The Missing Gardener: How To Rebuild Our Customer Base

The Missing Gardener: How To Rebuild Our Customer Base

thesebootsYou want to attract those elusive new customers. You want growing plants to become more entrenched in modern lifestyles.

That seems like too large a goal to achieve, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what the 10% Project set out to do three years ago in 2013 and has been working on ever since.


The main lesson? Michigan State University’s Dr. Bridget Behe and I have learned that if you break down what potential customers think about plants, their fears and their hopes, then you can make a difference. You can help them reach their own goals, offer solutions to their challenges, and calm their fears.

So we invite you to see the challenges we’ve identified over the past few years, the ones you face in winning new customers to the passion and lifestyle of growing plants.

Here’s the first of those challenges. Watch in the coming weeks for others.

garden_hipsterConsumer Challenge: I’ve Got A Black Thumb, And Always Will

Think of it this way: No one expects to bake a pie without instructions, even if they are given eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla, and so on. But if you offer them fertilizer, clippers, pest control, and a watering can along with a shrub, they think they should instinctively know how to plant and care for it.

That’s a deep-seated attitude that affects not only how much consumers are willing to spend on a plant, but also how much time they’re willing to invest in what they think is a losing venture.

The good news is consumers like plants, they want to know how plants work, and they like to geek out on any interest they take up.

Got a pollinator plant? Explain why it’s a pollinator, which pollinators it helps, and how it’s helping.

Not surprisingly, our research shows consumers hit the Internet before buying. That means they’re coming in with ideas, some good and some not right for your climate.

Also, people turn to videos to learn how to do just about anything. Want to make concrete tiles for your patio? There’s dozens of YouTube videos telling you how. Want to winterize your irrigation system? Ditto.

That’s pretty profound. Consumers think they can do anything if they watch the video first.

What You Can Do

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.

Run How-To Videos In Your Store’s Info Booth. Consider running a loop of good quality how-to videos related to whatever you’re promoting at the time, whether it’s a plant like a hydrangea, or a gardening method like square-foot gardening. Chances are, someone already taped one and has it posted on YouTube.

Hold Brief 5-Minute Demos During Peak Hours. Take a page from grocery stores and invite a growing-division employee to host stand-up demonstrations in your plant yard. All it takes is a headset or lapel microphone with a portable speaker, a small surface to do the demonstrations on, and enough inventory on hand to meet the demand. It will increase sales and give customers confidence to try something new.

Build Displays That Explain How Stuff Works. This idea is an updated version of the mannequin display. You’d still have a finished sample of the project you’re promoting, like a succulent garden or a hanging air-plant screen. And you’d still stock plenty of all the things needed to complete the project. All you add are how-to sheets they can take with them and signs that explain the project. The old mannequin display assumed some basic gardening skill. This new version eliminates that.

Share Product Reviews With Customers. Your buyers picked the products you sell for a reason. Highlight one or two products at a time, and have your buyers explain what kind of choices they had and why they picked the product(s) they did. Your customers will learn a lot about plants and take pride in what they buy.