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Three Changes to Watch in 2014

Tom Smith, president of Four Star Greenhouse.

Change keeps coming and it pays to be aware of key trends that will change the way we do business. 

By Tom Smith, President of Four Star Greenhouse

Several years after the Recession of 2008, we’re still seeing fallout, but at the same time, we’re also seeing great opportunities for growers and retailers. Businesses that are able to adapt and act on these trends will be able to have stronger relationships with customers, higher profit margins and a better long-term position than those who don’t change with the times.

Here are some trends I see for the year ahead.

1. Customers have tighter budgets.

Discretionary income isn’t what it once was, but that still offers good opportunities to stand out from your competition. When people spend their money, they want the feeling of possible success. If they spend money on plants, they need to feel they can be successful with them.

Many in our industry focus on trying to do things inexpensively — and they offer customers inexpensive plants with higher likelihoods of failure. A huge majority of those baskets dry out and become failures for the customer. But look at how many hanging baskets we sell as an industry. To me, this is proof, year after year, that people want our products and that they would buy a lot more if they could be successful.

Consumers recognize outstanding landscape plants when they see them and consistently seek great plants at retail.

There is research showing that if a plant fails, 90% of consumers believe it is their fault. Why sell them disappointment? How long will we continue to sell the next generation failures, or can we come up with better solutions?

It makes more sense to sell plants and products that are tested and proven to give people top value for their hard-earned money — plants that make it easy for them to succeed.

2. Quality
builds success.

Time and again, we see spectacular landscapes planted with high-quality plants, and they literally stand out from neighboring properties. We notice because we know plants, but consumers see this too. Why would they want to settle for something humdrum when they can have outstanding plants that perform?

In addition to quality plants, providing customers and potential customers with quality information is also more important than ever. We’re learning from research that many new and younger gardeners are very interested in plant origin and production, planting practices, and plant care techniques. This type of information is easy to find online now, and helps gardeners teach themselves.

Companies that provide the type of information these consumers want will stand out as high-level merchants. The next generation doesn’t want failures. They’ll look online to find inspiration and information to help them be successful at gardening.

Once they are inspired and informed, their next question is: Where can I find these plants? Be ready for this with exceptional plants, promotions that build on consumer buzz, and easy access to plant care info. Having this information at customers’ fingertips is a bonus for you!

3. Selling for the long term, not just for the season.

By our records, more than 3.5 million Superbells® Lemon Slice Calibrachoa were sold in 2013, yet no one I’ve talked with had enough of them – they could have sold more. The same thing applied for Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® and Mini Silver Petunia (popular on its own but was also part of the best-selling combination “Velvet Skies”). Many other popular varieties have the same story.

Most growers and retailers did not have enough Superbells® Lemon Slice Calibrachoa to meet demand last year. Plan ahead for sales of popular varieties.

I have yet to see enough — anywhere — of any plant Proven Winners® advertises nationally, whether as individual varieties or combinations. Once consumers recognize a brand, it’s got the power of the name, and they want it. A similar example in the vegetable line is the Better Boy tomato — a long-time favorite customers ask for by name, year after year.

While our industry introduces hundreds of new plants each year, approximately only 20% make it on the market longer than two years. It takes a lot of money and effort to market to consumers, so established brands have a clear advantage.

Plants with extensive marketing and consumer demand (and proven performance in the garden) help growers and retailers build long-term sales. Many of you want to build on next year’s sales, not just sell a cheaper product this year. One way to do this is to sell your customers something that they can be successful with this year, so they return next year to buy from you again.

What’s your opinion? Have some thoughts about 2014 trends you’d like to share? If so, send to

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