Houseplant prices have risen to new heights in recent years, driven by social media, increased awareness of plants’ benefits and a frenzy of collectors in search of the newest (and rarest) varieties.
An overwhelming majority of garden centers have bumped up their average houseplant prices over the past three years, and by increasing margins. Indoor plants and related items have been making up much larger portions of retail revenue each year and the cost of rare houseplants seems to constantly be reaching new heights.
North Haven Gardens in the Dallas area doubled its average houseplant inventory over the last year from $10,000-$15,000 to $25,000-$30,000 after seeing a 318% increase in the department’s revenue over the past seven or eight years. “I need a couple years to kind of evaluate that and see if the added inventory level is going to result in the same amount of turns, but so far it appears to be looking pretty good,” says Cody Hoya, general manager.
Dothan Nurseries in Alabama has also seen strong growth over the past seven or eight years, with a huge spike in the last two. While sales are still healthy, the IGC is starting to see some of the houseplant mania dying down and is expecting a slight downturn in the category this year.
“I think some of the shiny luster has worn off,” says John David Boone, owner. “We used to get a truck of plants in and posted it on social media, and within hours people would be here. We’re still making really good money but it seems like the craziness has worn off a little bit.”
Dothan instead is going to start cutting down on houseplant offerings, focusing on high-volume sales like maidenhair ferns, pothos and Sansevieria.
Over in Navan, Ontario, Robert Plante Greenhouses is adopting the opposite strategy, striving to provide its customers with the best selection in its market. That includes a range of everything from inexpensive starter plants through the incredibly sought-after varieties like Philodendron White Wizard, White Princess, Ring of Fire and Pink Princess, which can run up to $600.
“We carry pretty much all the varieties we can get our hands on,” says Colin Matassa, manager.
Consider multiple factors
While garden centers most commonly consider wholesale prices or cost to grow a plant when determining the retail value, market margin isn’t the only factor, especially when it comes to hard-to-find varieties. Formula pricing is a great place to start, but there’s more to think about before putting the sticker on the pot, says Bridget Behe, professor of horticultural marketing at Michigan State University.
“I think we leave way too much money on the table that way, especially if it’s new; especially if it’s rare; especially if we have limited quantity,” she says. “Put the price up high enough and the people who really value it will buy it.”
Dothan has done just that, adopting a multi-factor pricing strategy including market demand and the value of the unique garden center experience. “If you don’t have an occasional person saying, ‘Your prices are too high,’ then you’re probably not pricing it where you need to be.” Boone says. “We don’t price high just to make a bunch of money. We price high so we can reinvest in the garden center and make it better, and take care of employees better.”
Tracking inventory movement through point-of-sales systems can help garden centers watch their product life cycle and determine how their pricing is affecting sales, Behe says. If plants are flying off the shelves, they’ve been priced too low, and if they’re sticking around for two or three weeks, they may be priced too high. In those scenarios, Behe recommends reducing the price, but not putting the plant on sale.
“What we need to do is encourage more dynamic pricing where we look at our supply and if we know supplies are limited or if we know something is rare, we need to think about putting that at a higher price point than most other items,” she says. “That’s why I like to call it dynamic pricing because we really need to think about three things: What’s my available inventory? How new is this product? How rare is it?”
At Dothan, Boone doesn’t like to discount plant stock, but if he does, he says it’s a price cut on rare houseplants that were priced for hundreds of dollars but haven’t moved in several months. And typically, if they do price a plant down, they buy the stock specifically for a sale.
“We buy it in and we put it on sale immediately,” he says, noting that there are times when they’ve gotten excited and stocked too many rare plants. Then it’s a case of trying to recoup costs.
In general, Boone considers the base bottom line, but for him, pricing is all about the value of shopping at Dothan.
“It’s not the cost times two; it’s what can I get for this with the perceived value of shopping at my garden center,” Boone says. “We work hard to make the environment nice and cool and neat and fun and informing to the customers. I can sell my plants for more than you could sell them at a big-box store.”
Houseplants for every budget
While rare and unique houseplants are bringing in top dollar, it’s the everyday varieties that are making up the majority of sales, so having a range of price points is key. Robert Plante Greenhouses offers larger rare varieties, but the IGC also offers smaller containers like 4-inch pots for around $30.
“We always try to have some plants for every type of budget. So we have a lot of small starter plants for people that are just getting into it and they want some small plants for their desk and we have some of the more rare houseplants that can be a lot more expensive,” Matassa says.
There are still those who are looking for rare varieties, but the average garden center customer is shopping to decorate their homes with a $10 or $20 houseplant, not the rarer plants. Boone says. So Dothan Nurseries’ growth has been largely with more common plants that he calls the “milk, eggs and bread.”
