When I describe the green industry to outsiders, there are two characteristics I tend to linger over: our diversity of types of businesses, and how much we work together.
After a week spent with farm marketers (produce growers who retail) touring farms in British Columbia, I now know that those descriptions are not unique to garden retail.
I’ve always thought the garden-retail industry was remarkably diverse, business wise. We have regional stores like Armstrong and Calloways that sell a wide range of products beyond plants. And we have plant-focused nurseries that sell only those things directly related to gardening.
In Canada, we visited an eclectic group of venues. Some reminded me of large garden centers, where produce was the star, but there were many other departments, from gift items to wineries.
At the other end of the spectrum were farms that severely limited how often customers can visit and were primarily working farms.
In between were agritourism stops and wineries.
Like the green industry, those on the bus swapped ideas and shared tips. The mutual support was also evident. A turkey farm market sold pies from a berry farm. A fruit farm stocked meat products from poultry farmers.
Take Local To Another Level
One of the most important things we can learn from the farm market industry is to embrace one another to promote all local businesses over other ways they can spend money.
One night, Krause Berry Farms hosted a six-course meal with wine pairings. The ingredients were provided by our hosts and their peers. Each farmer had the chance to talk about his operation while we enjoyed the bounty of their efforts.
In Northeast Ohio, where I live, there is a stretch of road that has five garden stores within 15 minutes from the most southern point to the most northern. Anyone who is in easy driving distance of this area heads that direction for gardening purchases, because you know that somewhere among the stores, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
The store owners have ambivalent feelings about their peers’ close proximity. They recognize there’s an advantage to being close together, but they tend to still see each other as competitors.
In contrast, the event I attended at Krause Berry Farms was just the beginning of a week that demonstrated how tightly knit the farm marketing community is in the Frasier Valley outside of Vancouver. Just about every store we visited stocked items from a nearby farm. They pointed out these items were locally produced and named the farm.
The British Columbia tourism board promotes Circle Tours, where families can visit agricultural attractions along a predetermined route. The farms lucky enough to be on the routes benefit from one another, and aren’t competitors.
Just imagine how that could play out in garden stores: Joint events, promoting local grower retailers on your plant benches.
We’re Better At Peer Groups
On the flip side, the green industry excels at creating formal peer groups. Most garden retailers I know belong to some group or other where they share financial information and tactics, marketing successes and failures, and many other business boosting ideas.
Some of these groups are formed around consultants like Sid Raisch, Ian Baldwin, and Steve Bailey. Others were formed by retailers themselves, like ECGC and the Pier Group. Yet others are within a buying group or an association, like the Northwest Nursery Buyers Association.
Within these groups, the organizers are careful to separate competitors’ information. Perhaps it’s time growers, retailers, and farmers stopped seeing each other as direct competitors and instead worked together to make growing plants the No. 1 hobby in the U.S. again.