TPIE keynote: Be a beacon, act like an octopus
Christine Boland delivers her third keynote in five years at TPIE 2019 Jan. 16 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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TPIE keynote: Be a beacon, act like an octopus

Trend analyst Christine Boland revealed four consumer drivers that are influencing design, customers' purchasing decisions and more.

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January 28, 2019

In order to comprehend and align with the latest trends, it’s essential to understand what drives consumers and what's important to them, Christine Boland, trend analyst, told an audience on the opening day of the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) on Jan. 16.

The choices consumers and designers make are a direct result of what’s happening in the world around them, so Boland kicked off her keynote – the third she’s delivered at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based tropical plant trade show in five years – by first talking about news and politics.

Though we have more ways to connect technologically, the world is becoming more divided by political affiliation, as people segment themselves into their own “tribes,” or surrounding themselves with others who agree with their viewpoints. Boland cited the ongoing Brexit debates as just one example. Climate change is another topic at the forefront, but young people are taking responsibility, she says, and are eager to do their part to contribute to environmental sustainability.

“Design is the voice of the sign of the times,” Boland says. There is “lots of bad news out there, but good news, too, especially when people take matters into their own hands.” Individuals are making a difference, and brands have the opportunity to lead the way, as well.

With that foundation, Boland outlined four consumer drivers that she says are behind trends – and influencing purchases – today.

Cultivate Compassion

Boland urged attendees to “Make generosity part of your growth strategy” and cultivate compassion for common ground and inclusivity. Understanding what’s important to your customers is key, she said.

For example, accepting all people for who they are, no matter their ethnicity, gender or age, is one driver for consumers today, and they want this to be reflected in the brands they choose to support. Companies such as Airbnb are not just incorporating diversity in their advertisements, but emphasizing that all are welcome – no matter where you are from or who you worship or love – with its #weaccept campaign and promise to help provide housing for those in need.

Barbie, the brand behind the iconic but often criticized doll for promoting unattainable beauty standards and focusing solely on outward appearance, recently launched its #MoreRoleModels campaign, highlighting women such as artist Frida Kahlo, filmmaker Patty Jenkins and snowboarding champion Chloe Kim by creating dolls in their likeness.

Taking this a step further, it’s important that brands “don’t just make people aware, but give them a way to help,” Boland says. Many have followed in TOMS footsteps – no pun intended – by incoporating one-for-one models in their companies – you purchase one pair of shoes, another pair is donated to someone in need.

For 2 weeks in 2016, IKEA invited customers of its flagship store in Norway into a display room modeled after a damaged home in Syria, with details about the conditions there on signs and price tags, but also ways they could donate to help people in crisis there.

Sync with Nature

This is perhaps one of the most exciting and meaningful trends for the horticulture industry. Boland noted that consumers are increasingly wanting to reduce and reuse waste and be part of a solution to sustain the planet. One example is how people are reclaiming what could be considered trash – such as corn leaves – and using them to create beautiful, artful patterns in design.

Beyond design, especially as we develop more sophisticated technology and feel constantly connected, people are escaping into nature. According to the National Park Service, in 2017, the number of visits to parks across the U.S. broke the previous 2016 record, with more than 330 million visits, and 16 percent of reporting parks set new visitation records. 2018 numbers are not yet available, but it is estimated that they will once again set new records.

People want to create this “escape” in their own homes and backyards, too. Houseplants are performing well for garden centers across the country, and according to our 2018 State of the Industry Report, they are now ranked third of the top five best-selling plants, along with annuals, perennials, edibles and trees and shrubs. Outside gardens are being planted with purpose, too. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is poised to meet its goal this year, with an announcement expected in February.

A love for plants can be seen in clothing and décor design as well, with floral and foliage patterns being spotted on clothing and pottery, and not just on the TPIE show floor.

Define Direction

Defining who you are as a company is key to break through the clutter, and keeping it as simple as possible is important, Boland says. Garden centers and their partners can “be a guide,” providing resources and support for people who want to grow plants indoors and out.

Boland says one way to think about this is to, “Be a beacon and act like an octopus.” Create a foundation for who you are as a brand, but always consider how you can reach consumers and better understand them and what they want.

Spark the Soul  

Answers to most questions are just a Google search or Siri voice request away, which is great, but this also eliminates opportunities for magic and play. What happens to surprise when everything is planned for us or answered by AI (artificial intelligence) and other technology? Boland asked.

How can you incorporate play into your business? One example of this in design trends is that irregular patterns and shapes are being used more, Boland said.

Look for more coverage from TPIE on our website and in Garden Center magazine soon.