Connecting the Consumers’ Gardening Dots

Feb 20, 2013 7 Comments

I have been analyzing and commenting on the National Gardening Survey for the last two years and in 2012 I also dug deep into their tri-annual “What Gardeners Think” (WGT) study too. Whereas the annual National Gardening Survey asks consumers WHAT they do and spend in the garden, WGT seeks out the “WHY”. In this excellent survey we can see consumers’ attitudes, likes and dislikes about the activity and the industry that supplies it.

Since this survey came out, several questions and their answers have stuck in my mind as I travel around to visit garden retailers, so I thought I would write a short blog on several of these topics over the next few weeks. It might be worth you walking your stores with these consumer likes and dislikes at your “Top of Mind.”

A question that continues to resonate with me simply asks consumers for their biggest garden challenges, here are the top few answers in priority:

  • 1. Weeds
  • 2. Soil conditions
  • 3. Insects
  • 4 Too little water or rainfall
  • 5. Animal pests

The National Gardening Association told me that the top three challenges above have not changed since the survey began. So if the consumer still feels the same challenges, yet garden spending continues to decline, does that mean the L&G industry has not “made the sale” to America? I think it does.

Despite numerous pretty and strong emotional “end-result” ads on TV (e.g for Scotts lawn food), we see pallets of weed killer and lawn food, mountains of soil amendments and gallons of insecticide sold purely on price at retail. Pile it high and watch it fly –  to those who know what to do, how to do it and what price to expect.

To the other millions of poor souls who are intimidated by or ignorant of our products – good luck! (It’s like me plucking up the courage to go into an electronics store for a new cell phone).

There is rarely a word in garden retail about the emotional outcome, such as the status or pride of a perfect lawn, the joy of pretty flowers in great soil or the taste of a worm-free tomato.  After a hundred years of selling lawn food why has no one come up with a retail sales line like “The Perfect Lawn for only “x” cents a square foot per month”?

Why are insect and other controls stacked together on the retail “Wall of Death” instead of being bundled into projects for the weekend or solutions that talk directly to the consumers’ fears or challenges?  Got kids and pets – try all these remedies over here. Stressed for time but want fresh veggies? – invest in this bundle and all you have to do is pick, wash and eat!

The American consumer has shown in this recession that they will continue to spend selectively on items or experiences that have connected with their emotions (purses, jewelry, cruises) by saving money on items or tasks that show little obvious emotional value. So they search for savings on A to self-indulge on B.

On which side of the perceived-value fence do you want to be?

  1. Bob Buchwalter
    Feb 21, 2013 at 3:40 am

    I just did a talk for a local garden club and many of their questions were on disease and insect control. I expected an older crowd which the majority of folks were older than 55 or 60. The owners daughter just happen to be there who was in her early 20s. I used the time after the meeting to pick her mind a little bit about her generation. She said that our industry needs to put a different spin on “gardening” much like the food industry has done with cooking. Now everybody wants to be a culinary chef. Cooking was taboo until all the cooking shows came on the food network but now these shows have made it the thing to do.

    I also have heard from her generation that as children they were kicked out of the garden by mom & dad or grandparents and now they are intimidated by the whole idea of gardening! Outdoor living and fairy gardening can only take us so far, and some how I think we have to try and take out the fear of the unknown and make gardening more simple and fun for the newer generations.

    I do like the idea of bundling products together for weekend projects. Given me something to think about!

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Feb 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Bob, good stuff! You are right on with the cooking comments and I agree, we need a new word for “Gardening”. Maybe with the concept of bundling we can finally convince the industry that tie-ins are a good idea! Thanks for your quick reply, keep warm! Ian

  2. Tina Bemis
    Feb 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    People who use plants just to decorate lose the emotional thrill to be had when they design their own pot (successfully) or harvest food from something they grew longer than the time it takes to get a pot of basil home. It’s not the beauty or utility value that people crave. It is the way they feel when they look at something or harvest something. How do we make that connection as an industry?

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Mar 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Tina, you obviously don’t know some of the people I know who go just as weak at the knees about a deorated summer party patio or Christmas mantle as you or I do about a successful harvest (fava beans planted last week at chez Baldwin)!! To such folk we can be just as good a resource as for the wannabe foodie or gardener can’t we?

      Denni, no TV, hmm, sometimes I wish we didn’t but it does give a retailer a valuable insight into the way some of your customers live and what they respond to. Buy one (tax deductible) for market research purposes! Yes Oprah is still around, though maybe not the driving trend force she once was. We need to somehow get a couple of these charming TV chefs at least into the veg and herb garden to begin with

      Jay, thanks for your participation and support as always. BTW we are still eating the onions I grew from your plugs last year!

      Warren, gosh I gad forgotten about the Gravpevine Report, nice work. I love the idea of a veggy service garden crew on a “spiff up the veggies” contract just like the container-change up crew or the pool guy, why not indeed!!

  3. Denni
    Feb 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Back to the foodie thing. That is an appeal garnered from tv, magazines, celebrities sharing receipes with Oprah and so on. By the time that customer walks into the specialty food store or kitchen store, they are already sold on the idea of being a foodie.
    Where do we start the process? Can one sign in the store, or one display, or a newsletter feature, make a convert out of customers? I don’t know if gardening and makeover shows have enough sexiness to outweigh the negatives in customers’ minds. Remember that cooking is relatively quick, fun, and does not require maintenance. Of course I don’t mean that instore efforts are a waste of time, I just question whether we can ever get the mass appeal.
    Do celebrities take Oprah on tours of their gardens? I don’t have tv so I really don’t know…is Oprah still on?

  4. Jay De Graff
    Feb 26, 2013 at 8:19 am

    The fact that we don’t take the fear factor out of gardening speaks to the decline in the average spend. We are definitely leaving money on the table when we don’t send the consumer home with what they need to be successful with a project. Bundling could be the silent seller of tie ins to help the consumer understand what it takes to have a successful end result with a project like herb growing or a salsa garden. Food related bundling is a smart way to start as the previous comments have stated. Simplifying those five fears from Ian’s article and making it easy for the consumer to understand the end result and what it takes to achieve that result, will pay off, I believe.

  5. Warren Quinn
    Feb 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Consumer research that ANLA did starting in 2000 (remember the “Grapevine Report” series?) revealed that the key to growth is “bundling” materials and services, focusing on the project and not the products, and sharing the excitement of the results with the customer. Go beyond the cash-and-carry pre-planted container and extend your brand to your customers’ homes, rotating veggies and annuals every month, or hey – how about including a tree in that bundled project and making some real money? Don’t even show a non-bundled price for any tree over 8-feet tall (how many of those are you selling anyway?). Not using a separate set of “landscaping” systems, but seamlessly and efficiently marketing and providing services through the retail channel.

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