green crystal ball_fionaadam_mf

Gazing into the Green Crystal Ball

Jul 18, 2014 9 Comments

Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had this summer (while making the rounds at Cultivate ’14 and in client visits) have to do with the ‘biggest increase in garden spending this century’ as observed through the National Gardening Survey.

Today’s Garden Center published my article with an overview of these observations, which you can download formatted for printing / sharing by clicking here:

After the article was published, Gavin Herbert of Roger’s Gardens sent over the following note:

“Hi Ian, I sure enjoyed your article today. It paints a very clear picture of the future business model of a Garden Center. I have sent your article to all of my managers (and my father) as required reading. Well said!  Thanks again, Gavin”

I’d love to use Gavin’s prompt to open up a group conversation here in the comments section: what do you think of my suggestions about reinventing garden retail and the ‘crystal ball’? – don’t be shy, let’s hear it!


photo credit: Fiona Adam via Morguefile
  1. Frank Fernicola
    Jul 23, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Ian, Thanks for the good mid summer read. This is the time of the year when we can take a short breath and look around at our operation. Even though the summer traffic flow is here there are some of the main strategic policies and merchandising decisions that were made for 2014 still in play. One question I have for you is how much does nostalgia come into play with this new generation of gardeners. Does this ever come up as a motivator in the NGS? We seem to hear repeatedly that ,especially in the edible category, that they want to grow things ‘like I remember my parents’ or grandparents did. Whether it is the taste of certain tomato or the ingredients to make a classic family dish. Also I have been witness to quite a few cell phone calls from new gardeners to a parent in which they ask them to verify or reinforce( whether they have the correct information or not) a recommendation or procedure we suggest. This tells me that the opportunity to be a the ‘ first time gardener success center’ that you outlined is huge because there is an uneasiness among this group about having the ability to get it right. I especially like the break down you did in the last line of the Crystal Ball Time paragraph.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jul 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      Frank,Nice to hear from you, go GCU!!

      Thank you for taking the time to share your very perceptive thoughts. While the NGS has not yet measured what you call the nostalgia factor there is no doubt in my mind that this yearning for the simplicity of earlier years (or so they seem today!) is a huge motivator here. I love the idea of you being the “validator” on a call from an uneasy first timer to their parents! Yes, the opportunity is huge…..IF….. Thanks again for your great input!

  2. Lynn Ferda
    Jul 24, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I think the idea of an Ikea-like Garden Center is wonderful. The customer walks through display gardens that answer different needs (food gardening, container gardening, butterfly gardening…) that have understandable labels with plant information. They can enter the names on their little list with the tiny pencil, then pick up the plants from the plant warehouse as they walk out, where information will be available on care sheets or from helpful sales staff on how to plant and care for them and handle any potential problems that may arise. Delivery and/or installation will be available at check out for an extra fee.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jul 30, 2014 at 8:30 am


      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Imagine how powerful your concept will be when we marry digital techniques on a smart phone or tablet with the stroll through the display gardens, adding to their orders as they go, with skilled salespeople giving held-holding help as and when needed. That same journey might be on video too for those too busy to visit the actual store, clicking on “add to basket” as they go. All that can now be done technically, so it won’t be long before some retailer takes the plunge. The first generation might not be successful but innovators are not always the final winners. However I do believe this model has a thriving future – stay tuned as they say. Thanks again for your input!

  3. Keith Turbett
    Jul 25, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Hi Ian, More wise words from you. My take-away from the data and the article comes down to one point you raised – how to term the industry we all work in to appeal to a broader consumer base, a Blue Ocean strategic re-naming if you so wish. With less and less people actually gardening or have even a garden the terminology does seem dated.
    I am seeing in Europe companys taking a closer look at this. Home and Garden enhancement is what we are all selling, nobody has yet found the right name.
    Start a quiz. The Winner wins an industry.
    Off you go and sorry again that England faired worse than the USA in soccer. We in Germany didn’t do to badly!!



    PS. An IKEA style look has just been tried by a Scandinavian garden retailer. It is failing miserably as the look and feel became too sterile. Consumers want to feel as if they are already at home, not in a functional store when they visit their local garden retailer. What IKEA do well are the vignettes, the show and sell system with project completition in mind works superbly.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Jul 30, 2014 at 8:47 am


      Well said! The word “gardener” is dated and I probably shouldn’t even use it in the article. The IKEA approach is only a reference point for today’s readers to be able to relate to. I don’t think the “Home and Garden Success Resource Company” has yet been invented (on this side of the pond at least); we are still in the early days of a 5-10 year process and there will be failures along the way. The current model took 30 years trial and error to develop and is not going to change overnight but bit by bit the progressive companies will learn and move forward. I’d love to hear more from you about the Scandinavian retailer you mention – over an adult drink somewhere I hope soon!

