GROW Perspective: We Need More People To Buy Plants

GROW Perspective: We Need More People To Buy Plants

Many people in the green industry are exasperated about the amount of industry attention given to Gen X and Gen Y. All the attention suggests that younger generations are exotic and unknowable. And if you have kids that age, or you are that age yourself, you’ll realize how silly that can be.

But behind all this attention is a real problem for the industry: younger generations aren’t as into gardening as previous generations were at this phase of life. When Gen X came of age, several people brushed off the lower buying power. Gen X is a smaller generation, after all. And once they purchased a home, then they’d start buying.


Then Gen Y came along and they are buying even fewer plants than Gen X. And while home ownership has an impact on how many plants someone buys, it’s not as much as we’d hoped.

That means, as an industry, we need to give a lot of thought and effort to how we can change that trend. That goal is so ambitious, it’s almost ludicrous.

For the past two years, Greenhouse Grower’s sister publication, Today’s Garden Center, has been working on that exact goal. Today’s Garden Center’s 10% Project has broken the ambitious goal into three main parts. First, we recruited experts at Michigan State University and Emory University to research consumers. We then hired a marketing consultant to use the findings to create marketing campaigns for garden centers. And perhaps the most important step was having several garden centers agree to try out the campaigns and to allow us to monitor the success or failure of these campaigns. We owe thanks to AmericanHort, which sponsored the research and secured a grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to help pay for it.
Here are some of the highlights of what we learned.

Consumers Think Luck, Not Knowledge Or Expertise, Determines If Plants Live Or Die

Perhaps the most critical finding from our research stems from spontaneous comments made over the three-day focus groups we conducted. The words “luck” and “risk” cropped up many times. Because consumers feel they have so little control over the ultimate outcome of their landscaping efforts, the amount of time and money invested was seen as a risk to be weighed. That lack of confidence makes prices more important and tarnishes the appeal of plants.

Consumers Like Gardening, But Often Don’t Personally Identify With It

We asked several questions about what the terms “gardening” and “gardener” mean for those under 50. Overall, they saw gardening as a positive. They equate it with a love for nature and stress relief. However, gardening was also seen as time-consuming, dirty and hard work.

Gardening And Family Ties Are Linked

One of the more positive findings was that gardens stir strong family memories. Many of the study participants reported memories of working with parents and/or grandparents. Older participants reminisced about this time with specific activities or plant memories that created powerful associations, family ties and strong bonds.

For moms, gardening offers family time with their children. Moms want to garden with their children, but there seemed to be some distinctive age limits. Under age five, it was not as easy to keep children engaged, due to their short attention span and some physical limitations. However, over age 13 they are distracted by friends and screens and other activities. Moms mentioned family time and teachable moments most often. Having fun was another reason to invite kids (playing in dirt, picking out plants).

Change Is Imminent

If we can help consumers feel confident their plants will not only thrive but also perform as expected, gardeners will focus more on the outcome and less on the effort given.

How and why consumers buy plants is changing. But we do not need to be helpless in the face of such deep changes. As an industry, we need to understand that we, too, need to change or we’ll end up being irrelevant.

The research the 10% Project: Expanding The Customer Base conducted is available to anyone who wants to review it (contact Carol Miller, [email protected]) The 10% Project’s marketing team took the consumer research results and crafted campaigns with local garden centers in mind. I urge you to look at these findings and find ways you can use the same research to create new plant combos, packaging and educational materials.

Just imagine what we as an industry can do if we all work together.