Containers take center stage

Features - Industry Trends

Catch up on the latest innovations and trends in planter design.

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March 15, 2016
Jolene Hansen
EcoForms pots are biodegradable and compostable.
COURTESY OF ECOFORMS

Every opportunity for fresh ideas and new energy in your independent garden center is a chance for new business and increased sales. Don’t let your containers and planters be an afterthought this season. Industry innovations are revitalizing the category and fueling consumer desire. Tune in to new products and merchandising ideas to pique excitement, build traffic and maximize your IGC’s returns.

New demographics and habits in container customers

The popularity of container gardening and urban edibles have boosted planter sales, but more change is underfoot. Ryan Mast, president of Michigan-based Bloem, LLC, points to an ongoing shift in customer demographics. “The target demographic of the gardening industry has been 55-plus female,” Mast says. “Now innovation is driving the younger consumer. The demographic at IGCs is shifting to what I call the yoga mom — the 30-year-old Millennial.”

EcoForms container designs cater to the growing trend of small succulents.
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BloemBagz fabric-lined planters appeal to urban and small-space gardeners.
COURTESY OF BLOEM

Andrea Loveday-Brown, co-owner of California-based EcoForms, also recognizes change, especially with sustainability and final use. “We see a slow, but real shift, with customers focusing on the renewable and looking for it,” Loveday-Brown says. “Young, urban Millennials are drawn in by design aspects and appreciate the aesthetics, as well as the price point. We see them repurposing our pots, using them for centerpieces, weddings, even lamps.”

At The Bruce Company in Middleton, Wisc., No. 38 on Garden Center magazine’s 2015 Top 100 list, purchasing manager Laurie Sund notes a definite shift in buying habits. “More people are buying houseplants and pots at the same time, rather than separately,” Sund says. Young Millennials looking for a total package have picked up on cache pots and how to use them, increasing decorative pot sales at the IGC.

Key components to an evolving container experience

Today’s consumer wants container products that underscore their personality, individuality and lifestyle. These features are leading areas of innovation and demand:

1. Color – Subdued, limited color selections are a thing of the past. New planter palettes draw attention and drive sales. Mast explains that initial innovation leads with color because of the relative ease for companies — and consumers — to adapt color quickly and change it regularly. Bloem’s aggressive color portfolio reflects that flexibility.

At Dees’ Nursery & Florist in Oceanside, N.Y., co-owner Joe DiDominica is on board with vibrant new color selections. “Now we’re offering unique colors that are really bright, very attractive, that catch peoples’ eyes. Color is definitely the primary draw,” DiDominica says.

Rich, saturated color features prominently at EcoForms, but the focus is earthy colors that complement the company’s sustainability focus. Loveday-Brown explains, “The color palette is very important.” At The Bruce Company, Sund notes a swing away from bright colors toward deep, yet neutral, colors and natural finishes.

The Bruce Company

2. Shapes – Creative styling is set to follow color’s lead. Mast believes shape will drive the next wave of change. Five years ago, Mast says the goal was to try to make plastic containers look like “the real thing” — traditional stone or terracotta planters. “Now, instead of pretending plastic is something it’s not, we can make it its own,” Mast says. Changing technologies expand the possibilities for new shapes that couldn’t be made before.

Sund sees a growing interest in elegant, modern shapes and finishes, and the small, perfect-for-succulents styling available in the EcoForms line. Loveday-Brown credits the company’s style evolution to interest in small-space and indoor gardening. “It’s been a really natural growth for us to pair neutral and earthy colors with chic, mid-century shapes,” she explains.

DiDominica notes that new shapes at reasonable price points are bringing the category new energy. “The customers notice,” he says. “It’s our job to show them new stuff all the time. We need to keep putting out new designs, new shapes, as well as color. We have to have new, fresh ideas in the building.”

Shape, not bright, bold colors, will be the new differentiation in planters, says Ryan Mast of Bloem.
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3. Materials – Manufacturers are creating entirely new materials and using old materials in new ways. Loveday-Brown explains that the company’s container line — made from rice hulls — grew from a desire for alternatives to plastic nursery pots in their organic nursery. “Nursery pots previously focused on plastic, either recycled or virgin, both non-renewable sources,” Loveday-Brown says. “It’s subtle, but our pots don’t look like plastic. It’s almost implied they’re made of an interesting material.”

Fabrics expand possibilities even more, Mast says. “With plastic, we can change shape and color. With fabric, there’s no mold. We can do whatever we like,” Mast explains. Bloem’s fabric BloemBagz planters cater to a younger demographic and urban gardening clientele, who can collapse the machine-washable, foldable container for off-season storage. Paired with new colors, DiDominica sees the product as a winner. “I’ve had a similar product in the past in an earthy brown. With designer colors, this is totally different,” he says.

These new materials also tend to be lightweight, a benefit for Millennials with small spaces or aging gardeners who may not be able to lift heavy containers.

4. Eco-friendliness – Sustainability-conscious Millennials and eco-informed consumers are expecting Earth friendly, sustainable solutions. But they may need your help to recognize the options with informative signage and employee training. From recycled materials, such as BloemBagz fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles, to fully recyclable, UV-resistant plastic planters engineered for longevity, eco-friendliness can be a powerful marketing tool. “It’s important to a certain portion of our customers. We all want to be good stewards. We’re the green industry. We have to lead in that,” DiDominica says.

Products made from renewable, compostable sources, such as EcoForms rice-fiber containers, take sustainability a step further. “We have very environmentally savvy consumers, who are very tuned in to sustainability,” Lovejoy-Brown says. “People want to have an eco-friendly option worth considering. They understand the impact they’re making.”

Innovation for the industry and IGC

Fresh, creative ideas in product displays help consumers see what your new lines — and old — have to offer. “Aesthetics are so important when IGCs are displaying pots,” says Loveday-Brown. “We stand out with pops of color and different shapes.” She notes that pastels and traditional shapes often feel dated and fail to resonate as fun and interesting. By accentuating aesthetics, displays draw new customers in.

Modern containers are often designed for small spaces, and can fit in windowsills and on walls.
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For DiDominica, innovative merchandising is essential to the equation. The IGC recently incorporated Bloem’s store-within-a store concept, which includes display units designed with live goods in mind. “Displays become like vending machines,” he says. “Each unit has a section where I can use a mannequin plant. That gives the customer a new idea – that translates to a purchase.” Flat-screen monitors run idea-filled videos as well. “They don’t say anything — just show ideas – so the customer says, ‘I can do that at my house,’” DiDominica says.

While changes in containers and planters are well underway, Mast says the process is just beginning. “The planter market is unique. It’s almost been forgotten or sidelined,” he explains. “Being innovative within a category that’s been defined for some time can be difficult. How can we innovate with a thing that holds soil? Turns out there are a lot of ways.” By embracing innovations now, your IGC can make the most of what the future holds.

Jolene is a freelance writer and former hort professional. She lives, writes and gardens in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.