      As for the World Cup, the thing about being English is that we have had low expectations since 1966 so were not disappointed this time and the USA made me proud of my new country!

      Let’s keep this dialogue going, thanks again, have a great show season.


  4. Steve Mercer
    Aug 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Hi Ian,

    I see more and more retail moving to online – ecommerce. One of the reasons I think the box stores have taken a much more active interest in our industry is that they perceive our industry as “low hanging fruit” to help prop up their profits as more an more online retailers such as etc. contine to erode their market share in the years to come. I think we need to rethink our position in the market place and develop and encourage ecommerce. I think shipping within a clearly defined radius of the GC should be “free” to our customers perhaps even with a same day delivery guarantee if purchased before a certain time of day. I think that the delivery drivers should be salespeople that are capable of striking up conversations with the customer at their home… this could lead to all sorts of sales intelligence on potential future sales. Many of the products that our industry sells do not lend themselves well to being transported home in the family car. And as households get busier there is less time for them to drive to pick the merchandise up anyway. If the free delivery has to be built into the selling price of the goods then so be it. I see want is going one in the cell phone industry as a potential boon our industry. The NFC smart tag and the BLE technology ( Bluetooth low energy think Apple iBeacons) will revolutionize retail. The right now Apple and Google are fighting over the standards so you can’t quite get there yet but that is a temporary problem once every phone on the market is a smartphone and they all come with both NFC readers and support for BLE that will dramatically change retail as we know it. One thing that could slow our industry’s adoption of these technologies is the smartphone’s poor performance in an outdoor full sun environment. I don’t see this as a long term problem though as now the smartphone manufacturers are acutely aware of the fact that consumers of their products use their products outdoors and that they have a problem that needs fix’n. So If less and less customers are shopping in stores and more and more begin to shop online labeling of in store product is due for a make over. and I think the industry should consider a dime sized token with an embedded NFC tag with perhaps a piece of fabric stuck in the soil under the token. The root system of the plant would grow through the fabric and anchor the token so that it cannot be removed. This would allow price changes in the store to be performed instantly and would allow the customer to rescan the tag at home for care instructions and potential recipes, long after the product leaves the store. The move to ecommerce would also be streamlined by this move as now all the information is created digitally and stays digital. The other thing I wonder about is now with the invention of LED lights should we be looking to convert retail stores like old grocery stores and old box stores into indoor garden centers. Remember that climate change is real and moving the GC to mostly indoors takes the climate out of the equation to an extent.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Aug 7, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      Steve, WOW you have obviously been thinking this through! I have no doubt that the on-line world will significantly shape our garden industry future but I am not yet as sure as you what that will look like.

      So much technology is still in the beta stage let alone the market-changing stage with new ideas and players emerging all the time. Right now I see several clients dropping ecommerce because what was a fairly low-cost venture has seen the need for more and more sophistication of systems, more skilled help needed and stalled sales. As the big guys you mention move into ecommerce the price to play for the smaller guys keeps increasing.

      Meanwhile with our perishable, tricky yet awe-inspiring product there is a huge opportunity to become the answer to the disconnected on-line world. Home-project shopping benefits from a tactile stage whether that be on a retail site or a traveling in-home demonstration.

      I think in the foreseeable(?!) future the retail/design-build garden business has a prime role to play in first-time-success by showing an actual living example of the what, how and why. Fear of failure keeps spending low. Yes, video can be very helpful and sure consumers will search everything on-line but their natural hesitation with our living products can be turned into a huge reason-to-exist for us. In effect we should be the “Discover/research on line; validate in store or in-home”, industry.

      Thanks for taking the time and making us all think with your great suggestions, let’s see how it plays out!

  5. Jim Sullivan
    Sep 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Ian…Great Job Here ! This is exactly what our Path to Purchase Study is telling us. Collectively as Manufacturers, Distributors and Retailers…we gotta get together and figure this out. Not for our own selfish interests…but for the Industry we all love. Keep it coming !!!

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