Careful curation

Departments - Straight Talk | Honest insights from an IGC expert

Find the sweet spot between offering your customers too much and too little when it comes to your stock.

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April 5, 2022

The sets of pots at Tonkadale Greenhouse are organized by block and color, with complimentary plants displayed together to make decisions easy for customers.
Photo courtesy of Tonkadale Greenhouse

Curation, curation, curation. It’s pretty much all you hear about when talking about consumer buying trends. We all know that for many customers, especially new gardeners, walking into a garden center can very quickly become a confusing and intimidating experience — one that can end up causing decision fatigue and abandoned carts. Narrowing your product selection, or at least carving out groups of plants and products for specific customers, can help mitigate the overload. But how far is too far when it comes to creating the best experience for your customers?

When it comes down to what curation really is, it’s not necessarily about what your customers need. Curation is about targeting specific types of products to a specific type of person. Much like the bundling of project products, curation takes a substantial portion of the customer decision-making (and choice) out of the buying equation. Many consumers today are so overwhelmed by choices that they are willing to let you tell them what to buy instead of making those choices themselves.

Cut through the noise

Now, when it comes to our gardening customers, this won’t always be the case, but we certainly have a lot of new customers who’ve been trained by a multitude of product curation services. These newer customers may be much more willing to have you tell them what to buy, versus spending time on discovery and shopping around for what they think they need or want.

Curation is, of course, one effective way to cut through the noise when it comes to marketing and advertising plants and products. And with all the other box-curated services out there these days, customers across the buying spectrum have become accustomed to an elevated level of purchasing personalization.

The “discovery process” of determining what plant or product you need as a consumer has, on the one hand, become easier. With the internet and smartphones at our fingertips 24/7, we’re able to reach for what we want or need the moment the impulse strikes us. On the other hand, the sheer volume of what we find when we search can be overwhelming, and often paralyzing. The ease with which we can do discoveries also makes sifting through all the results that much more time-consuming. So, technology presents us with a bit of a Catch-22 when it comes to how we use our time as consumers.

Select for your own brand

Now “curated consumption” is nothing new in our industry. And in the garden center world, this approach was already becoming popular back in the early to mid-2000s, once internet use became mainstream. During my IGC general manager days, I remember an intense industry focus on simplifying everything. “Don’t use scientific names because it’s too much for the customer … don’t even put those names on the plant labels … don’t offer 20 cultivars of Echinacea; only give them three …” and so on and so forth. You remember, right?

Personally and professionally, I was never fully comfortable with this approach. I had this gut feeling it would backfire on the business I was running, and it was never going to be the right approach for every garden center. It all comes down to your individual brand. If variety and selection in terms of depth of plant inventory — as well as reliable plant knowledge — are part of your brand, then curating down — or dumbing down — your offerings too far is inadvisable. And we have, to a degree, seen that boomerang come back at us with many of the new gardening and houseplant customers. They want lots of plant choices, correct botanical names and plenty of plant information.

It may also be true that you have certain categories that could benefit from trimming whilst maintaining depth in other categories. Customizing your categories based on your brand and particular target customer — or an assortment of different specific target customers — is advisable.

Photo courtesy of
Tonkadale Greenhouse

Be the expert

Tonkadale Greenhouse in Minnetonka, Minnesota, does a fabulous job of demonstrating curated merchandising and showcasing it in their social media outreach. “Our collections of pots and plants is all about curation,” says Jessie Jacobson, president and owner. “The store sets are blocked by color and style. We add plants that work with and fit with the pots. We sell indoor plants and indoor pots at a ratio of 2:1. Pots and plants can also be shopped separately — pots in the store with associated home décor, plants benched out in the greenhouse.”

That said, our new pandemic-era customers are very willing to accept curated selection decisions from influencers they trust — even influencers who have little to no meaningful plant and gardening knowledge or experience. So, on the one hand, they want a depth of plants to select from. On the other hand, they want very specific people to tell them which of those plants to choose. The trick is to figure out how both the expert and the influencer balance this scale and maximize our curated offerings.

Ultimately, every retail offering is already a curation of sorts. What you decide to sell in your garden center is a curated selection; and merchandised displays or packages are another micro-expression of curation, within an already curated inventory. So, it’s not as if we all aren’t engaged in curation as retailers every day. But we have a very healthy generational mix of customers who may still want to make all their own choices, and those who are happy to choose from pre-curated selections.

Offer too many choices and your customer might not make one. Too few choices and they’ll feel abandoned by you. Your goal is to find the right mix and severity of curation and personalization that works best for your target customer, and your bottom line.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural and business consulting, as well as product development and branding for green industry companies. She is also a horticulture instructor, industry writer and book author. Find out more at lesliehalleck.com