gore and a rapidly warming planet, many/most consumers/voters are now aware of environmental issues.

The green movement has moved from the fringes to center stage. If you cannot be fully "Certified Organic" you should at least be making your business and home "better" by shifting to products and practices that use less energy inputs. This is the drive to using products that are sustainable.

A company that was focused on these issues would be recycling, using recycled paper, changing the thermostat to use less heating and cooling, etc. They would be using more earth-friendly packaging, less packaging and packaging that was perhaps recycled paper versus new plastic. Anna made mention that we use a lot of energy, water and chemicals to make our products – and that consumers are expected to use those inputs as well. Yikes.

If that was not bad enough, Anna also spent time overlaying the impact of the "young consumer" and shared trend data that strongly suggest our industry is in the process of changing customers and that perhaps many of us are not well prepared for these changes. Or put more simply, kids do not care about flowers and gardening is too much work.

A few thoughts: first, a big bravo and shout out to Anna. I believe she was one of the first in our business to see the sustainability issue coming at us and has had the courage to speak about it frequently over the past five years. Secondly, with Anna so correct on the shift to "greener," I really was listening hard to what she was saying about the market shift and our consumers. My summary of her excellent talk on the market goes something like this:

• Market is well stalled. The era of big growth long over. That is bad.

• Fewer people are gardening. That is bad.

• Market may be shrinking. Some data suggests it is. It is shrinking in units and looks to be starting to shrink in dollars. Really, really bad.

• We are not, as a group, listening to consumers. Bad, bad, bad.

• We really do not understand the "younger" consumers, although that is not bad as we do not listen to them (see above), so it does not matter that we do not understand them.

I know when our friends over at Grower Talks did their "Is Gardening Dead?" cover last year, I had a series of e-mails going to Chris et al. suggesting they may have gone too far. That Chris Beytes is such a pesky fellow. Hmmm, maybe they were right.

Have we completely lost the desire to "turn the soil" and plant flowers? Baby Boomers are too old and worn out from being Boomers and the X and Y kids have zero desire and are too busy mountain biking and playing in their sea kayaks. Putting it another way, FYE, DQMOT B/C IANAE, the kids r 2 BZ (Translation: For your edification, do not quote me on this because I am not an expert, the kids are too busy).

Yikes, no wonder we cannot talk to them. We are worried about getting bench cards put up at retail and they are texting. We are in the wrong media. We speak in full sentences and actually spell out all the words. No wonder we are doomed.

Anna’s talk was great. Depressing, but great (gr8 – LOL). Her two great takeaways for me are "green" is now here and the market is shrinking. So, being the astute marketer, I wonder if they are linked?

Gosh, do you think we could be growing sales if our nifty plants were packaged in earth-friendly packages, if we shared with consumers how to not only beautify the earth but also make it a better place?

I have to laugh at us. As a good example, I write a fair amount of tag copy. You know plant tags – little pieces of plastic that tell people how to garden with living green plants. I will write words like, "keep soil moist, mulch." Go on, you consumer you. Get out there and "mulch," and gosh forbid you go to a store and look for mulch, because no one really sells it. All you may find is rolls of plastic that say "mulch." Forget the fact that we can take compost from the compost pile and spread a few inches of this recycled organic material down to "mulch," which cuts down on water usage and reduces weeds and possible chemical use.

Nope, we do not have the space to tell that good story. The tag is too small. So we shorten down to an incomprehensible set of instructions and words and let consumers go out and buy plastic. It is pretty funny if you think about it – and we wonder why the market just might be shrinking.

So what? Why should I care? I can’t change death, taxes or shrinking markets, you say. Well, I will agree on death and taxes – maybe throw a Chicago Cubs thing in as well, but shrinking markets can be fixed. All of us can shift how and what we are doing to better address the market.

Yes, you should be looking at all the "alternative" pot and packaging choices. Yes, I know they are harder to grow in. Deal with it (see above in section regarding shrinking market).

Yes, you should have a team on your staff looking at all the ways your company can reduce/recycle/renew, so you can go to consumers and share what you are doing. For goodness sakes the oil companies are all bragging on how much they are doing and they are big bad oil companies. I think we have a few good stories here.

No, you do not need to get 100 percent organic, eat only vegetarian and trade the SUV in for a mule. You might live a lot longer if you do those things, but shifting your business to better service the "new" customer will not force you to only wear homespun fibers unless you want to. This new focus does, however, require you to think about it, all the time, as it will require shifts in business practices. R U ready?

PS … Here are two charts from Anna Ball that she showed at her talk in Canada. Pick which one scares you the most. Me? I am having serious nightmares.

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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