The Retailer Of The Future

Let’s hit the reset button on our industry for a moment and imagine all the retailers growers serve no longer exist.

There’s no Walmart, Home Depot or Lowe’s calling the shots. No grocery stores to fill. No wholesale clubs to stock. No independent garden centers to supply. No more retail florists or farmers’ markets to serve, either.

Now that we’ve rebooted, let’s consider where to start rebuilding our industry. Are box stores the answer? Is the independent channel the solution? Put aside your biases and think about retail channels we’ve never really considered–or imagined–that could serve as the gateway to connecting consumers to gardening. Perhaps retail isn’t even the answer. What if landscapes, which, according to Allan Armitage, are driving floriculture in the rapidly growing Chinese market (page 66), are the way to go? What if retail stores fade and consumers make the majority of their purchases on the Internet?

Too many questions already and not enough answers? Of course. But that’s our industry: more questions than answers.

Many of us operate our businesses in the moment, thinking about how we can capture that next sale today without considering how we can capture exponentially more tomorrow. But what if there was no tomorrow for your business? A number of growers have already realized that fate, and more are likely to realize it if our industry continues on a downward spiral. So again I ask: Where should we start the rebuilding?

Go Where Consumers Go

I attended an industry meeting recently where it became clear we should start “rebuilding” by first analyzing our consumer. Who is she? Who will she be in 10 years? In 20 years? She’s ultimately the one who determines our fate, after all.

Are we providing her the plants she wants? Are we giving her the information she needs to succeed? Are we making the gardening experience quick and easy for her? Or, are we providing plants that fit into a bench-run system? Deflecting the responsibility of educating consumers down the supply chain? Making gardening more difficult than it has to be?

Think about today’s youngest consumers, the ones communicating via text message and doing their shopping online. They want simplicity, not the laborsome experience they see as gardening. We’re a technology-driven society, yet our industry is barely in tune with today’s technology and how consumers are using it to simplify their lives. Our use of QR codes is a good start, but we need to do more to hold the consumer’s hand from the plant shopping experience through the plant’s lifespan. Smartphones seem like an obvious starting point.

Our product must go where people go, as well. Is that place a garden center? As one supplier says, the average garden center sees customers four times per year. There are, of course, destination garden centers that see customers more than four times, but the idea that the average customer visits so few times is concerning.

Maybe the “garden center of the future” isn’t a garden center at all. Maybe it’s the corner drug store where you pick up a few items along with a plant. Maybe the future is largely online, where consumers design their own gardens, purchase plants and get their care instructions all in one place.

We’re already seeing a few growers realize the opportunities at trendy retailers like IKEA, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Maybe we should explore alternative retailers even more.

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