Category Archives: Horticulture

Distinguishing Your Micro-Market

A couple of years ago I took a class called Field Cropping Systems for my major at Cornell University. We would talk about everything from planting to post-harvest. We would talk about how each growing region had a climate and in each tiny area that essentially could be limited to a single plant there was something called a microclimate. The same can be said of today’s marketplace. Even though there may be prevailing trends within the horticulture and agriculture industries, we have to realize that individual businesses are each affected and shaped by different microclimates within the market.

Now I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to talking about the green industry as one whole big jumbled mess, but on the other hand I’ll be the first person to tell you that just because something works for a garden center in Pennsylvania doesn’t mean it will work for a garden center in Washington State. As an industry we should share ideas and communicate with each other; we should decide which fronts that we need to tackle to move our entire industry forward, but in order to move forward as an individual business you really have to assess what works for you.

I have people ask me all the time, “How do I get involved with Social Media and be effective?” or “How do I cater to young people?” I can give them a few bits of advice on typical content, or point them in the direction of market research that myself or someone else has done regarding Generation Y, but I cannot emphasize enough that when laying out a marketing strategy the first step has to be identifying your true market.

The industry can tell you that gardening is most popular amongst married women aged 35-65 who lead active lifestyles blah blah blah blah. However as an individual business you must understand that these are averages on the industry as a whole and that your market may be completely different. For instance if you own a grower/retailer operation who sells to landscapers, and does 75% of its business with those landscapers, does it make sense for you to market to the “typical gardener”? No way!

One thing that small business owners often neglect to look at is who is coming into their business to purchase from them. Take a look around. Who’s shopping at your location? Who’s buying from you online? Who’s placing the orders for next spring? You can only really gain a sense of who you need to cater to by first gaining a sense of who is coming to your business. The answers to these questions may also work the opposite way. They may show you who is not coming to your business, and the demographics you need to cater to more. Either way the first step in establishing any marketing strategy, digital or traditional (print, radio, etc.), must be to analyze your micro-market. The industry can help you understand trends but when it comes down to your business, no one should know who your customers are better than you.

This is especially tricky when it comes to Social Media Marketing. Getting involved with Social Media can make your company globally known, but if you’re a local business that doesn’t ship or sell online, does it make sense to cater to these global demographics? As a business you have to understand that these global “likers” are good for business by generating popularity in the global high school that is the internet, but at the same time you have to know who your true customers are and that their needs must come first in order for your business to be profitable in the slightest.

Remember before you can create your content you have to know who you are creating it for. For if content is the key to marketing success your audience is the lock and in order for things to work out the key has to match the lock.

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Big Thoughts for a Shrinking World

From a business standpoint, when you hear the words “Social Media” what do you think? For many businesses in the industry the only thing that would come to mind would be: advertising. “Social Media is a great place to advertise”, they say. Yes, that is true. Being involved in Social Media does get your name out there to a wider range of individuals and companies, but what else is Social Media besides an advertising tool? This is where a lot of people in our industry get stumped. They can’t move past the thought that Social Media can ever be more than just another way to let customers know about deals and special events.

They say that humans can only use a certain percentage off their brain, and that if we could access the vast unutilized portion that we could be much smarter. Well the same goes with Social Media – in a sense. If we simply use Social Media to advertise what we are currently doing or what we will be doing in the near future, we aren’t maximizing the true potential of these new technologies. We have to think outside of the box and realize Social Media can do way more for our businesses and industry as a whole, and unlike our brains this higher level of output is actually possible!

The first thing people need to realize is that Social Media is a communication tool. It allows two way communications between customer and producer (or supplier). Not only are we advertising and influencing our customers with the things we post on our pages, but Social Media also gives our customer the chance to reach out to us. It gives them a chance to communicate freely with us on what they feel is a personal level. If you aren’t actively answering questions on your Social Media pages, something is wrong. I’ve said it before but when somebody has a question about a product, they no longer turn to a hotline or write an email. Their first step is to find your Facebook or Twitter page and find an answer there.

Now, after coming to grips with the fact that Social Media is all about communication rather than strictly advertising, you can really start to utilize what I see as the greatest aspect of Social Media.  Never before in history has knowledge been so accessible. If you want to know about a plant disease or current trends in a market, all of that information is just a Google search away. Sites like Twitter even go a step further. Because of Twitter’s generally public nature, anyone can see what virtually anyone else is saying. That means that now at this poker table of an industry everybody can see at least a few cards in everybody else’s hands. I say “a few” because there are definitely some things in the industry that companies are trying very adamantly to keep under wraps. However for the most part, companies are being “forced” to divulge a lot of information across social channels because their customers are becoming so involved and are constantly asking for more and more information.

