Customers Expect A Lot From Plants — And From You

Customers Expect A Lot From Plants — And From You

herbsTrying to attract more customers? One of the challenges you’ll need to meet is the attitude of, “What have plants done for me lately?”

Over the past three years, Dr. Bridget Behe of Michigan State University and I have been conducting research into what keeps those under 50 from embracing gardening and what the industry can do about it. This is one of the attitudes we came across time and again.


It’s a natural outcome of the challenge discussed in Part 1 of The Missing Gardener: How To Rebuild Our Customer Base series. In that article, we looked at how potential customers’ sense of having no control over if a plant survives or not undermines their willingness to spend money on what is, in their minds, a gamble.

So if a plant is at high risk of dying within a few months, customers want to know what they’ll get out of it that will justify risking their money.

Customers want plants to do more than grow. Part of food gardening’s popularity stems from the perceived payback of growing food. Succulents can be tucked into affordable containers, giving them a wide range of uses, from a desk paperweight to place settings at a dinner party to wreaths.

But if consumers do not perceive a use for the plant, then sales will lag. Front yards will have decorative plants, but backyards will be sparsely planted, and there will be fewer indoor plants, even as outdoor gardening space shrinks.

What You Can Do About It

The Missing Gardener series explores ways plant retailers can rebuild the gardening consumer base.

The Missing Gardener series explores ways plant retailers can rebuild the gardening consumer base.

Give your plants a purpose. Do more than say a plant is pollinator friendly. Explain how it’s friendly. Does it feed migrating Monarchs? Is it a food source for native bees?

Target kids. Just about every person in our focus groups thinks children should learn how to garden. They like the idea of kids unplugging from phones and games. They want kids to understand how food is grown, and they like that growing plants will teach them patience and delayed gratification.

Make indoor gardening easier. Kitchen herbs are inherently useful, and can be consumed entirely — the ultimate in giving customers their money’s worth. When plants move inside, even when they’re on a kitchen counter or on a plant shelf in front of a window, they need to be stylish. You can help them in achieving that goal by pre-selecting a matching set of 6-inch pots and a choice of herbs to plant in them. Find three or so different styles, from rustic pottery to vivid colors to Mason jars. Don’t forget to throw in a complementary tray they can all sit in to keep the kitchen tidy. Research attractive pot-holding shelves that customers can install in front of windows. Design shows have been full of them lately, with an emphasis on industrial metal holders and shelves.

Add plants’ usefulness to your marketing messages. There’s a lot of research showing that plants help concentration, indoor breathing conditions, and of course, support wildlife and pollinators. Do a little research on the messages you want to convey, and begin adding signs in your store and articles in your newsletters. Don’t forget to ask your suppliers — many breeders and brands have done the research themselves and have materials they’ll be happy to share with you to help you succeed.