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Are You Ready for these Trends?

Be aware of changes in consumer attitudes and industry trends to make the most of your 2014.

Marshall Dirks

By Marshall Dirks, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Proven Winners

Our industry keeps changing and so do the customers. The business manager who studies trends and adapts to them will have greater advantages in the future. Here are a few trends I see affecting the industry in 2014 and beyond.

1. Consumers want to see more accountability & responsibility in companies — so be what you say you are.

Today’s younger consumers want to know where their food and other products come from, how they are made, and how those practices affect the environment. They’re interested in the origins of the products they buy — where and how things are made (or grown). “Grown locally” will not be sufficient — these consumers want the details. Smart businesses are already sharing positive stories about using naturally sourced ingredients or environmentally responsible production practices.

Our industry needs to encourage corporate responsibility and tell the positive stories of local sourcing and production, plants that help improve health and the environment, and using sustainable practices. Consumers have already shown they’re interested in and willing to pay for these types of products.

Your values are a competitive advantage. Knowing what you stand for and conveying that to the world is no longer an intellectual exercise for the touchy-feely fringes. It’s a necessity.

Today’s consumer wants to know more about the origin of plants and products they select.

2. Decreased plant diversity has its costs.

Recent years have shown that growers and retailers are less likely to try new types of plants and varieties than before. This results in a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to selling that may be more efficient for production, but affects consumers’ choices at retail. Are growers and retailers missing opportunities with this approach?

The lack of diversity has other side effects. Heavy emphasis on specific varieties has caused problems both in production and gardening. A classic example of this are the recent problems consumers have encountered with Impatiens. The industry’s response to educate consumers to alternative plants is a step in the right direction, but what’s the next plant to have problems? What will it take to realize the advantages of choosing plant diversity?

A market rich in new, improved varieties should benefit growers, retailers and consumers. There are many niche opportunities to grow, sell, and promote varieties that are being overlooked for ‘tried and true’ plants. Seasonal collections and limited time offerings will become more important as retailers strive to appeal to consumers with a greater mix of products.

3. The only limits to better service are our own.

Other industries are challenging the definitions of great customer service, and ours can too. There are so many ways growers and retailers can take customer service to a different level and develop new markets for their business.

Marketing starts with understanding consumers' reasons for buying. This means reaching out to wedding planners very early in the process to go a step beyond cut flowers and providing white hydrangeas and other plants that make the day special.

For example, several garden center retailers have moved beyond selling Christmas trees to delivering and setting up trees for customers. Another welcome service is to offer planting for selected shrubs in May. These are services many customers want. What services can you deliver that your customers want this year?

Look for businesses to act more responsive to customers, to be more human. The most successful retailers understand when customers need to be listened to or when they expect the nuanced expertise that only a person can provide. Can your company reverse the trend toward automating everything, as humanity becomes the crucial differentiator between a beloved brand and a commodity?

4. Consumers buy plants for many purposes.

It’s easy to assume most consumers buy plants because they love to garden, but not all consumers are like that. Many buy plants for specific purposes — a memorial, a party, a home-grown edible garden, replanting a landscape, celebrations, increase the value of their home, etc.

Our industry needs to understand the reasons young consumers buy plants, and market accordingly. One example is we know many people get married in June or July. We have to do more than just have white flowers available. We have to reach them in August by planting the seed; “Getting married next summer? Come talk to us — we’ll have FRESH white hydrangeas or other plants ready for your special day.”

Are we overlooking new ways to reach out to decorators, event planners, landscapers and others to expand our markets? Let’s discover the many reasons consumers want plants, and the ways plants serve their purposes.

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