Smaller living spaces and climate extremes are leading to more indoor gardeners and houseplant purchases.

The state of the garden center industry this year has made a big shift when it comes to who is buying, why and where. While IGCs have become accustomed to worrying about competition from brick-and-mortar mass merchants, several high-profile online innovators have also stepped in to capture your online plant sales. Small, houseplant-focused, urban plant shops are popping up all over the country. The current reality is traditional garden centers now have multiple threat channels to juggle. Along with these challenges, however, also comes some good news.

What’s in store

Want to know what’s really in store for you in the upcoming sales year? More indoor gardeners. The indoor plant parents are coming for you. They want more plant babies and they want them now. They want to visit hip plant shops with updated modern décor, and they want vignettes set up for them to Instagram and take selfies. They not only want access to many basic low-light easy to grow houseplants, they also want to collect rare and unusual species. Is your house in order to help your new wave of customers?

The good news is that while there is a strong demand for online plant buying, and still plenty of demand for low-price commodities at the box stores, new plant consumers want to pair online shopping with unique in-person experiences. The new wave of plant enthusiasm has triggered the desire for hands-on discovery. New plant keepers want to feel the rush of excitement of finding that one cool plant live at a local plant shop. You might also be very surprised at what they are willing to pay for that plant. (Hint: it’s more than your current price tag). They also want to make live connections and friendships with other plant-lovers in their local area. It doesn’t mean they aren’t going to buy plants online — they will. But you can also draw their foot traffic in store if your digital marketing looks relevant to them and you carry the right inventory

New plant owners prefer labels with the correct Latin name and specific growing instructions.

The modern gardener

This might be news to you, but indoor plant keepers are gardeners too. They just don’t use that label and many in the industry refuse to acknowledge that indoor plant-keeping counts as gardening. I’ve been trying to say this for years, but as an industry, we must be open to many different gardener identities if we want to keep replenishing our customer pipeline.

Urbanization, smaller living spaces and climate extremes are going to drive more gardeners indoors with their plant habit. As an industry, we need to make sure we acknowledge that while a garden for one customer may mean a large prairie installation … for another customer, a few potted plants on a windowsill is the garden they tend and love.

Healthy habits

Let me be clear: indoor plant keeping isn’t just for younger customers. There is no age limit on indoor gardening. Just because the new houseplant craze is being driven by young consumers, doesn’t mean they are the only customers interested in indoor gardening. Likewise, just because your older customers scale back on outdoor gardening activities, doesn’t mean they’ve lost their love for plants. Indoor plant-keeping is a perfect hobby for anyone who is forced to spend more time indoors. In fact, keeping more indoor plants is a great way to stay healthier as we age. The industry should be capitalizing on the health and wellness benefits of bringing nature indoors. Don’t age-discriminate when you’re marketing indoor gardening and houseplants.

Seasonal advantages

Let’s face it; even avid outdoor gardeners such as me don’t really want to spend a lot of time working in the garden when it’s 100 °F+ degrees outside. This is a good portion of our summer months here in Texas. And of course, in cold climates, many customers must garden indoors for many months fall through spring. If you’re selling off all your indoor plants at a deep discount during the hottest part of summer … or the coldest part of winter … then you’ve got it backwards! And, if you’re not diving deeper into indoor gardening tools, such as quality grow lights and propagation supplies, you may also be leaving money on the table and losing customers.

Dig deeper

The days of fretting about overloading younger customers or gardening newbies with too much plant information are long gone. In fact, I think it might have been this “keep it easy only” (bad) trend in horticulture marketing that has caused a boomerang thirst for more plant knowledge. So, stop it with the generic plant tags and signs. New plant consumers don’t want your tag that says, “low light houseplant” or “succulent.” They want to know exactly what they are buying. They want the correct Latin name and they want specific growing instructions. New plant keepers aren’t afraid of botanical vocabulary. In fact, many of them behave as if they wished they’d formally studied botany. Suddenly, being a real plant geek is totally cool.

If you aren’t yet seeing the clear advantages you as an IGC have in this market spaces, it’s being the accessible expert. New houseplant and indoor gardening consumers desperately want to be in the know. Our customers need the garden center industry to step up and provide not only inspiring experiences and exciting plant choices for them in store, but also be the expert educators they so need and desire. Step up to those challenges, and you’ll have a great 2020.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.