Michelle Simakis
PHOTO BY KEN BLAZE

As an industry, we know that customers have trouble identifying even the most basic plants, but I was happy to see that general interest consumer publications are also concerned about this lack of knowledge. In August, The Wall Street Journal tackled the topic of “plant blindness” and why it’s a problem.

Correcting “plant blindness” is also a huge opportunity for independent garden centers to educate their customers.

The good news is, people are curious about plants, and they want to know more beyond what’s already included on most tags and labels. During a visit to Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis this past July, co-founder Scott Endres said that after they started labeling their airplants with specific Latin names, sales went up. People like to “geek out,” he said, and having the specific details and names of the plants to share with others mattered to his customers.

The old theory was to not provide too much information, as it might overwhelm and discourage consumers, but I never thought about why suddenly consumers wanted to know specific variety names until Jared Hughes of Groovy Plants Ranch in Ohio brought up Google.

“I seem to remember the mantra being ‘Latin is too complicated for the average customer,’” Hughes notes in C.L. Fornari’s column on page 22. “My experience with my customers is that Google has made this mantra obsolete. Many of my younger customers seem more comfortable with Latin names than their more mature counterparts.”

And it’s not just Google — it’s that customers have this information at their fingertips through smartphones, and they don’t have to wait until they get home to research plants on their computers.

In the column, Fornari, speaker, writer and resident “Garden Lady” at Hyannis Country Garden, delves into the reasons why it’s beneficial to have more specific tags and labels, especially in the increasingly popular tropical plants category, for both customers and employees.

Emphasis on employees. Last summer, I needed help identifying a plant I wanted to purchase from an IGC in my area. I tracked down three employees at the store for help before finally giving up. No one knew what it was.

Without having the name, I didn’t know how to properly care for it, and I didn’t want to take a chance and kill it. Had the staff been able to identify the houseplant, they would have added $20 to the sale. Instead, I bought two Boston ferns in hanging baskets for my front porch.

Later that summer, a friend stopped by and complimented the ferns. “Those are nice mums,” he said.

Michelle Simakis
msimakis@gie.net