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National Gardening Survey: A Roadmap to Opportunity

May 28, 2013 8 Comments

For three years now I have been privileged  to be asked to analyze and comment on the huge amount of data contained in the annual “National Gardening Survey” (available for sale from the National Gardening Association).  Now that the report is published I can share a few “ah-ha” data points to get you thinking (though this barely scratches the surface of the 260 page document!)

In the good news category:

• Household participation (now 85 million households) in gardening is up 2% over 2011;

• Participation in all but one category increased (“Pet & Bird” stayed flat);

• Food Gardening increased for the 6th straight year and is now a lot bigger than “Flower Gardening” in spending power;

• The biggest rise in spending by demographic group was in 18-34 year old males (this might even qualify as GREAT news!)

But here’s the (still) bad news:

Average annual spending per Household is down $4 to a miserly $347 (less than they spend on pizza in a year.)

Overall, the three year trend towards decorating, small-project fixing and food gardening continues with little sign yet of capital-intensive full scale DIY landscaping. So while homeowners are increasingly more willing to get out and garden than they were 3-4 years ago, they are still not spending like we all want them to.  Gardening has an image of hard work, time consuming and risky-at-best to many consumers, although they seem to want to give it a cautious “go”.

“Woe is us! Consumers just don’t get it, they’d rather blow their money on clothing and reality TV, what’s wrong with them?”

Is it the Weather? Not on a national scale: there’s always weather somewhere.

The Economy? Yes, a little (…but remember that pizza number!)

Is it Time and Lifestyle? Yes – a lot:  and there’s the rub.

In the battle for consumer’s time/attention/money, the lawn & garden industry is competing against some of the best marketers on the planet — from movies on demand to electronics — most of whom have invested in making a compelling “Value Proposition” to the consumer to buy their stuff even in the midst of tighter financial times. In the meantime, too many L&G decision makers are still telling themselves, “oh, we’ll be fine when housing comes back and the economy picks up”.

(Will we? Or will we have already lost our customers’ attention to other pastimes?)

In reality L&G has so many emotional benefits to offer our customers: from increasing a home’s value to healthier food or outdoor time as a family. We know it — but we have simply not made a compelling case. Decision makers in all stages of the L&G chain simply MUST put more effort into getting this message across to consumers.

If you’re in the business of selling lawn & garden products to the American consumer, the insights in the National Garden Survey can be invaluable in helping you focus on areas of growth and opportunity (like those 18-34 year old males!) If you don’t have time right this moment to read the 250++ page report, here’s one of the critical core messages to get you started this season:

It’s time to build a compelling value proposition to communicate to your customers:

  • Figure out the cost per week of DIY lawn care vs. services who will ‘do it for you’
  • Tell them the cost-benefit of what a spiffy front yard does to home values … in order to sell them a “5 seasons of containers” program, tree installation, or DIY landscape design service.
  • Price-compare the pricey packets of fresh herbs or lettuces in the grocery store vs. a plant that can be harvested all season.
  • Hook their emotions about the taste of their first home-grown tomato, or the joy of seeing a child entranced by a humming bird.
  • Clearly demonstrate that your products can solve their problems:  a soft and safe lawn for kids to play on or a plant that won’t get eaten by deer (as shown in the clever signage in the header captured at Sickles Market in NJ).

It’s important to remember that customers don’t already know everything that we do about the ways that gardening can improve their life, but they do seem increasingly ready to listen:   It’s time for us to clearly communicate that value … and then GO MAKE THE SALE!


  1. Denise Veyna
    May 30, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Ian, very well done.

  2. Maureen Murphy
    Jun 2, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Sounds like it’s time to get inspired in a new way so that our customers are inspired. Years of a down economy have left a lot of us pretty tired out without lots of cash for changes or upgrades. Have to find a way to re-inspire and tell a new story without tons of energy or resources to do it. That’s how I’m feeling lately, anyway. Thanks for the overview, Ian…good to have the perspective

  3. Edward Knapton
    Jun 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Like many have said before us Ian – it is all about telling a story of how plants will benefit the consumer in their lives. I watch Lexus car comercials and so many other items sold today. Price is not even mentioned it is about how the product makes the consumer feel. Perhaps I am wrong but not enough marketing is done about how wonderful a plant can make you feel. Tell them a story of the feeling you can get from plants.

  4. Mary
    Jun 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Great information, will pass onto my customers. You have to make them feel confident and good about their purchase and help them have successes so they return.I like the analogy of cash spent on pizza and electronic devises. We need to explain how they can get in shape and have a great garden at the same time, spend more time at home and be creative in the kitchen with all the new herbs and vegetables in their gardens.

  5. Jeff
    Jun 3, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    When we stop eating so much pizza, we will know that the economy has turned – maybe not.
    On the other hand think about how the pizza industry had prospered, if anyone is near a typical small to large city you will find a local entrepreneur who is serving fresh pizza baked in a “WOOD FIRED OVEN” with local ingredients even artesian cheese and not bashful about what they charge, the profit in pizza is like bagging your own soil and fertilizer!
    Even good old ice cream is breaking sales records across the nation but it is not the local DQ it is the independent moving the markets!
    Who would have thought…

  6. Mark Foertmeyer
    Jun 4, 2013 at 4:07 am

    The product is not the PRODUCT!!!!!!!!!

  7. Ian Baldwin
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Ed and all, we have all the stories about healthy food, wellness, fresh air indoors, property value-enhancement, family outdoor time, nature, peace, retreat and so on, but we are not telling them. It’s always about the product (sorry Mark!) or the deal or the urgency. The fact is we need both stories; the product/deal to get people’s quick attention in this scan-quickly world and the bigger picture of the Value of Gardening – we also need a new word, “Gardening” smacks of work, hobby, commitment and days gone by!

  8. Kellee O'Reilly
    Jul 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    My friends don’t want to garden: they want to decorate with plants so their house looks nice, or have fun with their kids, or be healthy, or spend time outside. Gardening is the means to the end. We need to stop selling the means and start selling the end.

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