Survivability 101 by Laurie Scullin

Survivability 101 by Laurie Scullin

I know we’re looking ahead 25 years, but let’s start with a few words and one chart (see below) on why you should market. First, the chart. From 2002 to 2007, wholesale sales of floriculture crops ranged from $3.95 billion in 2002 to a high of $4.15 billion in 2005 to a slight decline to $4.10 billion in 2007. Looks pretty good.

But look what happens when we factor in inflation. Our industry sales in total dollars shrank every year from 2002 to 2007! Much of the growth we did see in the 1990s was due to big box chains building more stores rather than building new customers who love planting flowers. So, when the big box stores slow their expansion, we slow down or shrink!

Worded another way, our notoriously under-marketed industry is now paying the piper for not developing new customers to replace old customers. Even with the few excellent programs such as Proven Winners or the Plants That Work program from Novalis, the vast majority of retail space for bedding plants in the United States is a marketing wasteland! Think Sahara Desert with a few oasis spots. It did not matter in the 1980s or 1990s because we did not have enough supply to keep up with demand fueled by retailer growth. It does matter in the 2000s and it will in 25 years.

The bad news is it will get harder. The new consumers for the next 25 years are Gen Y and Millennium kids we do not understand. The same generations that want their music playlists customized to their individual tastes, and want their coffee to be a half caf, skinny soy latte, will be buying “one-size fits all” mass-produced bedding plants in plastic packs with plastic tags in Latin–or not! They may have more important things to do with their free time and we have ignored turning them into “gardeners.”

It ‘s Gotta Be Relevant

So, what are we to do? My word to you for the next 25 years, is relevant. How do we make our product offering and product messages relevant to the new consumer? If Toyota can become relevant with hybrid cars or customizable Scion cars, you think we can figure a way to make our plants connect with tomorrow’s 40-year old woman shopper–who today is that 15-year old plugged into her iPod.

The good news is we grow little oxygen-producing, carbon sequestering “machines” that can save the world! The better news is that we are all smart business owners who survived the shift from clay to plastic, from seedlings to plugs and from glass to poly, so a little marketing won’t hurt us.

I think in the next 25 years we will as an industry spend 2 to 5 percent of our total sales in marketing. Either it will be forced on us by large retailers, by shrinking sales, or gosh forbid, we get proactive and figure it out before our sales shrink any more. I think we will completely automate the “packaging” of our products so that if customers want special pots/programs/signs/plants we will be able to give them what they want versus giving them what we grow.

Embrace All Things Green

I think that we will embrace all things green. The shift is definitely to greener. Versions of sustainable or organic will be the only programs we grow in 25 years–and likely much sooner. That 15-year old with the iPod does recycle; she will demand you do as well or she will take her dollars elsewhere.

Our products must be relevant to life in 2033. They must all contribute to the good of all. If that means we are only growing native plants, then we will get good at growing natives.

Finally, how we market will be very different. We will customize messages for each consumer. Think today’s loyalty programs but on steroids.

When a shopper walks into a garden center in 2033 we will know the second she walks into our store what she has bought in the past, what her views are in terms of design and her needs in terms of locations and exposures–and our space age, biodegradable tags will instantly change to tell her why our plants belong in her home. And you thought writing tags today was hard. Still, space probably won’t be a problem. I can’t wait!

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