Dr. Allan Armitage Issues A Challenge To The Industry

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allanandstudent2013Looking forward, marketing itself effectively will continue to be the biggest challenge the floriculture industry faces, according to Dr. Allan Armitage, professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia, where he taught for more than 30 years.

“We have to be more creative and market ourselves,” he says. “Until we get a national marketing program that everyone throws money into, we will not go anywhere. We need to promote the message that using our products is healthy and makes people feel better. We have to focus on the young people. We need to have a message for them – that they need plants, they need us – and it has to reach them on TV and social media.”

The garden of tomorrow is all about lifestyle and ease, and it doesn’t go much further than the deck. That means growers need to produce more lifestyle plants and “paint-by-number” combinations that customers can use to decorate their homes, Armitage says.

“Young people don’t want to put up with all of this,” he says. “They want to buy something and walk out of the store. There’s no time to do it themselves now, when they have to take their kids to soccer practices and baseball games. Families are much busier than they were 20 years ago and now, there truly is no time. If they want to make the house look nice, they hire a decorator. There are always going to be people who love to garden, but they’re in the minority now.”

To accomplish this and bring the industry forward to meet the challenges of selling to a younger demographic, Armitage says what we need are influential leaders to bring all of the different sectors together, and change the face and the perception of the floriculture industry. Who are the influential leaders who will bring us all together and lead the floriculture industry into the future to capture the attention of the next generation of consumers? Armitage says he wants to see big growers step up and be the change.

“Who is the pied piper out there? I think the leaders of today are the big growers,” he says. “As an industry, we have to do something together to tell people our message. The biggest issue now is who is going to do it? When I think of the leaders of yesterday, those who have brought this industry to where it is today, I think of people like Paul Ecke Jr., Glenn Goldsmith and Will Carlson. They took people by the shirttails and dragged them into modern horticulture. We can sit around and talk about them and some of these guys are still around. But the fact is, there are not a lot of vocal leaders in our industry anymore.”

Armitage has been an influential leader of the industry for many years. View the slideshow below to find out what some of the people he has impacted most had to say about him.

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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One comment on “Dr. Allan Armitage Issues A Challenge To The Industry

  1. Steve

    While I agree that new leaders need to step it up to promote our industry, I have to say that on this issue I disagree with you with every fiber in my being Alan. The very LAST thing our industry needs at this point is for big growers to step up to become the “pied piper’s” of our industry! To raise the white flag and allow this to happen is to hand the majority of our industry over “gift wrapped” to the “Big Box Stores” After all these growers all work for the Big Box Stores! One only has to look at the Big Box Store’s meddling in our industry with Poinsettia’s- A crop made famous by one of our industry’s prior leaders- Paul Ecke. This crop has now imploded basically and most of the blame should be laided at the doorstep of the Big Box Stores. I guess Spring Annuals will be their next victim. To hand mantle of leadership of our industry over to these “big growers” is like handing the keys to the hen house to the Fox! Nothing good has come of the Big Box Store Entry into our market. I am a member of an IGC Group on Facebook. And one of the members there today said she “Got an email from a customer just full of pictures of trees with the leaves turning brown and gold, wondering what the heck is wrong with them?” When customers get use to returning their “dead Hosta’s, tropical hibiscus, geraniums etc… in the Fall and the Box Stores gives them their money back WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? Do you really want the chains in the position of educating and training the next generation of gardeners? The Big Box Stores thru their “big growers” this very Summer at the OFA Town meeting were the first to admit that they did not do a good job of educating the gardening consumer. This is absolutely the wrong direction for our industry to go. And it has already negatively impacted our industry because now at the breeder level- breeders are focused in with laser precision on developing compact little plants that will ship well on shipping carts and hold well in the big box stores. The IGC’s are not who gets first dibbs on the new genetics. And when they do, it is only for a year or two just long enough to educate the consumer and create the demand for the product. Once the demand for the product is there then the big box store adds the product and they come in and drop the price and devalue the product and try steal those customers away from the IGC. The Big Box Stores are the bane of our industry. In my opinion any grower caught supplying them should be black balled by the ENTIRE industry! Fortunately the era of the Big Box Store is coming to the end of it’s golden age. Already new competitors like Amazon are beginning to give the likes of Walmart a real run for their money. The younger generation is much more energy and environmentally conscientious and this is why the buy local and organic food has become such a hot button. No matter what color dress you put on that pig (the big box store) it is still a pig! And the buy local movement is indicative of the changing tastes of today’s retail customer. I see a real shift in the buying public’s tastes toward value purchases. For example it does you no good to go buy that pair of blue jeans from your favorite Big Box Store if the zipper in the fly only lasts 2 weeks because of shoddy workmanship and quality and are not returnable because you threw the tags and the receipts away As incomes get tighter and there is less disposable income to go around consumers are beginning to look not just at price but at value of the merchandise they are buying. We Humans always seem to take things to the extremes at one end or the other. And I think we are at one of those pivotal moments now when it is not just about price it is about lasting value for the items you purchase. And I think it is about time for this to happen. I am surprised that Flats of flowers have not made a real come back. They certainly are the best value for the consumer. Focusing on delivering a message to buying public that flats of flowers delivers the best value for their purchasing dollar should be the goal of every Retailer selling flowers. Our industry will continue to shrink as long as the consumer sees our product as a convenience item. Go the the garden center once a year for two combo pots already made up to stick on the front porch check gardening done for the year! This is not paying the bills folks we need to get these new gardeners use to getting their hands dirty and making the case that it is worth the added investment in their time to plant an maintain those flowers. Realize that today’s gardeners are facing new challenges too. In case you haven’t noticed our growing seasons are more weather extreme that I have ever seen them in my lifetime. That means that in order for that gardener to be successful (especially with our busy lifestyles today) no garden is complete with out a plan for how it is going to be watered and maintained. Selling a cheap one zone drip irrigation system to maintain that flower bed is just as important as the mulch added to the bed. Customers are buying fewer hanging baskets because they are to hard to take care of in today’s busy life style. There are solutions like weekender hanging baskets (with build in water reservoirs that will water the basket for 3 days at a time. These add to the cost but how do you put a price on success (or failure) Failure by the consumer only leads to reduced purchases in the gardening category folks. And that affects us ALL!