GG. What are some of the biggest opportunities you see for greenhouse growers in 2012? Why?
SL: I see the ‘typical’ American gardener changing—not disappearing—but changing. Younger American families seem to have less time to devote to traditional gardening activities such as creating landscape beds, planting, weeding, etc. Their busy schedules include family activities like sports and traveling but not sweating it out in the backyard together.
Younger American’s also expect fast results. For them, today’s garden will be smaller, more concentrated and instantly productive, and it needs to be easy to care for. Older families and ‘empty nesters’ may invest in something outdoors other than a traditional garden landscaping: think outdoor grills, pools, patios and extensive container-grown plants, including large, containerized trees and shrubs.
The opportunities for growers are to meet the needs of the changing customer. That would include plants that bring instant gratification, such as combination containers, large hanging baskets and vegetable plants closer to maturity. Growers need to grow crops that are more goof-proof for consumers. They also need to pay attention to regionally successful varieties—plants that perform in Minnesota may not work in Arizona or Florida.
Most amateur gardeners want to grow their plants via the Betty Crocker method—just add water. Greenhouse growers need to respond by adding products like long-term, extended-release fertilizers and water-absorbing polymers to the soil of the plants they intend to sell to help remove the guesswork out of growing.
Texas A&M economist Dr. Charlie Hall recently mentioned that disposable consumer spending has returned to pre-recession levels. That means consumers have money to spend. The question is what they will spend their disposable dollars on. I suggest that our industry had better attract some of those dollars with predictable, successful gardening experiences. We need to make the gardening experience easy and rewarding.
GG: What are your biggest concerns for the greenhouse floriculture industry in 2012? Why?
SL: For greenhouse crops, the future seems much more predictable than the nursery industry, which is dependent upon new home construction. Greenhouse crops are a disposable commodity. They can be purchased, used, disposed of and replaced again. For growers, that is a good thing. Each spring, consumers are looking to repeat the cycle over again. I don’t see that cycle changing.
Our biggest concern for the greenhouse industry should be not adapting to changing customer needs. Changes in cost of goods (fuel, labor, soils, etc) will always be with us. Good companies adapt to those changes by improving production efficiencies. But, changes in consumer behavior are subtle and can happen over an extended period of time. We should be shaping consumer expectations with innovative offerings rather than reacting (usually too late) to their needs.
That is my biggest concern—we will wake up and find that our customers are spending their disposable dollars on different interests.