Whilst the rest of the industry seems obsessed with encouraging young people into the professional side of horticulture, we are forgetting that the retail side needs fresh blood too. The money through the tills in hort retail drives future investment, development, breeding programmes, research and so much more.
So we need to keep the flow of goods through the tributaries of our retail delta healthy and insure that the risk of drought is minimised. To achieve this we must encourage a wider audience and in my view the thirty to fifty year olds are just as important as the twenty to thirty age range.
Amongst the thirty to fifties I feel there are two groups. The “Garden enthusiasts” and the “Garden Users”. These groups are defined as follows:
“Gardener enthusiasts” have a keen interest in gardening and indeed the plants and methods that they use within the maintenance of their plot of land. They will have an amount of expendable income that they are willing to use, many may even budget an amount that they are able to spend on a monthly basis. In the main they don’t care how much they spend as they see their garden as a hobby or even an extension of their home that needs maintenance all year round.
“Garden users” actually account for a very high amount of a plant retailers yearly income. The problem is that this group of folks ‘pack’ their spending into a very small zone. Why? Because they don’t really have much of an interest in gardening or plants. They have a clear idea of what they want to achieve & how much they want to spend. Quite often they want maximum impact for minimum outlay. Nothing wrong with that, everyone loves a bargain and spare money is tight for many in this group. The small zone of opportunity for businesses to cash in on the ‘users’ is May till late July, maybe mid August. This is the main time when this group are concerned with the look and usability of their garden.
So how does our industry turn more garden users into garden enthusiasts? I suppose one of the more obvious answers would be to do what the DIY stores have done. They spend money on trendy advertising, innovative products and engaging television programs! I think that would probably work but unfortunately our industry simply doesn’t have the money to put into that kind of exposure. The only adverts that we see on the TV are limited runs of two year old lawn care products at the start of the summer or maybe the odd weed killer. Even when some of the ‘Big Sheds’ wander onto local TV stations or regional radio they are usually spouting about ‘2 for 1’ on fence paint or 20% off of garden furniture. Rarely are plants mentioned unless it is a Christmas tree or an Easter arrangement.
So how do we engage the ‘garden users’? We need to get them interested in gardening properly, and to do this to get them excited about plants. We need to get them to understand that plants are fabulous. That they can dress and set the tone of their outside spaces. That they can provide interest all year round. But more essentially, looking after plants properly is part of the fun.
Plants need to be at the forefront of garden centres advertising and cease being a forgotten area pushed towards the back of the property, somewhere behind the sheds & hot tubs. People need to know that all the advice and direction that they need is easy to find, this means that as retailers of plants, we all have a duty to provide staff that are able to help customers efficiently & effectively.
Maybe organisations like the HTA should be pushing government for grants to give out to small independent nurseries so that they can run local advertising campaigns promoting themselves and their plants in local media & online. Giving them a hand to hold so that they can stand proudly next to the ‘big boys’. There are many ‘artisan’ plant producers all around this great country of ours. There are probably some located right on your doorsteps that you never knew existed. These cool little places need a bigger voice in the marketplace so that the ‘garden users’ who currently think that the DIY store or big garden centres are the best places to shop, can be re-educated. Small businesses need to be on social media. The only initial expense in most cases is time. It would be fantastic if there was an organisation that was able to help smaller businesses to become more social savvy.
I will end this article on more of a high note. I don’t think that retail horticulture is in too terrible a state but we should be aware of our existing customer bases as well as worrying about the future. The internet has become a massive help to businesses, enthusiasts & amateurs. Social media has made information easier to share which has been beneficial to many niche specialist past times & occupations. People can communicate with each other, share experiences, share ideas, ask advice, shop and research all within a few clicks. Apps like “Garden Tags” are an excellent addition to this arsenal of information helping to specialise the stream so that gardening & plant lovers don’t have to wade through the dross to get to what they want to see.
Social media and horticulture’s partnership continues to grow in strength and I think that there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration in the physical & cyber worlds.
Let’s all just keep talking.
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