In 2014, AmericanHort set out to discover how the horticulture industry could better reach customers, what inspires people to buy plants and how to best serve and speak to consumers. The initiative — called SHIFT — recruited outside resources to help put the findings together, such as the MindMarket program at Columbus College of Art & Design. CCAD student Emily Brown helped compile the research last year, which included traveling to dozens of garden centers in the U.S. to talk to owners, employees and customers about how and why they buy and sell plants.
The research also included what Brown called a “Millennial diary study,” which included a group of 35 people ages 19 to 35. They gave them a handful of houseplants that are “really easy” to care for, Brown says, and the participants kept a diary about their experiences with the plants.
“From the insights, we got to peek into what people do with plants in their houses, especially when they don’t really know what they’re doing,” Brown says. The research revealed that there is a gap between how garden centers communicate to customers about plants and how people really talk about flowers and gardening.
Brown, who says before this project, her most recent experience with flora was killing an aloe plant, was so inspired while working on the project that she opened a shop of her own to experiment with attracting new people to plants head-on.
Brown and her business partner and boyfriend, Brian Kellett, opened a garden center of a different kind, called STUMP, in October 2015. Instead of aisles and aisles of plant and plant-related offerings, STUMP — a charcoal-grey brick structure in Columbus, Ohio’s Italian Village — lures in passersby with its crisp, clean, industrial aesthetic and minimalist offerings in a boutique-style store. The kicker? Only indoor varieties grace the shelves — for now.
Brown says STUMP’s limited offering approach was meant to make plant shopping easy, and not overwhelming, for their non-gardening customers by presenting only a few varieties.
“We don’t put everything out at once,” says Brown, 25. “We usually pick through, and I think people like that. It’s almost better to minimize the amount of options.
“One of the biggest things we realized was the education aspect,” Brown continues. “You really have to look at the experience from the customer’s perspective. With STUMP, what we were thinking about were people who aren’t seasoned gardeners. They’re new to owning plants. [So we are] kind of walking them through with baby steps — like the process of choosing a plant…one that’s right for you.”
STUMP provides a consultation for customers picking the flora that will fill their homes. After discussing factors like direction-facing windows and light levels, their choices are narrowed down to those that will work best — like philodendron, ZZ plants, string of hearts, indoor trees and mini succulents. Then, the plants are potted at the store and customers are given care cards to help them tend to the plant after they leave.
And to engage with the younger clientele, STUMP partners with local businesses to offer brunches with local chefs and restaurants and vertical planter workshops with a local landscape architect. Brown also teaches terrarium-building workshops herself. Events cost between $35 to $85 per person, and are usually limited to about 20 people.
The couple doesn’t spend much on marketing to bring people in. Brown’s background in design and Kellett’s photography experience helped to create an Instagram account (@stumpplants) with more than 4,000 followers at press time.
Many of her walk-in customers say they found STUMP on Instagram first, Brown says. And once they buy a product, that following spreads like English ivy.
“Lots of people will tag us in their photos and actually take a picture of the care card and be like, ‘Thank you so much, STUMP, for helping us understand how to take care of our plants,’” Brown says. “That’s huge because I think the biggest thing [to stress is that] anyone can take care of a plant. You just have to get the right one to fit your lifestyle and your house.”
At GIE Media Horticulture Group’s Uncensored conference in September 2015, Mark Foertmeyer, owner of Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse Co. in Delaware, Ohio, and former AmericanHort chairman of the board said, “[Brown and Kellett], because they were exposed to the industry, and they saw what it was about, and [realized], ‘Hey this is an industry where we can express our creativity behind, we can see our plant material for what it can do.’ They threw all of their chips on the table and they started a really cool little store.
“And guess what? It’s nothing like what any of us has ever seen,” he continues. “They took all the research [from SHIFT] and they packed it into the store. They discovered it for themselves. To me, that was one of the largest successes of that program because it made me realize:
We’re worried about — we need people to work in the greenhouse — we need growers, we need all of the technical workers, and we do. But we also need fresh blood in this industry, and people who will not look at it this way, but people will see new opportunities and see what we failed to see because we’re so tunnel-focused.”
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