You might want to put on a helmet because you’re about to have your mind blown. That’s what happens when you get seven young, marketing-savvy industry leaders in a room and ask them what the future holds. In an hour-and-a-half-long Google Hangout, we discussed what our industry needs to do to appeal to Generation Y and Generation Z, as well as other demographics that are becoming increasingly mobilized consumers. Our conversation ranged from the reinvented gardener and the best marketing tools available today to how and where our products will be sold over the next 30 years. So hold on to your hard hats, ladies and gentlemen. The youth have spoken.
Q: What is something you wish growers, marketers and retailers knew about marketing to younger generations, specifically Gen Y? Think about the way you respond to marketing and how our industry could appeal to you.
Jen Hatalski: The biggest thing is appealing to this new generation coming in. They are crunched for time, they want grab-and-go and they don’t always want to get their hands dirty. It’s a totally new aspect of looking at things, and they are not your traditional gardeners. Now we’re looking at urban living and apartment dwellers. They’re moving toward buying container gardens to decorate and make their space beautiful for when they’re entertaining friends in their living spaces, whether that be indoors or outdoors. So there is a real cultural shift there.
Kristine Lonergan: Generation Y and future generations don’t want to be sold — they really want to feel a partnership with brands. Consumers now are much more savvy, with more avenues to learn about products, and they know within three clicks whether your company is giving them accurate information. So marketing now needs to be more about partnering with the consumer and once you do that, you’re going to establish a loyal customer because you will make them feel like they are part of your brand.
Marta Maria Garcia: Generation Y is the holy grail, with 90 million consumers estimated. It’s a new wave of consumers that is starved for time and tech savvy. At the same time, they’re going to be a big generation that’s going to dictate a huge counter trend. The Millenial generation is really hungry for a real experience. They get slammed with a lot of fake and a lot of noise. I really think this generation is going to be be the one that, if grabbed right, can catapult this industry, because there is something about it that is real. It’s the experience that you get with our products and if you talk to them and give them a purpose, and you hit them with that purpose of meaning and that experience, they’ll buy into it.
Rob O’Hara: It’s going to be about offering marketing solutions that are going to be easy and quick to implement. For me, if it’s not something easy and quick and going to save me time, I walk away from it. It’s got to be simple, no-brain stuff that doesn’t take a lot of time.
Also, it can’t be fake because people are easily informed. When people make purchases now, they research products on the internet and they know what they want before they walk into the store to buy it. So the product has got to be something that’s going to deliver what they need. If they need color on their patio for that weekend, that’s all they’re worried about. They’re not worried about three weekends from now, how that planter is going to look. It’s about right now, and it’s very impulsive. So from a growing standpoint, we have to deliver those type of products.
Stephanie Whitehouse: Gen Y and Gen X want more experience- and use-based story marketing with an emotion to it. I respond much better to ads that make me think, make me feel or make me laugh in some way, and that are more memorable. I also feel Gen Y is going to respond much better to efforts that show how to use a product, why it’s useful to them, how it can minimize their time or make their life a lot more efficent and effective, as well as giving them the tools and showing them how they can be part of that sharing process. How can I tell my other friends about this? What is so great about it? Mobilizing Gen Y to help promote our products and brands to each other via social media will be effective.
Susie Raker: Millenials are getting hit from every possible aspect of their life — Facebook, constantly attached to their phones. Our industry stands to gain a lot in marketing by cutting through that noise and providing valuable products that enrich peoples’ lives. There is a huge difference between marketing and selling. I don’t want to be sold to; instead, show me how your product is going to change my life.
Lonergan: I agree that everyone is being so inundated by social media. To take a break from that, if we just market the idea that gardening is the real social network, I think it could be huge because it is an activity that people can do with their family and friends and we can leverage that. It’s a talking point that many consumers can relate to.
Garcia: I like it. “Gardening: The real social network,” as an industry coalition message. I like it!
Raker: As an industry overall, we’ve done ourselves a big disservice because we can’t seem to come together on a unified platform presenting information for consumers. Everything you read on the internet is “real” and “the truth,” but that’s so untrue. So as an industry, we really need to make the information that is available about our products as true as possible to make our consumers as succesful as possible.
Q: What new marketing tools should we be looking at now to reach consumers? What tools exist that no one is even thinking about using?
Garcia: What the social networks have brought to this industry is the opportunity to have a voice, and it’s a very effective and thrifty marketing tool. The entire advertising world is changing completely. It’s very appropriate for all of us because we can be very effective and touch a lot of people with those tools. But in that environment, Pinterest wasn’t around two years ago, Instagram wasn’t around two years ago and it’s going to cycle in and out of different social channels. We need to be aware what next thing is capturing the attention of the key demographics or psychographics that we want to target. Technology is going to continue to evolve and it will benefit us. We just need to be looking always online, offline, everywhere to see that new technology on the horizon
O’Hara: I agree that technology is going to lead the way and on top of that, we need somebody cool that’s going to promote our products. We need the Guy Fieri of plants. somebody who can be the face, somebody who can say it’s cool to do this. I’m not going to watch Martha Stewart but I can’t stop watching “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” I’m addicted to the Food Network. And then, if you want to do some cooking, where do you go? You go to FoodNetwork.com and get recipes from celebrity chefs. Can we get some celebrity plant people who are actually cool? Because I’m not cool and we all do our thing, growing and working in greenhouses, but we need somebody who’s going to be the face of our industry and get people involved and excited about it.
