Here’s an article of mine that was just published in the Ohio Florists’s Association (OFA) Bulletin. I thought you might get a kick out of reading my current thoughts on Social Media and why I think we need (as an industry) need to get to start paying more attention tothis, quick-like!
I’d like to talk about three very important things that are currently affecting our industry.
1.Social media is here to stay…
Perhaps it is a dirty word to some of you, but it is something you should start paying attention to – pronto!
Can you guess one of the biggest industries embracing social media?
Are you going to tell me people NEED pizza? They need pizza way less than they NEED plants. So, why are these companies so successful when folks have less money to spend? Not to mention the fact that I think they both have pretty bad pizza. They’re buying more pizza than ever and having fun doing it. Social media has built Dominoes and Pizza Hut quite a community.
To all the industry folks out there saying people have no money for plants – it’s not true. They have money to stand in line for a meal at the Cheesecake Factory on weekends – a long line, and the food isn’t cheap, but there’s always a line, isn’t there?
They are buying. There are fewer people buying and their buying habits have changed, but they are buying.
What do you mean there are fewer people buying? That brings us to #2.
2. Population shift…
Ever hear of the Baby Boom? Anyone born from 1947 to 1964 is part of a huge population boom. The front end of that boom is heavily loaded with people. The back end declines quite a bit. We are currently 3 years into a population decline curve that will last for the next 17 years. That’s right, I said the population will continue to decline for the next 17 years.
It’s true. There were so many more babies born during that time, more than in any other time frame in American history. And that aging segment of the population has a collective discretionary income that will not be seen again for a long time, if ever – once they stop spending money or cut back on spending.
Here’s the reason. Baby boomers didn’t produce as many kids, therefore Generation X, and the next few generations don’t have as many people, and as the boomers retire and downsize to smaller houses or condos, they have less space for plants, and you know what that means, don’t you? Their buying habits will change.
We need to figure out how to sell them plants even when they don’t have a garden. What’s more, younger folks, like Generation Y and beyond are either choosing to live in urban communities in smaller spaces or those that wanted a house in the suburbs with a yard can’t get loans as easily from the banks, so they’re choosing a smaller abode, with no yard, smack dab in the middle of the city.
Will they garden? We hope so, but in what way? If they have little or no outdoor space, what kind of garden will they have?
There’s a cultural shift in the lifestyle of people in the United States; a cultural shift in the way they get their information, the way they buy, how far they will travel to buy something, and the way they live and use plants.
This is not a fad, it’s reality and it truly is a shift in our culture like none we’ve ever seen. The way consumers shop and live might be changing forever. Even more, there will be less of them in the future. How do we convince them to continue to spend their money on our products? Industry consultants have been telling us for years that the 55-year-old woman is our best customer. What happens when she moves into a condo or a retirement community where she has little space to garden? Will she continue to buy plants? The answer is yes, but we have to reach her with a new message. We need a message that reminds her how happy plants make her, one that re-educates her about the benefits of growing plants, and finally, a message that challenges her to shift her former gardening reality to a smaller space.
What about the younger folks? Same message here. This time, it’s not re-educating – it’s educating for the first time. Younger generations understand being healthy and they want more than anything to do what’s right for the planet. Gardening isn’t just for looks. Gardening feeds you, it cleans the air, and it nourishes your soul.
This is an entirely new message, and that brings us to #3.
3. Shopping locally
People are shopping more locally. Some do it to support local communities. Some do it to save gas and wear and tear on the environment. Some do it because it saves time, but it’s a fact that more people, especially younger people, are shopping locally.
People want to shop in their community. Not only the community they live in, but their social community. Social media is all about community. Do you have a community of young folks as well as retired, downsized customers?
Do you have a dedicated community of followers who think you are the expert in everything there is to know about plants, a community that respects your business and comes to you first? OR – are you still talking to the same customers with the same old message?
I bet you don’t. I’ve looked at all the big websites and Facebook pages for lots of the nurseries and garden centers. I subscribe to every e-letter I can find. I delete most of them now because they’re boring. And most of the Facebook pages are so lack-luster and without personality that they have no following. Has everyone in the nursery industry lost their will to be creative and innovative? Why is it taboo to show some personality? There are a few examples of companies with personality, but why aren’t there more?
If you want to be in business five years from now, you MUST embrace the online/social world or you will be on the ever-growing lists of bankruptcies and closings.
Furthermore, if you ignore the population shift and don’t immediately start marketing your business to the next generation of buyers and in a different way than to your current buyers who may have less space to garden, you’re just as likely to fail.
