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Into the Garden: Change is in the air

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are changes in the air in the plant industry.

Danny Takao is pushing for a unified marketing campaign. Takao is a former president of OFA, a national association of floriculture professionals including greenhouse growers, garden center operators, retail and wholesale florists, interior plantscapers, green industry suppliers, students, and educators).

Like many in the industry, Takao is worried that the next generation of gardeners isn't as educated as their forefathers. He's pressing his fellow growers to pull together and fund not just community beautification projects, but education initiatives in the schools.

Greenhouse Grower magazine has identified five priorities to re-energize the plant industry. Calling it "The Grow Initiative," the plan identifies problem-solving ideas.

Bob Barnitz, of Bob's Market and Greenhouse in Mason County, was part of a panel of 19 innovative thinkers representing multiple facets of the ornamentals industry who came up with a five-part plan.

First, there's consumer success. "With innovative genetics, technology and production research, today's growers produce amazing plants. But if the consumer doesn't have a good experience with our products, isn't confident enough to try them, or doesn't even consider us among their options when spending money, it's all for naught."

Local garden center owners often have told me landscaping is the first item to be cut from a homeowner's budget. Money and time are the main factors that lead to this decision. With a tight economy, many folks are looking for ways to stretch the budget, and that's moving toward gardens that produce food, not just beauty. And I know that the No. 1 request I receive when discussing gardens is this: "We want a no-maintenance landscape!"

Using technology, such as smartphones, to aid shoppers in the garden center will become more commonplace.

The next step in the initiative is cultivating new customers. Again, time and money play a role in this: Generation X has less disposable income and more demands on their time. Growers must integrate their products into stores other than just garden centers. Also, growers typically pushed plants on the buyers that they believed to be the best for the consumer, without listening to what the consumer wanted.

The third part of the growers' plan is to demand quality. This goes hand-in-hand with the first goal of consumer success. According to Greenhouse Grower, "In an atmosphere where we need to give customers every opportunity to succeed, providing the best possible plants, specifically selected to thrive in a specific region, is a must." They suggest changing the focus from price to how beautiful and unique the product is to entice buyers.

Sharpening business management is a focus the panel sees as necessary for the floriculture industry. And finally, the group recognized that it must invest in the industry. "Regulatory issues make operating increasingly difficult," according to Greenhouse Grower. "Mass-marketing for our products is virtually non-existent beyond the efforts of the big boxes. Funding for university research shrinks year after year in state after state. Fewer young people look to floriculture as an exciting career opportunity ... as a group, and as individuals, we must devote time and money to turn these potential problems into opportunities for growth."

One summit participant, Tom Smith of Four Star Greenhouse, pointed to Apple products (the computers, not the fruit) as a guide for the plant industry. He noted that his 91-year-old father and a toddler can use a iPad. He believes that if the industry moves its focus from price to consumer success, it will create a new generation of gardeners. Making purchasing simple, creating healthy and vigorous plants, integrating simple growing instructions are all ways to help new gardeners. As Smith explained, "If a customer fails, how many times are they going to try before they give up and go on to something else?"

Smith said there is a reason why people wait outside Apple stores for days to get the newest Apple products. "They can't wait to be successful -- a business lesson we can all learn and embrace."

Throughout the coming months, I'll touch on some of the other ways the gardening industry is working to entice a new generation of gardeners while keeping the old friends happy.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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