Crash course

Features - Industry Events

Cultivate’19 attendees got inspiration, education and new insights into perennial problems.

August 22, 2019


This year’s Cultivate was full of sessions covering everything from leadership to email campaigns to reaching the next generation of plant-lovers. Here are some of the best educational pieces we found during the show.

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Plant parenting

Cultivate your customers’ relationships with their plants to create a lifelong love of gardening.

The zeitgeist of thoughtful collecting, nurturing ownership and creative display is in full bloom in the plant world, according to Leslie Halleck, Garden Center magazine columnist and founder of Halleck Horticultural.

But the popularity of houseplants isn’t a new trend. Halleck said she sees a lot of jaded negativity because people have seen the popularity of houseplants come and go. But Halleck said you have to give people what they want, even if they’re plants that aren’t exciting to you.

“So what? Don’t you want to make money?” she asked. “Who here thinks they can exist on the customer base they have right now?”

She stressed that IGCs have to continue to attract new customers, no matter what they want. “If they want ferns in macramé planters, do it,” she said.


Leading trends

Halleck noted that the industry tends to follow trends rather than leading them. But IGCs can’t set trends if they aren’t engaged in online channels, where so many people are living their lives these days.

Most of the shops where shoppers can buy plants online are not growers or horticulturalists. They’re collectors or entrepreneurs. And Halleck pointed out that the industry is struggling to create a direct distribution system online and online knowledge.

And in brick and mortar stores, urban plant shops are popping up everywhere and it’s not going to stop. “But this is what many people think is a garden center now,” Halleck said.

But garden centers also have the chance to start trends instead of following them. “We already know what the cool things are so why don’t we tell people what the cool things are?” she asked.

— Kate Spirgen

Keep talented managers from leaving

Take these tips from the Cultivate’19 Town Hall on retaining a horticultural workforce.

Many family businesses have long-term upper management in place. So how can you give budding new stars the opportunity to develop their careers? How can you retain people with amazing skills and make them even more valuable?

Here are some takeaways from the Cultivate’19 Town Hall on Retaining a Horticultural Workforce:

As the owner …

  • Flatten your organizational chart.
  • Your ‘open-door policy’ should mean a physically open door.
  • If you want to retain people, your business must be open to change. Show employees your willingness to change and improve. No one wants to retain robots; they’ll just automate those jobs.
  • Start a mentorship program.
  • When you adopt an idea from an employee, open the books and show them how it improved things financially.

To keep talented people …

  • Think of a family business like a tent. The top may be closed, but the sides are wide open.
  • Elevate your mid-level managers or Millennials. Millennials who now have five to eight years of day-to-day experience are in a position to enact strategic change and ideas in the business.
  • Not a lot of “plant people” are also “people people.” That’s why it’s important to find the right fit when it comes to retaining those employees.

Coming into a family business …

  • There are thinkers and there are doers. You need both. It’s important to find the right role for people in a family business.
  • You need to know who’s got the final word on what things.
  • Make sure non-family employees have the same opportunity to be heard as family members.

— Matt McClellan and Kelli Rodda

Find and educate the new generation of plant-lovers

Earn the loyalty of Millennial customers by captivating their hearts.

As millennials begin to show interest in the horticulture industry, they’re also starting to show an increased passion for houseplants. Will Heeman, chief daymaker at Heeman’s Garden Centre in Thorndale, Ontario, told Cultivate’19 attendees how they can capture the hearts and loyalty of today’s new plant parents.


Make your IGC the place to be.

To make your garden center the go-to spot, Heeman suggested showing customers that you have their dream plants and helping them discover new ‘must-haves.’

One way to show consumers their dream plant is by providing variety tags and Latin names so they can feel educated. “Talk nerdy to them,” Heeman said. “People want to feel smart, learn things and feel included. This is a new world to them. Let’s invite them in.”

Another way is by providing the perfect pot, which Heeman said is an additional accessory and additional cost. “If you don’t have the perfect pot beside your plant, you’re missing out on major dollars.”

According to Heeman, Millennials are becoming plant parents because of their enhancing factor, which is another way to captivate their hearts. Providing plants with purpose, “whether they smell good, look good, taste good or keep away bugs like mosquito pots, you’re teaching them a new way to enhance their life and make it easier,” he said.

— Sierra Allen