COVID has accelerated shifts in customer behavior that were already occurring, and IGCs may need to shift their strategies to reach their millennial and Gen Z customers. Katie Elzer-Peters, founder of digital ad agency The Garden of Words, shared some ways garden centers can do this at Cultivate’21.
In order to adapt, you first need to analyze the competition. Big-box stores have normally dominated the competition landscape, but unexpected competitors are now taking their piece of the pie, and IGCs need to start paying attention, she said.
As many gardeners quit or lost their jobs during the pandemic, they turned their hobbies into fully-fledged careers. These hobbyist-turned-entrepreneurs started their own pop-up shops, and some even launched brick-and-mortar operations, she said.
It’s also important to realize that younger customers not only want an experience, but a sense of belonging. According to research, younger people enjoy plants because of the social aspect, she shared. She pointed out that many of these newer plant shops include a communal space for customers to hang out in. One of the easiest ways you can create a welcoming environment is by putting a couch in your store, she said.
There is a considerable shift in attitudes, and practices that were once considered taboo are not only acceptable, but encouraged. These younger customers want to know where your business stands on ethical and global issues, and they want you to know if their views align with your brand’s views. It’s also important to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.
This new wave of entrepreneurs and customers supports collaboration with local businesses in their area. Partner up with small shops or local artisans and host workshops or events showcasing their products in your store to boost foot traffic.
This demographic always wants to see your personality shine through your brand, and social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram can be a great tool to achieve this, she said. You can engage with them in-person as well, such as handing out personalized plant cards.
“Be active on Instagram and share customers’ stories they tag you in. People want to be seen and they want to feel like part of your community — feature them,” she said.
Adopt achievable strategies
Elzer-Peters shared a list of tips that garden centers can use to get customers in the door:
- Create DIY potting stations or terrarium bars
- Offer merchandising tags that make buying plants and pots easy
- Create a space for picnics, outdoor events or proposals
- Create a photo-op area
- Install murals
- Offer onsite and offsite pop-ups
- Offer capsule collections of rare or unique plants
- Curate limited releases for items like pottery or plants
- Create a “store within a store,” so customers feel included in the shopping experience
“In the age of social media and the consumer right now, the experience is the marketing. Get your couch and invite people to sit on it!” she said.