Millennial gardeners are the customers of the future, so it’s crucial to understand their needs.
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Meet Ashley. You know who she is. She’s young, she’s independent, and her eyes sparkle when she arranges her succulents. She’s the Millennial woman we all want in our stores.

Compared to our Baby Boomer female base (who make up about half our sales right now), she takes a radically different approach. She’s also the future of our industry. In 20 years, the garden centers that survive and thrive will be the ones who take the time to understand her.

At my garden center, we call her Ashley. And reaching her is the marketing department’s No. 1 job.

The digital dance

Ashley’s is the first generation of digital natives. She’s internalized tech so much that she barely has to think about how to use it. It’s intuitive. She’ll flip from one device to the other in the same way Europeans flip between languages in the same sentence; she’ll Instagram about Netflix as she texts about a Facebook article.

But, it’s not as easy as “she’s digital.” She’s immersed in tech, but hungers for enriching offline experiences. Lucky for us, she has chosen plants as her favorite offline experience. Of the 6 million new gardeners in the U.S. in 2016, 5 million were Millennials.

Consumers in the Millennial generation tend to form bonds with their plants. It pays to nurture that relationship.
COURTESY OF ROB SPROULE

What you can do:

You’re probably on Facebook, and the good news is that your base customers (Baby Boomer women) are there, too. But, increasingly, Ashley isn’t.

We have a gorgeous industry. Online, Ashley wants to see our beauty. Start an Instagram account and start taking regular pictures, even if it’s with your phone. Visualize your value.

Is your blog a wall of text? Ashley reads blogs with short, snappy paragraphs and inspiring, gorgeous pictures.

Empowering experiences

Your customer base is comprised of Baby Boomer women (my team calls her “Mary”). Mary is probably about half your sales. She’s a skilled gardener and largely buys plants for what they can do for her, whether that’s providing flowers, fruit, shade, etc.

Ashley loves plants, and adopts as much as buys them. Nurturing them offers the tactile, sensory experience that the digital world doesn’t. Her plants enrich and challenge her. She forms a relationship with them that transcends their utility.

A word of warning: If your garden center serves Mary well (ie. lots of selection, expert staff), it probably intimidates Ashley. When a young woman asks if she should plant seed potatoes in August, it’s vital that your staff doesn’t make her feel stupid. Embarrass or overwhelm her, and she’s gone.

Ashley tends to buy her plants from hardware stores first, then box stores and garden centers second. It’s up to us to make our Baby Boomer friendly business models friendly to Millennials, too.

What you can do:

Are you selling plants, or an experience? Look for opportunities to offer Ashley a unique experience that she can engage with. When she’s offline, she wants to see a giant tortoise, attend a tomato festival with 30 varieties, or have another remarkable experience that she can tell her friends about.

How customizable is your product? Do you offer a hundred of the same thing, or do you give your customer the ability to choose colors, pots, decor, etc.? Will Ashley walk away feeling she has found a unique product, that is a reflection of her personality?

Give Millennials opportunities to customize their plants, containers and more if you want to win them over.
COURTESY OF ROB SPROULE

Online word of mouth

Ashley grew up saturated in the traditional marketing that we’ve grown accustomed to. We overused it, and she developed a resistance to it. Features-and-benefits marketing (“it slices — it dices”) is useless with Ashley. It bounces off her like bullets off Iron Man.

We can’t speak to her. We need to speak with her. We can start the conversation, but then she needs to feel like a part of it.

Before she comes to your store, she’ll check you out online. She’ll digest your website, reviews, hashtag and social chatter in less than a minute.

If she comes, she’ll tell her friends about her experience. Upset, neglect, or make her feel ripped off, and her bad opinion will spread like wildfire.

Give her an experience that makes her feel special and individual, something that she can engage with, and her online praise will bring more like her.

At the end of the day, the only person who can really convince Ashley to come into your store is Ashley.

What you can do:

People are talking about your garden center online. Are you listening? Sign up for Google Alerts so you know what they’re saying: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/4815696?hl=en

What are your Facebook and Google review ratings? Read every review carefully. Thank those who compliment you and engage those who trash talk you. A prompt response and an apology can often help negotiate that “1” rating to a “3”.

Are you responding to questions and comments on Facebook, Instagram, your blog, etc.? Those are real customers and their comments should be treated like phone calls. If Ashley reaches out online and you ignore her, she’s not coming to your garden center.

Rob is co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse, an independent garden center based in Alberta, Canada, and founder of Craft Marketing, a lean digital agency specializing in content marketing for independent businesses. rob@craftmarketing.ca