Now you could say that this would be bad for businesses, but I say this should be great for businesses because it should provide for a healthy industry of constantly evolving thoughts. It gets us past the sometimes foolish notion that we don’t want people to know what we are doing in our businesses. This way people can get a better look at how we do business and we can see how they do things, and then through discussion and evaluation we can apply changes to what we do to operate more efficiently. Yes, the other company benefits as well, but that’s what we need as a Horticultural Industry. We can only move forward as an industry if the businesses that make it up move benefit mutually. This is how true growth is achieved. Sure one company can advance technologically and have better profits, but if they don’t help ensure that there is competition; how healthy is the industry, really?

Social Media gives us this friendly format by which everyone across the globe can share information about the industry or any industry for that matter. A greenhouse grower in Canada can talk to someone in China who perhaps has a different growing system. Through conversation, these two decide to figure out a way to combine their ideas and come up with a growing system that benefits both of them. This mutualistic benefit is what I think is truly the biggest reason why businesses need to become more social. The days of secrecy are almost over, and if businesses cannot communicate with each other, no progress will be made. Obviously don’t give away granny’s secret cookie recipe, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk with people in the industry to see where you can buy the best oven. Social Media can give us this opportunity.


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The Big Picture

Recently while speaking with a diverse group of professionals in the industry, and trying to explain the reason why Social Media is important to our industry, something occurred to me.  People really don’t understand why they should be involved in Social Media. To be honest for a long time I didn’t either. However, the more you look at what works and what doesn’t  you start to realize why you’re actually doing what you’re doing. To start off: if the reason that you are involved in Social Media is simply because your competition has a Social Media campaign, then you are missing the big picture here.

When instituting a Social Media strategy, you must place your goals not only in the metrics side of things (i.e. analyzing traffic and engagement), but also in the overarching reason of why you should be on Social Media in the first place, to connect to future generations of the population. The problem for our industry and a lot of other industries out there is not that we are technologically advanced. We as an industry have all the technologies available to make us fully competitive for the time in the lives of younger individuals. What we lack is the sense of communication. This is where Social Media comes into play.

One of the problems that a lot of people face when looking into Social Media is that they see it simply as an advertising tool. They see it as a place for pictures, or a place to announce current sales. They aren’t grasping the real reason why Social Media is becoming more than a fad. Social Media is not a channel for advertising, but is rather a tool that expedites the entire marketing channel. It allows customers to communicate directly with a business about a good or service. It allows customers to communicate directly with other customers as well – without ever getting out of their chair.

Never before have people been able to give so much feedback about a product or service in such a short period of time. Social Media allows developers and breeders an insight into what people want out of plants on an instant and constant basis. People are not afraid to say what they want. It also provides and outlet for customer service. Now people often turn to Facebook or Twitter to ask questions about a product or plant, rather than call a customer service number. This benefits the customer, and also the producer. Customers get the answers they need, while producers are able to see trends in problems and can answer many questions in a smaller amount of time than ever before.

Social Media is a means of communication, not simply a means of advertisement. Even more importantly it is one of the main channels of communication for younger generations. It is something that children are growing up with. For good or bad, kids start using Facebook at younger ages every day.  Social Media is no longer a new technology to them. It’s something they have always had. It is second nature to them. That is why we as an industry must be present on Social Media now. Horticulture and gardening must become second nature for these new generations. In the past everyone had a garden and kids were raised thinking that this was a normal thing to do. However kids today are raised in homes in which gardening is not a major aspect of life. Then when they reach a purchasing age, the concept of gardening is not familiar to them which makes them less likely to buy horticultural related products.  One of the main problems we face as an industry today is that our industry is not familiar to Generation Y (and following generations). Social Media can help us dig our way out of this hole and help prevent this problem in the future.

Social Media itself is not a goal. The goal is to once again make gardening and horticulture relevant in the minds of young consumers, and Social Media is simply the vehicle.

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Why Horticulture? Inspire and not Scare

ImageHorticulture is not an easy industry to make a fortune. It requires putting in extreme amounts of work over long hours.  Often times the money you make depends on three months out of the year. To be successful in the industry means to operate rapidly in any condition as efficiently as possible, and at the same time hope that mother nature doesn’t completely destroy your selling season. When you think about it this way, why would anyone want to work in this industry? Why would anyone want to open a garden center? For that matter why would any student out of college want to go to work in horticulture?

This is where one of the main problems lies in the communication between existing professionals in the industry and the youth (specifically students considering careers in horticulture). One of the things that we as an industry like to do is tell people how hard the work is and how often things don’t go as planned. We like to emphasize how the weather was terrible, or how “you don’t really make any money on mums”; you just grow them to stay relevant in the fall. This is understandable. The horticulture industry is not a place for those unwilling to put in massive amounts of time and effort. It is in our nature as social people to seek justification for our endeavors and therefore “complain” when things don’t go as well as we had hoped. However we have to watch our audience when we do this.

