What’s Happening Out There?!?

Aug 6, 2012 5 Comments

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)

  1. Jim Webster
    Aug 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Happy to see you join the 21st century. I will try to follow!
    As you know, The Barn Nursery’s corporate philosophy has been “Maximize profits during season, minimize losses out of season”. I suspect many others, whether stated or not, have a similar outlook. With overhead costs continually growing, I do not think this to be a sound business philosophy going forward. It seems that many successful GC’s are looking way outside the box to keep and grow top and bottom line business.
    Cindy and I are traveling quite a bit to look at different opportunities around the country (both in and outside of the nursery industry).
    It would be very helpful if you would include specific examples of various retailers doing successful lines of business outside the box. Or even GC’s that are reinvinting themselves to their customers.
    If near Chattanooga, I invite owners and managers to visit us. I know that we will learn as much from them as they would from us on a visit.

  2. Ian Baldwin
    Aug 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Jim, thanks for the good input, let’s keep up the “What’s happening out there?” discussion, off on the road early tomorrow so keep in touch, Ian

  3. Ian Baldwin
    Aug 18, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    This week’s Ace Fall show in Chicago was upbeat with ACE C.E.O. reporting sales up over expectations this year and the mood for 2013 was positive from buyers and vendors. They expected “food gardening” to continue its surge and the barbeque/grills area was busy. The belief is that the consumer is spending now where they have to after years of frugality. Now if we can just have an “average” weather year (whatever that means!)


    1. David Ruf
      Sep 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Could you find some info as to what the top food gardening items are after tomatoes and will there be fads, square watermellons, or will it be corn, peas and beans. I was wondering if hops, berries, rhubarb, grapes, or gojies might be an up and coming item of more importance.

  4. Ian Baldwin
    Sep 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    David, you got me! There will always be fads as you say but as we see more varied foods used in cooking programs on TV we may see a growth for them in retail, like Basil is by far the biggest herb used now (about 50% of the national herb crop grown I believe). But I think that your basic veg like the ones you mentioned, plus spuds, will be around for a while. I would put an outside bet on Arugula as more people try balcony gardening and find you can have spicy greens almost all year round in most of the country. Hops, hmmm, good idea, I might try that myself

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