Cultivate’19 was a whirlwind of fun new displays, gorgeous plants, networking and so much more! Since there’s no way to see everything going on, we rounded up some of the highlights from this year’s event. For more photos from the show, search #Cultivate19 on social media to see what other attendees thought was noteworthy.
At my garden center we’ve been answering questions about cannabis cultivation for years, although often the customers were reticent to admit what they were growing. It was always amusing to hear how many 20-somethings who came in for rockwool cubes were “Helping my mom with her petunias.”
But in 2018 it became legal for individuals in Massachusetts to grow a limited number of cannabis plants, so now we can openly help customers of all ages and levels of experience. In fact, in early February I ran cannabis propagation and growing seminars at Hyannis Country Garden. We charged $20 per person for admission and capped attendance at 80 people. The first talk sold out, so we added a second class the following week. I recall how Jeff Lowenfels, author of the forthcoming book “DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: An Easy Way to Grow Your Own,” frequently says, “Cannabis is the new tomato. It’s the plant that everyone wants to grow.”
Whether cannabis is the new tomato or not, it is a plant that garden centers increasingly need to be informed about. As additional states legalize or decriminalize the use of this plant, more customers will want the information and products needed to grow it.
It was interesting to see the audience that attended the cannabis classes at Hyannis Country Garden. Although I’d expected a younger audience, about 75% of those in attendance were baby boomers. I remember speaking with David Deardorff, co-author of “What’s Wrong With My Marijuana Plant?” about this a year ago. David and his co-author, Kathryn Wadsworth, present classes on cannabis cultivation in the Seattle area, and he said that the majority of people attending are women age 55 and older.
“That population of women usually have experience growing plants, and the idea of raising herbs for medicinal reasons is familiar to them,” David told me. It was clear that the baby boomers in my audiences are interested in using cannabis for treating insomnia, arthritis or other physical problems, and they are interested in growing their own.
The younger members of my audience weren’t as familiar with plants, so they needed the most basic information; subjects such as fertilizing or pinching tips to create bushier growth are totally new to them. This makes me hopeful that cannabis does indeed prove to be the “gateway” that the public was told it was 40 years ago, although I’m thinking that it’s the gateway drug that will get them hooked on Rhododendron, Plectranthus and culinary herbs.
Whether your cannabis-growing customer is 22 or 82, they’ll appreciate information that is factual and local. There is so much misinformation online, and much of it is geared toward indoor or hydroponic growing. Your business will also need to be aware of your state’s particular regulations and remind people to be responsible in how and where the plant is grown; this isn’t a plant that children should have access to.
Garden centers will also need to be prepared for pushback from other customers. Cannabis is still a hot-button issue, and some aren’t pleased when an IGC passes out information about growing this plant. At Hyannis Country Garden we drafted a letter that was sent out when a couple of people complained about our propagation classes. All employees were given a copy so that they knew how to respond if a customer objected in person.
Most garden centers frequently receive questions about certain plants. On Cape Cod, where Hyannis Country Garden is located, people ask about pruning their blue hydrangeas, the lichen on their trees, and how to grow tomatoes. We have informational handouts on these and other topics on our website; the newest document posted there is about growing “the new tomato,” cannabis.
C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at www.GardenLady.com
Grabbing the interest of younger customers and new plant enthusiasts has proven a tricky endeavor for many traditional garden centers. You may have found yourself frustrated with the younger generation’s seeming lack of interest in your idea of gardening, while your existing customer base may be aging out.
If you aren’t seeing an influx of new younger customers the way your business needs to, it’s probably time to audit your overall marketing and branding strategies. Are you creating a community with your marketing efforts or just pushing product?
I’ve been saying this for awhile now, but I think the concept of gardening is due for a rebranding. How and where people engage with plants is changing, and the conventional ideas about what gardening is, or isn’t, require evolution. Older customers see gardening as an outdoor activity, with a focus on landscape plants or vegetables. Younger customers commonly consider gardening the act of keeping a single houseplant indoors. Both of these ideas about gardening are valid. The challenge for many garden centers is, and will be for the near future, how to satisfy their existing customers’ wants and needs for more traditional gardening activities, while simultaneously attracting an entirely new audience who gardens differently.
Rather than thinking about “how to market to Millennials,” which is still a common refrain, it’s better to think about how to market so you continuously replenish your customer base — no matter their generation. Gardening and plant keeping is an equal opportunity hobby. New people can come to the love of plants at any age. As I always say, your customer wants to see themselves — regardless of age — reflected in your business before they choose you. Relevancy, trust and comfort are key components of the modern customer relationship.
