‘2020 was actually a good year;’ ‘Essentiality,’ online website pivots key to Green Industry success
NORFOLK, Va. — “By and large, 2020 was actually a good year,” began Dr. Charlie Hall, the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, in the final Keynote webinar for the Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Short Course held virtually this year by the Virginia Horticultural Foundation from Jan. 12-14.
Looking ahead to the coming 2021 season, Hall was reluctant to forecast yet another “banner year,” however, “the interest is there and the stage is set” for a strong growth year in the green industry.
To begin with, “the millennial wave is coming,” Hall said, referencing both the strong demand within the housing industry over the last half of 2020 and “the heavy correlation of the green industry with the housing industry.”
Indeed, Hall’s prognostication reflected many of the key trends highlighted in an earlier MAHSC webinar on “Marketing to Generation Me” given by Brie Arthur, a best-selling author and professional horticulturalist, who specializes in foodscaping and consumer gardening advocacy.
Like Hall, Arthur said she saw an increase in younger households hiring residential maintenance services. She cautioned attendees, however, that those customers are seeking something much more “beyond the standard mow-blow-and-go services.”
Defining Generation Me as a combination of the younger Gen X members and the now older Millennials, Arthur pointed out that their experiences during the Great Recession has pivoted their financial decisions not only to “spending money on quality over quantity” (emphasis in original), but also to finding ways “to contribute to the world in a positive way.” To attract these newer customers, Arthur advised green industry professionals to look at how they can evolve their landscape services to be more of an environmental service.
She suggested green industry businesses continue to court the new customers from last year’s gardening boom by adding organic lawn and landscape maintenance to their services along with finding ways to promote their involvement in the current trends in foodscaping, native plants and pollinator gardens. Noting last spring’s food supply interruptions, Arthur asked, “Why would you choose sterile Knockout Roses over establishing edible gardens?”
Hall also emphasized the importance of the “accelerated adoption of B2B and B2C technologies” and establishing “stronger linkages between growers and independent garden centers to expedite the flow of plants through the supply chain.” As examples, he cited the continued successes of Landscape Hub and Shrub Bucket, both of which use online technologies to move plant material from growers into the hands of either landscapers (Landscape Hub) or consumers (Shrub Bucket).
Arthur also cited the example of Plants by Mail, which not only has a B2C presence through its website and its collaboration with the Southern Living Plant Collection, but also has a B2B relationship as the plant-shipping arm of Home Depot. “When people go online to order their plants through Home Depot, they think they’re getting their plants from the store; but, in fact, it’s Plants by Mail fulfilling and shipping those orders,” she said.
Both pointed to the necessity of hiring competent information technology personnel to both develop and maintain the online presence of a green industry business.
“Consumer facing websites have to have content changing all the time,” said Hall, “To pull that off, you need a full-time person or a team of reliable contractors.”
Looking towards the 2021 season, particularly with respect to independent garden centers, Arthur stated, “Last year’s boom in gardening was kind of an emotional response to everything shutting down. Now we have totally new habits and routines, including the knowledge that we can more fully rely on e-commerce and an online educational model.”
Hall also pointed to the benefits the green industry incurred from COVID-19 in 2020 such as the early spring timing of the shutdowns and the staycationing aftereffect. Yet, echoing Arthur’s thoughts about maintaining relevance, he cautioned that both this year’s and succeeding years’ growth depend on the “question of essentiality”: “Did we create enough satisfaction? Did we convince them of the benefits of our industry and make them successful?”
“When we talk about the benefits of plants,” he continued, “it’s always the health and wellbeing aspects that resonate. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for the industry to realize we need to talk about and promote the benefits of plants more aggressively.”