Seth Reed and Mason Day often joke about “national” horticultural surveys that take data from a few states to represent the entire country. In places like the Pacific Northwest, Reed says, plants grow much differently than in his home turf of Chicago.
“I’ve gone there as a salesperson and embarrassed myself because I didn’t realize growing conditions were so different,” says Reed, who has 15 years of experience in the green industry. “If I’m a horticulturist and I didn’t realize that, how’s a consumer supposed to know?”
That’s why Reed and Day developed GrowIt!, a mobile gardening app that connects consumers with other nearby gardeners to identify and rate plants, share photos and local growing tips. With 90,000 active users this spring, GrowIt! generated rich insights about consumer preferences from millions of plant ratings and other data points.
Now in its third iteration after a beta version in 2014, a consumer launch in 2015, and an overhaul released in March 2016, GrowIt! regularly adds new features and initiatives focused on user engagement. This past December, Reed and Day hired a community engagement manager, Megan Uithoven, charged with that goal.
“Within the first few weeks, she was talking about creating a ‘surprise and delight’ type of program where certain members would get little packages just to make them feel good,” Reed says.
She suggested sending plants to people, and it was a natural fit. But instead of just buying plants, Reed saw an opportunity to partner with breeders “that have great new products and want to build their exposure to consumers while, at the same time, getting feedback on what people think of their plants,” he says. GrowIt! is working with four breeders, including Ball Horticultural Company, where Reed and Day worked when they conceptualized the app.
Choosing users to engage
Uithoven selected community members who have added multiple plant photos and gained substantial followers for the sampling pilot program.
“We wanted as many people to benefit from this sample experience as possible,” she says, “so if you love adding photos and people love following you, everyone’s going to benefit.”
The sampling pilot program consists of five shipments, each targeting five to 10 users, who were invited to participate in exchange for sharing feedback about sample plants on the app. The first shipment went out in April to California and Florida. The fourth and fifth shipments go out in June across the Midwest and Northern regions.
“We’re making sure we’re pairing the right plants with the right people,” Reed says. “A breeder could say, ‘We want to get our pink petunias out to as many people as possible,’ but if your profile says you’re an indoor gardener, they’re not going to grow very well inside. Furthermore, we can see that — based on the plant pictures you’ve added and the plants you’ve rated — you hate pink, so if I sent you a pink petunia, you wouldn’t like it. We’re making sure the plants we’re sending are relevant to users’ lifestyles and preferences.”
While they won’t divulge specific plants in the program, they’re already gaining valuable feedback about them from GrowIt! users. Retailers often test new plants by giving them to employees, friends and family. Obviously, Reed says, that sample audience will likely give positive (although anecdotal) feedback, which may not represent consumers outside of the industry.
GrowIt!’s sampling program, on the other hand, puts new plants into the hands of real consumers, who then share these plants with a massive online audience who can “love” or “leave” different varieties, producing data-driven insights from tens of thousands of users to measure the preferences of different demographics.
Insights for IGCs
Uithoven encourages retailers to join GrowIt! and add photos of their plant inventories — especially unique, hard-to-find varieties. By engaging in conversations, helping users identify plants and offering local growing advice, IGCs can leverage GrowIt! to inform consumer preferences and plant selections.
To make the app’s collective data more applicable to individual retailers, GrowIt! is developing packages, available at a cost, to break data down into specific regions and user demographics.
“Oftentimes in the horticulture industry, we get personally tied to plants and we don’t always take the time to ask consumers what they actually think,” Reed says. “GrowIt! is the ultimate survey tool for garden centers. It shows color trends and plants people are looking for. We can dial that down by city, by generation, by gender, to make it more relevant to an IGC.”