Starting out with a regional following, in the last decade P. Allen Smith has emerged as one of the top celebrities promoting gardening and outdoor living. You can find him on television, in books and magazines, on the web and at a number of in-person events, where he has built quite a following as a popular, folksy speaker. We had a chance to chat with Smith this summer to pick his brain on what women want.
GG: Why have you committed to a multimedia consumer engagement?
PAS: What we’re about is trying to help consumers live a fuller life, help them with creating beautiful outdoor living spaces by providing inspirational lifestyle ideas. With that as the goal, we look to every possible media platform. We like to have the same message across all platforms. It helps with our penetration and is a more efficient business approach. We need to try to reach the consumer in different ways. We need to appeal to her lifestyle. What we’re selling is lifestyle. For years it was petunias, azaleas and steel edging. We are an industry that sells lifestyle.
GG: What are consumers looking for today in terms of horticultural products, pursuits and information?
PAS: It’s important for our industry to understand our customer is a woman. We need to listen to what she is telling us. Part of what we do is create focus groups and listen to her. I want to show her inspiring ideas and back those ideas with ways for her to reach those goals. The ideas have to be attainable and achievable. While everyone has a budget and we need to be conscious of dollars, it’s really time that’s the issue. Finding time to do these projects is critical. Our customer seems to have more money than time.
GG: What can we learn from the cooking industry and other lifestyle segments?
PAS: We have a cookbook coming out in December, the sixth book in our series. We recently had our tomato festival that drew 200 people from 14 states for dinner. We showcased Bonnie’s tomatoes and served all fresh vegetables. In vegetables, I’m working with Bonnie Plants and Ferry Morse Seed. We’re bringing green goods into the kitchen. It’s lifestyle, connecting to cooking, something she does every day.
The fashion industry also has taught us a lot. The consumer is used to products being presented a certain way with packaging and messaging. It all needs to be consistent because that’s what she is receiving from other industries.
GG: Is florist-grade merchandise a new direction for you? Your holiday collection makes it easy to choose forms and styles in greenery.
PAS: Florist-grade merchandise lets us set in place a collection of styles that can be used as is. There’s just enough accent on the wreaths and greenery but you can add your own personal touch. We’re always encouraging her to add her personal touch. We’re beginning with the holiday season. She’ll be able to buy through websites. We’re putting partnerships in place to order directly, but we also have wholesale pricing so independent garden centers can order and offer these collections. We’re looking at other holiday collections and are pretty excited about it. We could have a bulb collection and show how you grow them in a container. We’re moving past, “Here’s a bag of bulbs.”
GG: What are you looking for from industry partnerships in select categories of goods?
PAS: They need to be high quality. We partner with the best. The management and ownership needs to understand about the female consumer and recognize the importance of lifestyle.
GG: Do you have any other thoughts on making it easier for consumers to buy horticultural products and simplifying purchase decisions?
PAS: First, you’ve got to inspire, show how to do, make sure it’s doable and achievable. It has to be a positive experience. One of the most damaging things is providing inaccurate information. You have to set realistic expectations. If you suggest a complete front and backyard makeover in a weekend, people walk away and say, “I can’t do that. I can’t have that instantaneously.” Our industry is a process, growing something, enjoying the growing space over time. That’s the message we need to get out, not instantaneous. Sure, you can throw a room together quickly indoors, but it’s harder outdoors. You need to keep their interest and help them manage their expectations.
GG: Are there voids, underserved niches beyond basic commodities? Is our industry doing enough to offer what the consumer is seeking?
PAS: I think they want quality products. We’re answering the price question. Consumers need help with growing, with care and how do I fit it into my life. Show me how and that it doesn’t take a lot of time.
GG: What are the most common questions you get related to plants and flowers?
PAS: The questions have changed in the last 15 years. Before it was, “I have a problem to solve,” the tomato hornworm question. Now it seems to be, “I have this environment and want to change the environment. What looks good with this?” It’s more about the larger picture of how all these things come together to improve our lives. How can I constellate all these products and make my experience more pleasurable? This has been good for our industry. We’ve become much better about putting good information on tags. Retail is a wonderful place to educate, where you can communicate with the customer directly. Or it could be picking up a package with well-done, accurate information.
GG: What advice do you have for growers and garden center retailers who are looking to connect with consumers? How can they be relevant?
PAS: I just see so many people wanting to connect to their community. Become more engaged and more of a presence in your community. Host workshops and benefits with local nonprofits.
P. Allen’s Promotional Partnerships
For the last 10 years, P. Allen Smith has put together a portfolio of industry companies that are supporting his multimedia endeavors as sponsors in select product categories. These include:
New product lines that debuted at the Independent Garden Centers Show at Chicago’s Navy Pier in August include:
–P. Allen Smith’s Platinum Collection of annuals and perennials from Proven Winners.
–P. Allen Smith Edibles beginning with six blueberry varieties from Berry Family of Nurseries. Three are for Southern climates and three are for Northern.
–P. Allen Smith Holiday Collection of wreaths and greenery from the Berry Family of Nurseries.
–P. Allen Smith’s Garden Favorites, an expanded bulb collection from Van Bloem Gardens.
–P. Allen Smith Garden Home Structures from Yardistry that include screens, structures and decorative elements, like arbors and pergolas, for the garden. Cedar kits are easy to build with “Click & Lock Technology.”
–Eco-friendly hanging baskets made from recycled aluminum by Good Earth Manufacturing in Little Rock, Ark.
“These are things for the garden and home that I use in my own projects at the Garden Home Retreat,” Smith says. “These lines are things I know will bring much joy to gardeners all across the world.”