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Will More Consumers Bypass The Garden Center?

What’s NEW in the garden business? Do you know? Will you know in the future – and will you act – before it, and the customer you want in your store passes you by?

WARNING: If you just skim over this article without digging deeper and clicking on links to learn more you might as well bail out now and go stick your head deeper in the quicksand of life getting in the way of where life is growing.

What this article is really about is figuring out how to be where consumers are in the future so your garden center business has a better chance of surviving and any chance of thriving. It might help to know where many consumers are now that you may not know about, or have disregarded, or have paid too little attention to.

You may have been one of those who blew off the post here titled Will This Be The Year of the Fairy Garden? Or you may be thinking about it and looking into it and if you are sincere about that you are right to take a little time to size up the opportunity. Fair enough, just don’t wait too long.

What are you doing about the edibles trend? Are you capitalizing on the opportunity while it is in your lap? Or are you just increasing your inventory cautiously and offering a few related seminars? What is your plan of attack? Are you waiting to see if the edible gardening trend it is a fad or if it will stick?  A lot of people are asking me how long this one (trend) will last. I admit that this question irritates me. I’m thinking…not long if garden centers focus on doubts instead of expanding their opportunity”.

I was around and just getting started in the garden industry during the gardening boom of the 70’s when vegetable gardens, raised beds, fruit trees, houseplants, hydroponic growing, macrame plant hangers were in along with bell bottoms and peace signs. The trend grew out for 7-8 years before peaking and busting in the cloud of the Agent Orange expose.  I’m not sure there was a real relationship between Agent Orange and vegetable gardening but it may have been possible that newcomers to gardening feared the association of Agent Orange, Paraquat, DDT, Chlordane and their brothers and cousins as well as the developing horticultural mumbo-jumbo found spilling from the mouths of garden center staffers.  Food gardening really didn’t bust – it just slowed in its growth while flower gardening boomed on. Now food gardening is on the front burner again, only this time it is growing organically (pardon the pun) and it seems like the cart may be getting in front of the horse.

Safe food is a concern that reaches from the front page to the refrigerator and our dinner plates. Think about it and it makes sense. Consumers are less comfortable eating things they don’t understand than we are if we are in the plant business and look at the use of chemicals as a necessity. The organic, locavore, grow-it-yourself movement has been swelling as you know, but at a faster rate than you probably realize. The majority of the growth is happening online, by direct mail catalog, and in indoor gardening shops, and without participation from the garden center industry. Kitchen Gardeners International is a good example of this as it localizes and creates a community of gardeners among its members, organizers, mentors, and partners. Window Farms are growing organically (pun intended) to expand on the ideas of  growing safe food at home. The window farmer community nurtures its members success online.

Are you aware of the industry supplying indoor gardening enthusiasts? Trey Pitsenberger, owner of The Golden Gecko Garden Center has decided to focus on the opportunity and I think he is on to something that could be big. Maybe he will be able to out-do the newcomer competitors with his combination of plants and supplies. More good news is that this industry seems to be built upon sharing information and advice on how to be successful with the products. Let’s just hope the discount chain stores don’t jump in.

Yes, both indoor and outdoor gardening business is BOOMING! Did you disregard those indoor growing folks as illicit kooks? Well if they are it may be related to the trend that USA Today reports of growing support for legalization (and taxation) of marijuana for medical purposes. However, the windows of opportunity are being opened by the Window Farmers who are growing food in plain sight.

Do you think indoor gardening suppliers might also sell their customers (and possibly yours) what they need to grow plants outdoors either now or in the future? Check what’s available from Worm’s Way.

No garden center will be successful in the indoor gardening arena without engaging the consumer and creating a community. I don’t think that is any different than it will be in the traditional garden center business in the future. People will be looking for a way to be connected to something that brings them more than just products to grow plants in a vacuum (not literally) where the other people who are also gardening don’t communicate with each other.

What are your thoughts related to this? Leave a comment or reply below to join the discussion.

PS: DO NOT take this as a recommendation to go out and stock up on inventory in ANY new line of business you are not prepared to make money in. As always, do your due-diligence and “Accelerated Learning” to determine the market opportunity and requirements.

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3 Responses

  1. My store is located in northern California, and the laws as well as peoples attitudes may be much different in other parts of the country. Like water gardening 10 years ago, some places did well with it, others didn’t. You must carry what your audience wants. That’s all we have done.

    My friend Victor who owns a garden center in Houston, TX once told me he didn’t think there were any hydroponic stores in his town. After talking to his kids he was surprised to find out there was one located nearby. I did a search and found at least 10 stores in his area. Just Google hydroponics Houston TX. Or better yet Google hydroponics and the zip code of your town!

    Victor and I have been involved in “traditional” garden centers for so long we failed to notice the non-traditional garden supply stores all around us.

    If we don’t respond to the changes around us we will end up like other “traditional” trades. There was a time when every town had a farrier. How many do now? The trade morphed and farriers still exist, but their market changed and not every town has one now.

    Anytime great changes are taking place it’s easy to wish things would just return to “normal” or “traditional”. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.

  2. Thanks Trey for serving as a good example. Great advice to “Google” your zip code and any number of terms to see what is going on around us. At one time we saw trends develop in New York and California and work inward to the center of the country, but with the Internet comes a mobile society. You can literally live anywhere and do anything now, and it has been that way for a while. As many mobile professionals are frustrated at the local offerings, forcing them to do business online, with mass retailers, travel, or do without and spend their money on something else.

  3. It is too easy for the big boxes and Bonnie Plant farm to grow this category. Vegetables are vegetables and they are relatively easy to grow compared to the many cultivars and species of flowers.

    We will grow this market but see no long term benefit as a way to seperate us from other garden centers.

    We road the wave on the last green revolution in the late 70’s but were smart enough to get out close to the top.

    Our goal is to build a business that will provide a useful service to mankind that is large enough that it can go on even after Carol and I die.

    I do not see many farmers that start a business of raising and selling vegetables that can grow it enough to have it continue after they die. Plain and simple growing and selling vegetables is so easy to enter that the margins remain low compared to the time invested.

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