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2016: Year of the Smart Consumer

Bahama Beach
Tom Smith

Consumers are getting smarter every year. Growers and retailers who understand this have the opportunity to increase sales and profits in 2016.

By Tom Smith, President of Four Star Greenhouse Inc.

Recent economic indicators are starting to show an uptick in home improvement and new home building – both are great signs for our industry. If consumers are more willing to invest in home improvements, they should also be willing to invest in making the outside of their homes more attractive.

This is an opportunity for our industry to make the case that a relatively small investment in plants (at less cost than many are willing to pay for structural changes) can have a very dramatic, positive impact on the appearance and curb appeal of a home.

Icing on the Cake
The industry continues to find ways to make it easier for consumers to grow plants, such as this self-watering container and others like it.


Consumers are changing

Consumers are looking for better plants and changing the way they find them. I think many consumers are moving from buying big flats of bedding plants to buying larger plants that perform better and are easier to maintain. This has huge implications for our industry.

We’ve seen many instances where consumers want it made easy for them. They want plant growing to be easy, combining plants to be easy, and prepackaged plants and decorative containers (also easy). Finally, they want plant maintenance to be easy. As an industry, we should continue to ask: How can we continue to make gardening successful for them?

The fact that consumers are getting smarter is big opportunity for our industry. In the past, they learned about gardening from traditional sources, but now they are using internet searches and plant information websites, social media, videos and more. Watch where they’re getting information and you’ll understand what they want.

Social media sites like Pinterest are particularly huge. Consumers see photos of plants growing with others and creative planting ideas, and they search for those plants online. Our industry can benefit from understanding this.

Proven Winners® heavily promotes its products to consumers through social media and other outlets, and it knows what consumers are looking for. But there is a disconnect between what consumers want and where they can find it on a retailer’s bench. Even though a plant is selling at record numbers, consumers may not be able find them at the local retailer.

Two examples of this are Superbells® Lemon Slice and Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum. Lemon Slice took off big when it debuted and continues as one of the most popular Proven Winners® plants; yet consumers scramble to find it. We get tons of questions about finding and growing Vista Bubblegum, but it too can be hard to find at retail.

Icing on the Cake
Superbells® Lemon Slice and Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum® are heavily promoted to consumers and are in high demand, although many buyers scramble to find them.


Smarter consumers are becoming aware of the better products and if you carry them, you will win in 2016. We know retailers who can’t find the plants they want to sell at their local growers. At Four Star, we’re looking for growers to partner with us to help supply those retailers.

Innovations from our industry

Our industry is full of innovators who understand that better plants and products will continue to win consumers’ attention. For instance, the advancements in quality performance of shrubs and perennials are going full force. Spring Meadow Nursery is doing a fantastic job with introducing new genetics in many varieties, as Walters Gardens does with perennials. Take advantage of the many new varieties to round out your offerings – you’ll be amazed at how many great innovations are being introduced.

In the same way, container companies are bringing out great new products like water-holding containers, as well as decorative containers in many styles and colors to appeal to buyers. These containers will lead to more container gardening and they give growers the opportunity to sell packages for consumers that are beautiful and much easier to grow than before.

Selling high end vs. low end

Not many people are comfortable with change and many in our industry operate as they always have for years. They look first at their costs, and then later think about what’s selling and how fast. That isn’t a bad approach, but it rarely leads to jumps in sales or profits.

In contrast, there are a growing number of growers and retailers who watch what consumers want to buy, and are adapting to that. Consumers are price conscious, for sure, but the steady growth of sales for premium plants like Proven Winners varieties shows there is a healthy high-end market. I think there are more consumers out there who are willing to pay more for quality plants and decorative containers than the industry believes.

There is a market for everything. It seems like many in our industry are fighting over the low end versus the higher end of the market and the subsequent upselling that is possible. Many retailers still mix their generic plants together with branded ones, forcing customers to take the time and effort to search for the plants and brands they want. Imagine what would happen if grocery stores mixed all the brands and types of soup, cereals or canned products together on the shelves!

Some retailers (both independent and big box) are getting much better at merchandising and marketing premium plants and products. Though I still don’t think there are enough great looking impulse items grown or created for the garden center, I do look forward to seeing more of those in the future.

Online attractions

Today’s consumer knows what they want more than ever before, and he or she wants the shopping experience to be easy (and the growing experience to be successful). They’re starting to look online because they can find what they want there.

Have you ever searched for a product online because you couldn’t find it in the store? Have you paid a little more for that online product just because it was available and it was convenient to have it delivered? This is one of the biggest changes driving our industry this year.

Online plant sales are dependent on inventory, but if this process can be made workable, think of the possibilities. Imagine an online sales site that sells plants and offers complete and correct growing information — along with photos of what the plants will look like alone and in combinations. We’re beta testing such a site with English Gardens because we believe people are looking for information and products online.

Things are looking positive for our industry in 2016. I hope you adapt to the changing market and have a great year!

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