Kelly Norris Talks Gen X And Y And Future Of Gardening At Cultivate’14

Kelly Norris Talks Gen X And Y And Future Of Gardening At Cultivate’14

In a talk at Cultivate’14, Gardening With a Y – Getting To Know Your Customers, Kelly Norris of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden touched on the issues surrounding Generation X and Y gardeners, and what the future holds for horticulture.

According to Norris, consumer confidence is up, but sales in the industry are still flat. To solve that, we have to find a dynamic structure that’s sustainable for generations, and one way to do that is to convince consumers of the importance of gardening, Norris said.


There is a need to create a culture that is “inherent to horiticulture,” Norris said. The structure of the way business is done has to change. All the numbers show that sales are declining, and it has nothing to do with the recession, he said.

Sell The Experience

There needs to be an emphasis on selling the experience of gardening, rather than just selling stuff.

“We have to find a dynamic structure that’s sustainable for generations. We don’t convince people of our relevance. We instead just sell stuff,” Norris said. “It’s not about stuff. Stuff is easy to come by. We’re selling an experience.”

It’s the experience of gardening that makes it addicting. We live in a world today where we can have an experience in a matter of seconds, Norris said.

Five years ago, the idea of using Twitter and Facebook  for business was a little arresting. However, with the pervasiveness of social media, there is a greater acceptance of a changing landscape. Our industry is still struggling to find the best tactic to find a home in that landscape.

Reach The Millenials Who Already Love Gardening

There are 55 to 60 million baby boomers, and while Generation X is a smaller generation, Generation Y has 10 million more people than the boomers.

“If nothing changes (in the industry), there will still be 10 million more Gen Ys in the marketplace in the next five years,” Norris said.

There are two types of millenials; those who are clueless about gardening and those who are already gardeners. Norris said the vast majority of Gen X and Y has no interest in gardening, yet this seems to be the industry’s area of focus.

Norris argued that that may not be the best strategy.

‘If somebody doesn’t have an affinity for gardening, why are we directing efforts at them?,” Norris said. “We’ve already got 30 percent of the public that gets this. That’s who we should be focusing on.”

Make Plants A Necessity

Thinking about plants as a luxury may not be the best strategy either.

“Plants are not a luxury. When we admit they are, your business moves out the door,” Norris said. Plants are a necessity.”

Norris stressed that plants need to be thought of as necessary and there needs to be innovation that fosters an experience. As an example, Norris pointed toward companies like Williams-Sonoma, “a division of retail that satisfies foodies.”

An important aspect to remember is that younger generations have less brand loyalty than their parents and grandparents.

“In a marketplace that’s not governed by brand loyalty, the game has changed,” Norris said.

The challenge now is to figure out how to channel through 50 years of knowledge and experience that has set the status quo for the industry. It’s a daunting task, but, Norris said “unless your customers or future customers see themselves reflected in your business, they aren’t going to choose you.”

Here are some more recommendations from Norris on changes that need to occur to successfully appeal to the up-and-coming generations:

  • There needs to be more eCommerce within the industry.
  • Sell passion: inspire your audience to want what they do not yet know they need.
  • Be visible: Information, education and advice on gardening is out there. If they’re not getting it from you, they’re getting it from somewhere else.
  • Be stylish: “We already have all the ingredients to do that,” Norris said.