Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog



As some of you may know I have been analyzing and commenting on the National Gardening Survey on behalf of the National Gardening Association for the last two years and it was a helluva time to start; just when American consumers seem to be walking away from what used to be their favorite outdoor pastime (yes, but that was 1997!). A quick glance at some of the key metrics or results from the 2011 and 2012 survey can be a pretty depressing read.

The Bad News

One number that got really got my attention was the spending per household per year on what the NGS calls “Landscaping”. In 2008 it was the biggest garden spending category, eclipsing “Lawn Care” which is the usual #1. “Landscaping” is the NGS term for the buying of trees and shrubs and all it takes to successfully plant them (DIY, not by a landscaper) so it includes purchases of the tools, mulch, stakes, fertilizer, irrigation and so on as well as the actual woody plants. Only 4 years ago this activity accounted for $11.7 billion or 32.5% of all DIY garden spending; by 2011 that number has dropped to $6.2 billion (a drop of 46% in just four years and 21% in just 12 months from 2010).

Wilting Tree & Shrub Numbers

The NGS is a consumer survey carried out by Harris Interactive with a level of accuracy (margin of error +/- 3 points) equal to political and other well respected surveys we take for granted. Even so some industry observers and operators have questioned the validity of the data so it was interesting to hear three clients in completely different parts of the country tell me of their woody plant experience. They had posted declines in Tree and Shrub sales (not including the associated hard goods sales which were not tracked separately for each woody plant sale in the POS) of 46%, 45% and 41% in the same time period – WOW.

High-Impact Woodies? 

In fact they (and other clients) added that in reality, there is little demand for what they call foundation plants and the only purchases of basics such as azalea or spirea are when they are in flower and consumers use them as seasonal decoration – like an annual. Retailers often add that consumers are spending “big” money on high impact woodies such as Hydrangeas or Knock Out Roses purely as a showy decoration for a weekend party or summer color, not caring much if it lasts through the winter.

Oh how things have changed! (Remember how those hobby gardeners would quiz you endlessly about guarantees?! )

The glimmer of hope

This huge drop is not just due to a stalled housing market or flat economy. And it won’t just bounce back when the economy and the housing market recovers. There just is no capital intensive DIY gardening going on right now, in rich or poor neighborhoods. It’s all about maintaining and decorating – just one more sign of a changing market and a changing consumer’s view of their garden. Remember, the glass is half full: if there are consumers willing to spend a few hundred dollars on woody plants they see as disposable, that is one attitude shift we can surely leverage!

Photo credit: Paul Anderson

Aug 31, 2012 8 Comments

What’s Happening Out There?!?

I am getting frequent emails from retailers asking the same question, using phrases like “it dropped off the cliff in June” and “Where IS everybody?” The launch of this new blog seems a perfect place for me to share my opinion with you – I look forward to using this as a forum to share insights and observations and hope that you’ll find it valuable to you – please join in, add to the discussion in the comments.

So where are we now?

I think we are in the middle (i.e., it started at least 6 years ago but with the silly housing boom no one noticed) of a transition in consumer attitude and behavior towards “Gardening”. We’ve heard for a while now that almost all hobbies are in decline. People are hunting less, fishing less, crafting less and so on. Hobbyists live the hobby. If your hobby is fly fishing, half the fun is in researching and tying the fly, not just catching the fish. The process is as rewarding as the end result and you don’t mind if it takes months or years or you get wet/cold. The gardening industry was fueled by consumers (and employees) who thought the same way about gardening. They loved to spend their whole year reading, researching and networking to improve their garden or landscapes. The media weighed in with several year round gardening magazines, now it is tough to find any — and HGTV seems more like HTV whenever I catch it.

We are becoming suppliers to a public that increasingly sees gardening only as a seasonal “must do”, hence the “off-the-cliff” situation when they feel they’re done for the season (or it gets hot/wet). Next season they may come back unless something else gets their attention but in between spring, fall, Christmas we are not seen as essential or “must-make-time-for” places.

Ugh. Where’s the good news?

But the good news is that even in a recession, householders are still doing small, around the house projects such as painting a bedroom, replacing a screen door or screening-out a nosey neighbor. And the USA has 116 million households! This is a wonderful opportunity for the L&G business if we re-present or package the project as a quick, fun, even family weekend activity. Instead of painting a room why not plant fresh late-summer veggies in pots of your deck (“Sugar Peas by Labor Day”) Basil on your balcony? We can show you how to do that. Hiding that nosy neighbor? We have all you need.

We are seeing a change in commitment. The L&G industry has to adapt to a consumer which thinks of us as a place to get them started in spring with flowers veg or lawn care or as a place to get solutions and products for their quick weekend projects.

We can do this, but it will take some work.

We have the products, the answers and talent to become much bigger than it ever was when depending on hobbyists; but only if we re-invent ourselves in the consumer’s mind.

(photo credit: taylorschlades)

Aug 6, 2012 5 Comments