This is the biggest cultural shift since the industrial revolution. Did you know?
Here’s the kicker. This is what most people don’t know….
Isn’t that the “golden” group of customers everyone talks about? Isn’t this the group with money to spend? Aren’t these the ones who already shop in garden centers? Isn’t this the group they tell you to keep and concentrate on? Isn’t this the group that isn’t hip enough to be a part of social media?
Facts are facts.
They may be on Facebook because they want to see what their kids or grandkids are doing. They may be connecting with old colleagues and classmates and childhood friends, but the bottom line is…they’re there in force, and they are looking for interaction. They are looking to be engaged, to share ideas, and to learn something new and exciting.
If they’ve downsized, they are looking to you for ideas on how to garden on their small balcony or just enhance their windowsill. This is a whole new scenario. They need help and they are craving suggestions.
These are currently your best customers, right? So why aren’t you engaging them there?
What about the next generation?
Did you know 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations and only 14 percent trust advertising? What are peers saying about your store? What are they saying about your brand?
This is all happening right now and it will grow exponentially in the future. Potential customers will no longer need to search for products and services. Products and services will find the customers and tell them what they NEED. Don’t you want your store to be the one to teach them something new and earn their business?
Why is the garden center and nursery industry still waiting to hear what the customers want? Why not follow the food and fashion industry? Here’s an idea…make them think they need our products. Make it so they can’t live without them. Make it a convenient, fun, easy, exciting and rewarding shopping experience.
Show people without gardens how to garden. Show them the benefits of a flowering potted plant and teach them it’s OK if it dies. It served its purpose, right? In European villages, community members shop their local village garden shop. They buy a potted flowering plant or a bouquet of fresh cut flowers each time they go – and they shop weekly. Why is American culture so different? I know people have an ingrained need to nurture something, but some crops were meant to nurture us. Once they’ve done their part, let them go. They made you happy for a few weeks, right? It’s OK…really.
Sell cut flowers? Market them as an emotional pick-me-up, a boost for well-being. Stop marketing cut flowers to men. Most men give a bouquet of cuts for special occasions only. Sure, some expect something in return, wink-wink, but that’s not real life anymore. Market them to women. Everyone should have a fresh cut bouquet once a week. It’s healthy and it truly does improve quality of life.
I heard a great quote from Pete Johnson, of Pete’s Greens, an organic Vermont vegetable supplier to most of the northeast. He said, “People are not going to change their lifestyles. We need to figure out how to take our products to them.” In other words, people who want to eat healthy and support local farmers don’t have time to go to visit farm after farm picking up meat, dairy, eggs, and produce. If we want them to support us we need to make it easier. We need to get the products to them. They are busy. If local village shops did cooperative buying from local farmers, consumers could easily enjoy healthy, farm fresh products. That’s how grocery stores got started, right? What happened?
Should we apply some of this to garden centers? Is the destination garden center a thing of the past? How will it survive if the customer of the future wants to shop locally? There’s no time on the weekends to drive 45 minutes to the nearest mega garden center, so people wind up shopping at a big box, or an IGC with multiple, smaller locations in many towns because it’s near the grocery store or other shopping.
I think the solution is smaller centers with fresh crops each week and something different to look at. We strive to have everything in one place and to be everything to everyone. That’s how we overwhelm non-gardeners and even experts. What if we position them in a shopping center close to community shopping? Give them fresh stuff to sell each week and make it seasonal? There’s nothing stopping one big, destination garden center from having five smaller shops located in the communities and centers where people do their other weekly shopping that are stocked with fresh material each week. I bet if you have 5 products and loads of each thing, you’ll sell more. It works for Costco.
In Europe, it’s hard to tell the difference between florists and garden centers. They are combined into one. Each village shop sells ornamental plants, houseplants, flowering potted “gift” plants and fresh cut flowers. What’s stopping us?
The geeky gardeners will always want specialty items, so have a specialty section for the plant geeks, but focus the rest of the store on fresh, quality, seasonal products, and education.
I want to help this industry and I know some of these ideas are way outside of everyone’s box, but pushing the limit and dreaming of better ways is what I do. I love the people and the products and I truly believe we are selling an item that makes people happy and healthy. We just need to convince the customers…
The world has changed. It’s our turn to change.
Here’s a fun little video I use in my lectures to get the point across about the power of social media.
Thanks for reading and happy weeding!
PS. If you’d like to read more articles by angela – sign up for The Weeding Gnome, her e-newsletter here.