Behe likens it to the value menu you can find at fast-food restaurants. There are many common houseplants with low production costs that make great budget-friendly options for customers who don’t want to spend as much.
“We know that people are buying these foliage plants because of their ability to reduce stress. You still get those plant benefits regardless of the price point,” she says.
In displays, Behe recommends promoting the benefits of houseplants like reducing stress, improving concentration and cleaning the air, and allowing customers to make their own decisions on price points from there.
Social media market drivers
Social media, particularly Instagram, has been a driving force behind new additions to consumers’ houseplant collections. Often, indoor gardeners are finding their next houseplant obsession online before those plants even hit their local garden center’s benches.
“Social media has brought us closer in many ways and so it’s very easy today to get a sense of how rare something is or how widely available something is,” Behe says. “So I think when you fuel a competitive spirit on top of the access to information, it can drive prices up. But remember, a person does not have to be rational to spend $800 on a plant.”
North Haven Gardens stays connected with local plant collecting groups on social media to gauge interest and determine fair pricing. So whenever Hoya encounters something new from a supplier, he’ll ask the groups’ opinion on his new find.
“We found that to be a great relationship and some of them work with people who are working directly with importers who are essentially semi-amateur growers where they’re plugged into the really rare market,” he says.
The Texas IGC has even started working with local plant enthusiasts who are importing on their own or working with importers to host pop-up shops in the greenhouse. “That has been a win-win because it allows us to be a destination for the collectors that are looking for the really weird stuff and to see those plants in person, but it also gets them in our door and helps to build a reputation and a relationship with the local collecting group,” Hoya says.
One pop-up with the group Ecuagenera out of Ecuador gave the garden center the chance to feature some high-end plants like Thai Constellation Monstera. Some were going for $1,000 to $2,000 per leaf cutting. “And so stuff like that is not really suited to the retail game because you’re going to stock and sell and turn and turn,” Hoya says. “But having those little events is a nice feature.”
Rare and unique
At Robert Plante Greenhouses, the strategy for pricing common and rare houseplants doesn’t vary much. Growing materials and time factor into plants they grow themselves (about 40% of their houseplant stock is grown in-house) but for the plants they buy in, shipping rates are a big issue.
“The rates are just going up everywhere and the rates for materials are going up everywhere,” Matassa says. “So it is costing more this year but we try to price everything the same so that everyone can have the best price we can give them.”
North Haven doesn’t switch up its strategy either, but that doesn’t mean the price tags are in the same range. The IGC doesn’t carry the extreme high end of houseplants that sell for $10,000 per pot, but spiral trunk ficuses are selling for up to $750. Smaller plants, rare aroids and alocasias like Dragon’s Breath, Dragon Scale and Black Velvet are all hot sellers. Some of the alocasias are selling as high as $110 for a 4-inch container.
“It’s just ridiculous to us that have been in the industry for 20-25 years looking at this,” Hoya says. “It’s just wild but people are happy to pay it.”
In fact, some collectors are so desperate to get their hands on the more popular houseplants that ‘prop lifting’ and general theft have become a problem. North Haven Gardens now monitors its greenhouses and even puts some plants in glass cases to protect them.
At Dothan Nurseries, larger Thai Constellation Monsteras and Pink Princess Philodendrons sold for $600-$800. And while they didn’t sell in large volumes, they were conversation pieces.
“We didn’t sell a lot, but we sold five to 10 of each of those, which never in a million years did I think we could sell something like that,” Boone says. “We kind of got some of them initially just for fun because they look cool. And then the next thing you know, they were gone because people were buying them.”
But high demand isn’t the only factor causing price increases. Rising wholesale costs and supply chain issues are factoring into the rising retail cost of houseplants. And due to inflation, many consumers are going to have less disposable income as rent, groceries and gas prices continue to increase. That could mean less spending on what Behe calls “affordable luxuries,” like plants.
But the interest in rare and unique houseplants isn’t going away any time soon. Instagram continues to fuel houseplant hunters’ search for the next new, exciting thing.
“People see these plants before they come into the retailer. They’re getting inspired on social media and going on the hunt,” Behe says.
Hoya points out that the demographic for the more high-end houseplants may be shifting soon, especially as younger customers return to spending their disposable income on things like concerts, dining out and traveling more now that COVID restrictions are gone.
But for those who are heavily invested in houseplants, higher prices won’t deter them from continuing to grow their indoor gardens. At the end of the day, consensus seems to be that offering a wide variety of price points will keep inventory moving no matter how the market changes.