September 1, 2012

Connect with Customers

Short Course give attendees a competitive edge


The Ohio Florist Association Short Course is held every July in Ohio. The event is produced for nursery and greenhouse growers, florists and garden retailers. It features more than 200 seminars and workshops, a seven-acre trade show floor, as well as tours of local businesses.

Marketing to Millennials
This year’s keynote speaker was Joe Lamp’l, a U.S. garden media personality. Lamp’l spoke about his quest to draw the Millennial demographic, those between the ages of 17 and 34, to gardening. After hosting several network garden shows, Lamp’l decided to produce and write his own television show that would appeal to this younger generation. Growing a Greener World is now in its third season, and Lamp’l shared some of the lessons he’s learned.

First of all, he let the Baby Boomers in the room (himself included) know that they are “has beens.” The Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are now the movers and shakers of society, and as they are a large cohort and our future customers, all sectors of the industry need to learn how to market to this group. “We are all in this together,” he said urging cooperation within the sector groups.

First we have to understand the Millennials, which Lamp’l says operate differently than any other generation. Lamp’l cited a study by the Pew Research Center which shows that, as a group, the Millennials are marrying later in life, are well-educated, community oriented and self-expressive. They use art, decorating, cooking, and piercing and tattooing as methods of self expression. They have a positive outlook on life; however, they have more debt and therefore less disposable income. This is concerning because they are our future customers.

Lamp’l explained that his research showed he needed to use a different approach to reach the Millennial cohort. They aren’t really interested in gardening, but are passionate about cooking and sustainability, so he realized he had to “come in through the back door with his message.”
The gardening industry needs to learn from the food industry, which Lamp’l says has studied and embraced its customers. “It has created rock stars out of chefs and made cooking sexy and hip. Research shows Millennials want to slow down and experience life, and cooking creates a total sensory integration that appeals, and is marketed, to them.

“We need to make plants and gardens cool, sexy and hip,” says Lamp’l. “The media is not helping, so we need to do it ourselves. We need to create the ‘foodie’ of gardening.” Lamp’l admits to having a difficult time coming up with the perfect, simple descriptive word that will embrace a love of gardening just like ‘foodie’ describes an appreciation for food. Any suggestions?

The Millennials love a good story. They like to build local connections and we need to capitalize on that – to create community, tell our stories, and make our names known. Lamp’l says people buy a difference, not a similarity, so reach out and demonstrate how you are different from the mass merchandisers.

Millennials have embraced the expression, “the joy is in the journey,” and want to slow down – rejecting their parents’ workaholic lifestyle. They are looking for projects and causes. We need to remind them that gardening is an ideal outlet for self-expression. They can grow their own fresh local food, prepare, share and enjoy it.

Millennials can be reached primarily through mobile technology. They are always online through their smart phones, which are rarely used for talking. Lamp’l suggested that all sectors need to create mobile messaging to draw this group to the garden.

Beyond basic containers
Another presenter at the OFA Short Course was Christina Salwitz, known for the fabulous containers she builds at garden centres on the west coast of the U.S. In addition to being a container designer, Salwitz is a personal garden coach and teaches retailers how to create and sell stunning containers.

Salwitz shared some of her tips for increasing container sales, accompanied with a pictorial presentation of her work that wowed her audience.
At the garden centres she works with, Salwitz suggests three levels of containers: small, simple, but effective grab-and-go containers for under $20 that someone might pick up for a hostess gift or a centrepiece; mid-range containers for $25-$80; and, high-end containers that start at $100.

For fabulous containers, Salwitz says you must start with a great pot — chose something with style. She tends to work with black, dark green and teal pots. She recognizes that west coast designers can take advantage of better container pricing, as they don’t have to incur the costs of transporting heavy shipping crates across the country.  She explained her teal pot theory, saying it is a “happy marriage colour,” as it goes with everything. “I dare you to find a plant colour that doesn’t go with teal.”

Good container design follows the rule of threes: three textures, three colours and three heights in each container. As many pot collections come in various sizes, Salwitz will often design three different sized containers and sell them as a poppa, momma and baby.

She also designs groups of containers with specific demographics in mind. Containers for young families will incorporate edibles, while containers for singles in a condominium will be more architectural and low maintenance.

Salwitz has yet to meet a plant she can’t use in a container. Annuals, perennials, tropicals, evergreens, edibles and shrubs are all creative fodder. She uses one-gallon nursery stock in many of her pots, and notes it can increase larger shrub sales, since customers often want to plant the same shrub in their garden as they have in their patio containers.

For the do-it-yourselfer, she creates a huge display dummy pot and makes sure the plants used in the design are all merchandised around it. If a customer wants the container planted up, she adds 15 per cent to the retail cost of the plants as a rule of thumb.
To see some of Christina Salwitz’s favourite designs, find her on Pinterest,