But let’s get back to those newbies. There’s no lack of plant love among the younger generations. In fact, they might even be more rabid about plants than we were in our 20s and 30s. I’d say houseplant-crazy is an accurate description. Interest in growing food indoors and in small spaces is also on the rise. The difference is, younger plant enthusiasts’ lifestyles are less homeowner-centric, and conventional outside gardening and landscaping may still be out of their reach.
With work productivity pressure at an all-time high and personal budgets stretched thin, many may feel traditional outdoor gardening activities are too complicated or costly for them, at least for now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feed their need for indoor jungles and countertop herbs.
If you can’t seem to connect with younger consumers, take a step back and evaluate your marketing and messaging. Do you know why younger customers are buying plants and what they really want? While you are busy focusing on promoting gardening products and supplies for projects, your target customer may be focused on something completely different: healthy habits and meaningful connections.
A key marketing focus for many customers today, especially younger shoppers, is health and well-being. That’s a huge opportunity and advantage for anyone operating in the green industry. People are super stressed out these days. Depression and anxiety seem to be rampant, and the political climate has made a lot of people want to flat-out hibernate.
I’ve recently hosted some community plant swaps as part of the promotion for my new book “Plant Parenting.” I’ve had multiple young attendees approach me to wax poetic about how much tending their indoor plant collection has helped them deal with intense anxiety and stress, and how appreciative they were of an opportunity to get out of the house to make meaningful connections in person with other plant lovers.
If I give you one single piece of marketing advice to use regarding younger customers, it’s plant for peace of mind. Whether you get a harvest from your gardening endeavors or you simply fill your apartment with foliage, there’s a huge emotional reward that comes with cultivating and nurturing plants. Gardening and plant keeping is one of the ultimate healthy habits.Trying to garner more customer loyalty from younger shoppers? Stop thinking about loyalty in terms of a customer’s dedication to you and think about how you can make them comfortable with you as a brand. Younger customers tend to be more naturally loyal to brands they are comfortable with, than are GenXers and Boomers. When younger customers feel like they are part of a community you’ve created for them, you’ll earn their repeat business.
Creating a community around plants is really what this all comes down to, both at your store and in your digital marketing. Younger customers aren’t as interested in solo gardening and plant keeping activities. They want to be part of a group, share their projects and questions, and commune with other plant lovers.
Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com
WHAT’S TRENDING ON TWITTER
All sorts of horticulture professionals met up with old friends and made new ones at Cultivate’19 in July. To keep the connection going, and to see what you missed, check out the #Cultivate19 hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
See it here.
Garden Center Trivia
This month’s question:
What is the longest storage period known to have maintained a seed in a viable state?
Check back next month in this space for the answer!
Last month’s question and answer: What are the two main types of roots? Answer: Tap and fibrous
Multimedia | VIdeo
We are BLOOM!
WeAreBLOOM is the movement to improve the world through the power of plants. At Cultivate’19, Anna Ball, president and CEO of the Ball Horticultural Company, updated attendees about how Seed Your Future is meeting the challenge of attracting young people to horticulture. A partnership with Scholastic has helped SYF reach 2 million kids already with the BLOOM! campaign.
Watch here: SYF has released 23 youth-focused videos on its YouTube channel. Check them here.
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There’s a certain line from Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” that’s been running through my mind a lot during the past few weeks: “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.”
After spending a week in Columbus, Ohio, attending this year’s Cultivate, I came away feeling better educated, but also a bit wiser by Lao Tzu’s standards. I had no idea how much I didn’t know. I probably still don’t. And while realizing just how much there is to learn about the industry can be overwhelming, it’s a great motivator to just keep on learning.
That’s the great thing about meeting up with your peers and continuing your education, no matter how you do it. You’ll always find there’s more you don’t know. Even seasoned industry veterans can find themselves unaware of a new trend or buying habit or HR problem. There’s always more to discover as the market evolves and customers change.
But that’s the fun of learning, and you can use it to your advantage. The newer generation of “plant parents” want to find out everything they don’t know about plants — even what they don’t know they are in the dark about. It’s a whole new world for them and they’re looking for guidance, so be that authority and that educator. If you don’t do it, someone else will, and who knows what kinds of misinformation will get out into the public knowledge. You can be the resource that tells them what they need to know to be successful with their new hobby.You can find out more about that in our show coverage here, in addition to photos from the show here. There are also takeaways from the sessions we attended on our website. Just click here and you’ll find all kinds of tips and tricks to help your garden center. From email marketing ideas to trends to HR advice, there’s plenty to put into practice at your company.
Have fun finding out what you don’t know, learning and using your new knowledge to grow your business.