Horticulture 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.
I’m interested to hear from you on these platforms:
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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Be sure to check out the Facebook page for my new movement regarding Generation Y and Horticulture here: http://www.facebook.com/NextGenHorticulture. It’s pretty barebones right now but give it some time and we’ll have it loaded with content. If you want in on this movement let me know!