Whitehouse: We need somebody who’s fun and funky and outgoing to be a spokesperson, for sure. I also think eCommerce is going to be a much bigger venue for selling our products and I’ve seen this with some of our customers already. For younger generations, Cyber Monday is a very popular thing, instead of doing the Black Friday thing, so I think focusing on new ways to start selling our products online is important.
Continuing with Pinterest and getting into new social media for promoting new products is going to be important and using street teams, plant trucks or demo stations at garden centers or grocery stores to show how consumers can use plants and interact with them in their daily lifestyles are some fun new ways to market plants to people.
Raker: As an industry, we’ve historically stayed really within the current supply chain. We don’t branch out of that. We’ve got the plug producers and the finished producers, and the end product gets sold to a big box or to a retail garden center. There are all kinds of avenues via the internet to sell products, from flash sale sites, auctions, Amazon.com — the opportunities are absolutely endless there. I work almost exclusively developing new channels, because that’s definitely where we need to go.
Also, box sites, where consumers pay a certain amount per month and get a mix of products, are a perfect opportunity to let novice consumers see the breadth of our products and the different uses for our products.
Joe Lutey: The speed of change is really what we’re all going to be looking for. How fast can you jump on the next thing and do you abandon the old things or do you stick with them? If you stick with them too long, you’re really just wasting money but as soon as you get it and think you’ve found the right combination, it’s going to change very quickly. We need to know when it’s time to move on to the channels that consumers are on.
We also need to start looking at marketing to the end consumer. I think we waste a lot of money marketing to ourselves, amongst our companies. But if we can get a concise message that we can market to the end consumer, it will be profitable in the long run for everybody.
Lonergan: Our biggest marketing tool is the end consumer. When you go onto Facebook, consumers can be the biggest advocates of a brand just by liking it or not liking it. They’re developing their own personal brand just by liking a product. It’s proven that right now, consumers trust their friends to give them an opinion on everything, whether it’s a product or a restaurant or a place to go, more so than an advertisement. So to me, that is the most powerful marketing tool right now.
Q: Where should our industry be in 30 years? Should we be operating along the same business model, cranking out plants to big boxes, or thinking about growing unique plants for boutique retailers?
Raker: Thirty years from now, the world will look a lot different. These younger generations — there’s a lot of them, they’re going to be highly educated and I don’t think there’s going to be enough jobs for them. So I feel there’s going to be an entrepreneurial boom, so to speak, because they’re going to have to create their own jobs and their own incomes, which will lead to a boom in boutique type businesses. However, I do think big box is going to be a continuing part of our lives, and good, bad, ugly, it is what it is. We’ll find a harmonious way to work together. Internet shopping is going to be an extremely important piece in our business and our industry needs to figure out how to do it profitably.
Hatalski: I’ll never forget on the “Today Show” this past summer, [the fashion label] Juicy Couture was out there in Rockefeller Plaza, introducing their new 2013 summer tropical line and they had a table there full of product — purses, bags, shoes — and they had some plants there, but they were red geraniums. I sat there and just shook my head. So these people outside the industry in these boutique situations, they’re obviously looking somewhere. It was a thought to them but do they even know that we exist? And why don’t Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware stores, where they’re selling lifestyle-experience-driven products, have plants in every store? Why don’t all home stores have live goods? That’s the question. You can go online to Williams-Sonoma and buy fresh herbs; they use them in the classes there at the stores but why don’t they cross merchandise their products? Just something to think about — another opportunity.
Lonergan: I totally agree with her. There is a move toward the shop-within-a-shop concept. When you can go someplace and have the whole experience of getting coffee, listening to music, shopping for candles and cosmetics, whatever the case may be, it’s a true destination and that’s what our consumer wants. It’s a form of entertainment and that’s what they like to do. So if we can make it where they can do all of that while buying plants, I think that all of a sudden gardening and buying flowers will become a little more sexy. That’s what we’re missing. There’s not a lot of sex appeal in this industry.
O’Hara: Even now you can go online and grocery shop. I hate going to the grocery store so I’d rather sit there and click on everything I want and the doorbell rings an hour later and it all shows up. Why can’t you sit there and design your patio and say, “Okay, I want that planter, I want that window box, I want some tomato plants and click, click, click, and the next day the doorbell rings and here you go, here’s how you take care of it. Maybe they even install it, who knows?
What end of the industry is that going to be driven from? Are the bigger chains going to do that? Are they going to go down that road and offer that service? They probably have the dollars to put behind it if they wanted to but also I don’t see the chain stores going away. There is always going to be that one-stop shop. I see a better working relationship between the chain stores and growers, more of a partnership in the future. It’s slowly going that way and it’s taking time but with pay-by-scan, our industry has a better say in how their garden centers are presented so I think we’re going to see a lot of that continuing.
Lutey: The way we think of retail has to change in the next 30 years. I see more segregation between the box stores and the independents. Growers will probably grow exclusively for box stores or independents and a lot of locally owned garden centers will rally behind smaller, boutique growers that can provide the diversification of product that we need to be able to keep the market share of our customers. You can’t totally give away all of your product line but you do want to have enough differentiation in your product line that you are able to set yourself totally apart as a different type of business than the box store garden center.
The change I see is in the greenhouses focusing on who’s buying product and not necessarily who’s selling it. A grower shouldn’t really care if they’re selling to the box store or the independent but making sure they’re growing the best product possible that’s going to reach the end consumer through the right channel. Then the retailers can decide who that’s going to be. It will be interesting to see, no doubt about that.