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Retail Trends: Reach Young Customers

Retail sales drive the industry, so it’s important to understand ways to continue that growth with younger buyers. We spoke with two innovative young retailers about how they relate to their customers.

Growers and retailers are well aware of the need to create gardeners of the future. Experts tell us younger generations have their own priorities and interests, and that the horticulture industry must adapt and follow the trends. Two retailers share how they are succeeding.

Icing on the Cake
Harvey’s Farm & Garden Center plants Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum® Petunia in garden beds and features this beautiful plant in displays to show customers how easy it is to grow striking landscapes.


Get Creative with Events

Eleven years ago, Emily Harvey joined her father Jim in operating Harvey’s Farm & Garden Center in Westborough, MA. While her father concentrates mainly on the growing side of the business, Emily’s focus is on the retail side. She has turned her energies to developing innovative merchandising and creative educational events.

Growing for Younger Generations

Here are five ideas for growing plants and marketing them that will grab the interest of younger generations of customers.

1. Make it Easy — Appeal to younger buyers by making their plant purchases quick and easy. For growers, this can mean relying on tried and true classic varieties and brands, offering plants in easy-to-find branded containers, adding well-trialed new introductions and providing popular herbs and vegetables.

2. Make it Successful — Build new generations’ loyalty to gardening by offering branded plants like Proven Winners, which are bred and tested for disease and drought resistance, as well as easy maintenance. Once consumers successfully grow plants, they’ll return for more.

3. Package It — Younger generations may have limited time and space for plants, so they appreciate “packaged” solutions like hanging baskets, planted upright containers or window boxes, herb or vegetable kits, and other similar ideas.

4. Think “Lifestyle” — Beautiful plantings enhance a consumer’s life, whether it means garden beds, container plantings on a balcony or herb gardens in the kitchen. Classes on container plantings or cooking fresh produce, retail “lifestyle” displays, and trained salespeople can help educate younger generations about the possibilities and make them excited about growing.

5. Have Fun — Savvy retailers are making their stores destinations for fun educational and social events, not just for selling plants. Classes, tours, children’s events, holiday events and more attract young families to the industry, growing new relationships to last for years.

“We focus on the customers who don’t mind spending a bit more, so we offer quality in terms of advice and experience they won’t find at a big box store,” says Harvey. “We want to give them everything they need to be successful, and are willing to hold their hands and walk them through the growing process.”

For many of Harvey’s customers, this can start at one of their “Ladies’ Night” container workshops. “We bring in our Four Star Proven Winners® representative who introduces the new varieties. She’s so knowledgeable – she has her own group of fans! Our events have been standing room only and everyone leaves with a finished container, whether they brought one or bought one. We offer refreshments and often partner with local vendors to cross-promote.”

Harvey’s background in art helps inspire new ideas and merchandising flair, and some solid market research helps too. “My father and I have travelled to the America’s Mart show in Atlanta to see design trends. It helped us get excited about colors and themes in merchandising. We also do IGC show tours and visit other innovative garden centers in our region.”

“I look at magazines and Pinterest for ideas, among other things. We have to do the footwork to make a Pinterest project easy for people, so we’ll suggest containers, give do-it-yourself tips, even provide the recipes,” she adds. “I love helping people and inspiring them!”

Workshops also help Harvey’s staff highlight the importance of using the right tools and good habits. “Sometimes, we see that people have developed bad habits of watering or fertilization, so we help correct them. We want them to succeed.”

Harvey’s plants Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum outside the store to attract the eye and showcase outstanding plants. “Customers want drama and Proven Winners plants deliver it. We show customers that they can grow a plant that looks the same. We’ll take a 4.5-in. pot and show them the plant will grow this big!”

Start Early and Work the Season Well

In the three years since Shanna Miller has joined the family business, Miller’s Farm Market, Olean, NY, she’s ramped up customer outreach for continued contact and to attract younger customers.

Miller’s sells mostly annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, herbs and vegetables from April through November. As the seasons change, the focus moves from spring annuals to locally grown produce and fall flower varieties. With this seasonal business, it’s important to keep customers engaged, says Miller.

Icing on the Cake
Miller’s Farm Market welcomes younger customers and families to several learning and social events through the season.


“Early in the season, we put teasers out on our Facebook page showing new Proven Winners® varieties. We ask customers to vote on their favorites, which helps build interest while it also helps us tailor our production,” she explains. “We highlight combinations with the new varieties too, and offer special gift products for Mother’s Day, etc.”

Miller finds that Pinterest is a great source of ideas for do-it-yourself learning events at Miller’s. “We encourage customer involvement through our ‘Bring Your Own Container’ parties. We provide soil, staff and ideas for a fun event. We get to interact one-on-one with customers, walk them through the greenhouse and show plants that go together – and we’re giving them guidance step by step.”

Events like these attract whole families looking for fun activities on the weekend. “We did herb garden make and take that was really fun,” Miller notes. “People come in because they love to have something to do. It’s a social event, they learn something and it’s not too expensive. We offer light refreshments themed to the event.”

Miller looks to customers for ideas too. “They have great ideas! For instance, in the summer, they want to know about ways to use fresh produce. We developed an event around what’s fresh for grilling, with recipes for them.”

She relies on Facebook to reach customers because it’s so easy to update. “Fresh produce changes so quickly in the summer. It’s easy to use Facebook to send out updates.”

Customers respond too on Facebook, but Miller found that their responses can be different in person. “We’ll get certain responses to a plant shown on Facebook, but once they see those amazing plants in real life, it can be a lot different!”


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