From the February 2008 issue of our newsletter, Let's Grow. For a FREE subscription, CLICK HERE

Is Gardening a Dirty Word?

How to Market to a New Generation of Buyers

Few pastimes are as old as mankind itself, but gardening is surely one. That fact may give the garden marketer a false sense of security. It’s natural to think of gardening as something that people will always do, by choice or necessity. And while certain plants may fall in and out of favor, gardeners’ wants and needs stay comfortingly the same from one year to the next. Or do they?

If you haven’t noticed, what motivates Gen Y buyers (ages 35-44) is quite different from what motivates the Baby Boomers. So if you haven’t examined your assumptions about who you’re selling to and how to communicate with them – watch out! There’s a seismic shift coming in the market for gardening products, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be blindsided.

Consider the following shift in attitudes that we’re witnessing with Generation Y:

Property Values as Driving Force. Baby Boomers garden because they enjoy it. Gen Y’s major motivation is that landscaping increases property values. More than half of all respondents to a recent survey agreed that this is the main reason they garden.

Preferred Projects. For many Boomers, gardening is an end in itself. Not so for Gen Y. When designing landscaping projects, they look for curb appeal (those property values again!) and outdoor rooms where they can relax with friends and family.

Don’t Make Me Work! Gen Y believes that gardening is work, not fun. Landscaping, on the other hand, is sexy. Note that home improvement TV Shows don’t feature a “gardening challenge,” but rather a “landscaping challenge.” Why? Gardening takes time that Gen Y doesn’t have. But landscaping improves property values, of course!

Dwindling Knowledge Base. For the first time, the new generation of buyers doesn’t have a wealth of gardening knowledge passed down from their parents. It’s a pretty small percentage of Gen Y buyers that know the difference between an annual and a perennial. What’s more, they don’t care. If a plant dies, they don’t know whether it was an annual at the end of its life cycle or an unfortunate perennial. They’ll simply plant something else instead.

Do-It-Yourself or Do-It-For-Me? Do-it-yourself hasn’t gone away, but Gen Y is more willing (and often more financially able) than their parents to hire professional help. If they don’t know how to do something, they’re comfortable paying for assistance from those who do.

What does all this imply for your marketing efforts?To communicate with the Gen Y buyer, you need to think differently.

Watch Your Words. Just knowing that “landscaping” is a plus and “gardening” may not be can help shape your message more effectively. Don’t dwell on the process of gardening – promote the payoff instead. Process is meaningful to the avid hobbyist, not to those who don’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial.

Show Before and After Pictures. Help your new buyers visualize how landscaping can transform their yard. Take a page from the home catalogs that sell to a younger audience. The most successful ones don’t show individual pieces of furniture, but rather entire rooms. They’re selling style and an overall look – not an individual item.

Make Decisions Easy. Help your new customers succeed by offering guidance on where and how to use which plants. Guide them towards choices that will help them be successful – don’t expect them to know what works best. Sell kits, plans or container gardens for different settings and situations. Knowledge and service are your opportunities to outshine the big box stores, make the most of them.

By shifting your message and your merchandising, you’ll be able to speak to Gen Y in terms they understand and appreciate. Few gardening companies are doing it now, so the opportunity is wide open. Go for it!

Information in this article was based on a session at the January 2008 Mailorder Gardening Association conference. Titled “Where Have All the ‘Gardeners’ Gone? Maintaining Relevance With Tomorrow’s Consumer,” the talk was given by Kip Creel of Standpoint Marketing Research.


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