Keep the window of opportunity open
The Retailer's Planning Guide series was part of the online education at Cultivate'20 Virtual.

Keep the window of opportunity open

Retailers can keep the momentum rolling if they focus on these 6 trends driving customer behavior.

July 17, 2020

At Cultivate’20 Virtual, Clint Albin of LandscapeHub, Sam Kirkland of Epicor Software Corporation and Sid Raisch, a consultant for The Garden Center Group and his own company Horticultural Advantage discussed how retailers should handle business development for this fall, 2021 and beyond.

The session was part of the Retailer’s Planning Guide. The first part of this series included Katie Dubow’s presentation of the 2021 Consumer Trends (read our recap here).

Albin is the retail consultant for LandscapeHub, a wholesale order management tool. LandscapeHub and Epicor teamed up earlier this year to form a strategic alliance. He described the booming spring season retailers have experienced. Many new customers have come to IGCs during the pandemic, people who had never been gardeners, in addition to existing customers who were eager to expand their hobby. However, he urged retailers not to be complacent and risk losing those new customers and all the new business they brought during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“You don’t want to give up those gains,” Albin said.

During his part of the talk, Raisch covered six factors that are driving this consumer behavior, which he deemed “restless gardening syndrome.” Consumers are feeling stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the associated fears and restrictions. They have turned to the horticulture industry for solace. Raisch said if IGCs focus on these six factors, they will hang onto those new customers and take advantage of this window of opportunity.

1. Pharm at Home – This is a long-term trend that began after the Great Recession, Raisch said, when people began to value higher-quality food in their diet whether prepared at home, in a scratch kitchen restaurant, or by subscription. Interest in farmers markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable subscriptions and foodie-ism in general reinforce that this is a trend that is here to stay. Fresh vegetables, organic meats and plant-based diets are now considered to be as much a part of a healthy lifestyle as exercise. Food security concerns led to the return of the victory garden. Even if the images of empty shelves were a bit overblown, and didn’t match the reality for everyone, it did create a panic, and consumers did seek to take some control of their food future by gardening at home.

Raisch said that vegetables and herbs are a pivotal category at IGCs. They drive people to the store, and they buy other products while they’re there. Also, they are the core of the essentiality of horticulture and the reason IGCs are able to be open for business 24/7/365.

“If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that being essential is essential,” Raisch said.

2. Houseplant Parenting – Houseplants and to a lesser extent, succulents, have experienced a surge in popularity. While not exclusive to any demographic, Raisch said the underlying reason for this trend is that the millennial and Generation Z population are embracing houseplant nurturing as a parenting experience in preparation for parenting pets and children. COVID-19 provided a surge as consumers were limited in their shopping excursions and forced to stay indoors for the earlier part of the lockdown.

Raisch said IGCs can own this category with a pleasing store environment, helpful advice and a selection that consumers can’t get at box stores.

3. Stay-cation – This trend began before COVID-19, but exploded as travel ground to a halt this spring. Consumers are prioritizing lifestyle amenities like string lights and paver patios instead of exotic destinations. Raisch said retailers can provide products to help consumers’ homes feel like a vacation with overflowing containers, lush planting beds, and maybe a touch of the tropics with exotic foliage to accent the relaxation.

4. Work from Home – Many people were already enjoying telecommuting, but COVID-19 forced it into the mainstream. The abrupt conversion from the cubicle or corner office to the spare bedroom or den converted to home office requires a few adjustments as people adapt to working remotely, through Zoom fatigue, and then seek the High Tech/High Touch escape into their own spaces.

5. Workout at Home – Convenience and the closure of many gyms during the pandemic have pushed many people to pursue their fitness goals right at home. Many want a gorgeous window view or go right outdoors on a yoga deck or chin-up bar, and the act of gardening itself.

6. Escape at Home – This is a close partner to stay-cation and distinctly different. Sensory gardens, zen spaces, labyrinths, a hot tub and other amenities bring the mental and physical break right to home. Making the break from workday to after work can be marked with these escape activities and more.

“Getting ready and winding down all happens without the commute now,” Raisch said.

To take advantage of these consumer behaviors, IGCs should promote like never before. This is a window of opportunity that could last. Promote, but not in ways that erode value, Raisch said. People want to buy. Remind them why they want plants and where to find them.