If there was no money to be made in the horticulture industry nobody would sell plants. No one would raise vegetables. No one would have landscaping around their homes. If there was no market for horticultural products we would be extinct just like the typewriter industry. There has to be a way to make a profit. Sure people aren’t making Bill Gates money in our industry, but we have more to offer. Our industry attracts people that like different things that you cannot find anywhere else. Our industry combines living things with chemistry with business with conservation with marketing. It’s one of the few industries that combines all of these different elements which make it attractive to people with diverse interests. Everyone in our industry loves what they do. Face it, there is a reason each and every one of us does what we do.

Recently I came upon a saleswoman (for a wholesale grower) giving a presentation to a group of students. Throughout the presentation she kept emphasizing that the money isn’t good and neither are the hours. Hearing her talk I wondered if I was in the right industry. I couldn’t imagine what the other students were thinking. I was raised in the industry. It’s all I know, and yet she made it sound as if I would be living in my car if I decided to work in the industry. Finally at the end of the presentation I asked her “Why are you in this business?”  She then said it was because she loves plants, and that she loves getting people the plants they need, and that it was a job that could pay all of her bills. Why didn’t she mention that in her presentation?

People often claim that we aren’t getting enough young people interested in our industry. This is because we aren’t showing young people the positive aspects of pursuing a career in horticulture. Presentations like the one above are not rare. I see things like this all the time. I agree we should inform students that this industry is built upon hard work, but at the same time we need to show young people the benefits that horticulture can offer them. We have to show them how this industry can offer them experiences that no other industry can. We have to let them know that a career in horticulture can support a family, and it can be enjoyable too!

The question is: how do we do this? How can we get more young people to stick with horticulture? How can we convince people to be more positive in their approaches to the youth? We have to change the mentality of an industry and that isn’t an easy thing to do.

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Who are you?!

Who are we? When addressing the topic of marketing to Generation Y this should be the first question that is asked.

This weekend I took a trip out to Long Island and got the chance to talk to several professionals from the horticulture industry. I went from landscapers catering to private residents to growers selling wholesale plants to retailers to garden centers both large and small to public gardens and even to the Cornell University cooperative extension office. When I had a chance to talk to the representatives from these organizations one thing came through loud and clear. We as the horticulture industry struggle to communicate with younger generations. However it’s not as if we aren’t trying to keep young people interested; it’s just that we aren’t hitting the same wavelengths at both ends of the spectrum.

One business that I stopped at told me that one of the biggest challenges that they are currently facing is that of reaching the individuals in Generation Y. He said that his business had a Facebook, but that they really had no idea of what they were doing online with regards to any sort of strategy. I began to think about his problem on my ride back to Cornell and came up with a few ideas.

Let me first say that this business at a physical level was superb. Everything in the store was fun, exciting and had a youthful vibe. However, when I went online, this was not the case. Everything was blocky and seemed cold, hard, and square. I tried to find pictures of the things I had seen at the location that I had enjoyed a great deal, but I could not. Their website was simply a space to promote specials and deals (which is completely ok but should not be the sole focus of a website).

This brings us to the real meat (or tofu for you vegetarians) of today’s topic. If you want to connect with Generation Y, you have to tell them who you are. Nowadays if people can’t find out about an organization or business online they don’t want to take the risk of finding out in person. This even goes for people. Before an interview or meeting with someone I’ve never met I try to find out as much as possible about that person online before meeting them in person. Therefore on a website and your social media sites you have to let customers know who you are. If you’re a fourth generation family owned business, tell them that. Tell them how you struggled through the last few years and what you have done to get by.

Another thing that young people want to see in a business is who works there. They want to feel like a part of your business when they buy your product. They want to know that Mike was the guy who helped them pick out the perfect plant for that shady spot in their backyard. At the same time they want to know who they’re dealing with before they shop. This is why profiling employees on your Facebook page or Website Blog is a great way to add necessary personal touch to your horticultural business. Showcase your young employees and say look we are Generation Y too. Millennials want to buy from other Millennials so if you can show them that at your business that’s what they can do then you win. Now don’t worry just because you showcase your “Rising Stars (Insert any other corny name for young employees)” doesn’t mean that Millennials will expect everyone who works at your business to be in their age group. They simply view themselves as a group. By you letting them know you are hiring young individuals you are showing that you want to help them get started, and in turn they will be more likely to help your business out.

These were just a few simple ideas I got from this weekend. Everyone seemed so surprised that young people were interested in horticulture. That’s what tipped me off to the lack of communication. Young people are DEFINITELY interested in horticulture. We just have to find a way to communicate across the generations.

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