You may think discounts attract more customers, but they actually do the opposite. The houseplant craze doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, and that’s a good thing. We should all be doing everything we can to make sure it’s not a trend, but rather a long-term way of life with our customers. After all, unless we drive and control the conversation around the products we want our customers to buy — instead of only reacting to outside influences — we lose out on market voice and share. Given the obvious intense demand for houseplants — and the golden opportunities to train an entire new generation of customers — why are so many garden centers discounting houseplants during peak indoor gardening season? Seems to me that’s a very outdated way to lose control of this important conversation, not to mention, revenue.
Over the last few years, I’ve been called upon to write books that lean towards the indoor grower and houseplant hobbyist. Why? Because that’s where the consumer sales and demand are. My consumer-facing books and marketing efforts have offered me a valuable way to stay tapped into new market opportunities and keep my finger on the pulse of new plant parents. It’s been a fascinating experiment and a fun way to interact with green industry customers and all the new enthusiastic houseplant parents.
What consumers want
While everyone likes a deal and younger customers are working on limited budgets, the focus of their plant conversations is not price. It’s acquisition, knowledge and community. Houseplant consumers are incredibly excited about acquiring very specific plants they’ve discovered on Instagram or elsewhere online. The culture of collecting and cultivating is in full force. Plant parents are eager to acquire unique or rare species and they are willing to pay what many of us consider to be outrageous prices for them.
New plant parents are also keen on learning about botany and the plants they hope to collect. They want access to information and will gobble up any and all botanical factoids you throw their way. And while yes, many do enjoy the ease and access of online plant ordering, new plant keepers are also yearning for more face-to-face community and shopping related to their love of plants. They value the entire experience.
Control the conversation
So, the question is this: Does discounting all your houseplants throughout winter encourage or discourage these customers? Would they rather you offer additional value, classes or events related to your houseplant category, versus making the entire conversation about price?
Every time I see a garden center discounting houseplants in winter (or whenever your slower season lands), I cringe. I get it: for those of you that are open through winter, a traditional tactic we’ve all used is discounting indoor plants to try and get people in the door. But too often, what customers find once they make the winter trek in is a meager offering of houseplants past their prime. The leftovers from summer, if you will. What a letdown. The discount doesn’t even matter in this context and many will leave empty handed and disappointed. That winter discount tradition does not work for modern day houseplant enthusiasts and it will train them to go online or elsewhere to feed their addiction. It will also train them into a lot of other bad consumer habits that we will inevitably complain about.
In general, I do not like product discounts for several key reasons. Regular discounts can infer a lack of confidence in your product, breed mistrust in your standard pricing, create a low perception of value and set a bad precedent for future customer behavior. The last thing you want is to make your customer question the quality of your product and the validity of your regular pricing, and wait to buy until you roll out your next discount.
Demand for indoor gardening gear generally starts to pick up in mid-August (the hydroponic store dealers will confirm this). With the demand and interest for indoor gardening and houseplants taking a big upward swing in fall through February. If you live in a hot climate, like I do here in Texas, then July-August is another peak opportunity to push indoor plants and gardening. These are not the times to discount your houseplants and let inventory thin. These are the times to boost volume and diversity of your inventory and focus on value-adding and experience instead of price cuts. Of course, you’ll need to market these opportunities assertively.
Know your customer
If you must offer incentives, then consider the psychology: Getting one free houseplant (of equal or lesser value) for every five houseplants purchased is a much more attractive incentive for today’s plant consumer than a general discount of 10%-20% off all your houseplants. The former tells me you have lots of stock to choose from, the latter tells me you’re trying to get rid of crap. The former helps you move more volume, the latter results in low average sales.
When it comes to the opportunity big marketplace demand for houseplants offers, don’t sell yourself short. Take some time to get to know your target customer better so you can add the value they want instead of cutting your margins. Use houseplants as a draw to maximize your indoor gardening season potential, but keep your customer conversations centered around value, variety, knowledge and community.