Help Nature-Loving, Gardening-Skeptic Consumers Fall In Love With Plants

Help Nature-Loving, Gardening-Skeptic Consumers Fall In Love With Plants

garden bench next to a pond and pathThe consumer research Dr. Bridget Behe and Greenhouse Grower‘s Carol Miller have conducted the past three years shows that potential consumers really like plants. It’s as if they’re saying, “I love nature. But gardening? Not so much.”

What drives that disconnect between a love for nature and lack of desire for creating their own piece of nature at home?


First, we’re at a point where the last generation who gardened regularly are millennials’ great grandparents.

That’s a big knowledge gap. And it’s hard to keep the interest of anyone who doesn’t understand the basics of a hobby, or who hasn’t experienced the satisfaction of their patience and work resulting in success.

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.

This younger group we studied also tends to go into the yard only for chores like mowing and snow removal, giving them a distaste for “yard work.” And although there is a love for the outdoors, the outdoors, in their mind, is a hiking path, or the beach, or even their kid’s soccer match, not their own patch of Earth.

So What Can You Do About It?

1. Look at your store through your customers’ eyes. Are they overwhelmed with too much choice? Frankly, you won’t be able to answer this question easily. You worked with your staff over several years to make your store as shoppable as possible, and that’s what you’re going to see when you look around.

But try to look at it from a true novice’s point of view. They want to decorate more than cultivate. They come in, thinking this will be a similar experience to shopping at Anthropologie or even Target, depending on your target demographic. They expect to walk through, weighing the appeal of each display, gaining ideas from self-explanatory inspirations.

Instead, they come in and see a horizontal sea of green, divided up by annuals, perennials, tropical, edibles, shrubs, and trees.

Anthropologie doesn’t put all the pants together in one department, and all the jackets in another. Instead, matching outfits are grouped together. Departments are more along the lines of color, season, or even the level of formality involved.

Likewise, if you walk through Target’s furniture department, they have several collections, with all types of furniture pieces that work together displayed, then grouping of accessory items like lamps and even chairs.

The garden retail industry needs a pretty radical rethink of how it’s displaying its plants if we want to convert nature-loving gardening skeptics to loyal customers.

2. Train your staff to find out what projects customers are working on. When someone steps into your store, they’re most likely there with a purpose. Ask them about what they’re wanting to do, listen carefully, and help them achieve it.

This one sounds simple, and at its heart, it is. Listen, and ask just enough questions to get a clear picture of what they want to do and how well equipped they are of reaching their goal.

The tricky parts are timing and putting the customer at ease. And both of those come with training and practice. You want to give customers a chance to get into shopping mode — in other words, don’t start questioning them as soon as they come in.

And your staff will need to have questions fed to them until they can personalize their approach to something that feels natural.

Some of the questions they can ask are:

“What kind of project are your working on? Really? That sounds gorgeous/fun/creative/really cool!”

“Tell me about what you’re working on this weekend.”

Then they feed them follow-up questions — how big is it?, where is it?, do you want it stretch the entire length of the patio?, how sunny is it there?, and so on.

Figure out what they already have on hand, and how much they can spend that day. Then the staff can help them figure out what all they need to be successful, and if it’s ambitious, how they can plan it out over a few weekends so the money stretches further and the project is achieved.

3. Display key projects that include what they need to achieve their goals. One of the side effects of your staff diving deeply into your customers’ goals is that they will begin to spot patterns.

During your staff meetings, work up a rotating list of projects, adding new ones as someone brings the idea in.

Then create at least 10 projects that address those home projects and put them on display. Stock everything needed to achieve those goals, along with instructions they can take with them. Make sure step-by-step instruction (with illustrating photos) are posted on your social media platforms and your website.

You’ll want to switch them out weekly during the peak season, and twice monthly the rest of the year.