Our industry has been blessed, particularly by the nation’s demographics. In fact, the “birth” of the modern green industry coincides with the first years of the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers (birth years roughly 1946 to 1964) were the largest generation in America’s history. The disruption (favorable and unfavorable) caused by this population bulge has been likened to a “pig moving through the demographic python.”
For our industry, Baby Boomers have led to suburbia, Disneyland, office parks, town house associations, golf courses, second homes and, finally, McMansions. Without all these developments, our industry would not be what it has become.
However, this demographic blessing is temporal, not eternal. It’s ending dramatically–not only for our industry, but for the entire nation. The Generation X population cohort (born 1964 -1983) has 9 million fewer people in it. The rate of household formation in the Gen X generation is dramatically less, meaning fewer homes, fewer customers and less commercial construction. It also means fewer employees and career seekers for our businesses.
It’s a new ballgame that will last for at least 10 years, until Gen Y (born 1984-present) reaches the age of prime buying years for our products and services. Gen Y is actually bigger than the Baby Boomers. That’s good news for those of us that can hang in there that long.
Coping With Change
As an industry, this new ballgame has some significant new rules:
1 We’re on our own as never before. Our industry has enjoyed a “near-free” ride in two crucial elements of business: R&D and marketing. Agriculture has enjoyed reduced pricing for research and development. Our sugar daddy has been the Extension service and he’s losing stamina. As for marketing, our industry has benefited from a growing market (pun intended) driven not by our own investment and ingenuity, but by the Baby Boomers growing up. Our industry’s price points haven’t included these customary expenses.
2 A new member on the opposing team: Ignorance. Most younger consumers do not understand how to garden satisfyingly. Furthermore, the managed landscape is undervalued, both economically and environmentally. The managed landscape is taken for granted. Water restrictions. Noise abatement. Labor availability. Waste disposal. All these community considerations increasingly work against us, if the value of the managed landscape is not understood.
3 The industry is under-protected. Government is looking for ways to staunch hemorrhaging budgets. Only the industries that actively engage in “the business of business” will emerge unmolested. Our industry’s businesses collectively are too uninformed and unengaged in influencing local, state and federal government decisions. The cost of protecting industry interests through the work of our associations is borne by way too few businesses, some of which are going under. Burden sharing in the cost of prevention beats the crippling costs of cure every time.
In short, the challenge for our industry has gone from figuring out how to harvest a bumper crop (which we didn’t have to plant ourselves) to figuring out how to continue eating while we plant the field– through collective investment–for an even greater crop a decade from now. Join us in the effort.