COLLEGE STATION — Economic and social transformations worldwide are changing the way plants are grown and marketed to consumers, and retailers will have to adjust to survive, according to a leading horticulture association executive.
“Even with advanced technology and knowledge, you still have to look up and pay attention to what is happening around you,” said Michael V. Geary, chief executive officer of OFA—The Association of Horticulture Professionals.
Geary spoke to researchers, business owners, students, teachers and other professionals as the keynoter for the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture Distinguished Lecture Series Oct. 17.
He said the multi-billion-dollar floriculture industry has to focus on its two main components: production and retail.
“In short, we develop plant products, and then we sell them,” he said. “How do we keep from missing out on the opportunity to sell more plants, flowers, trees and related products? Many think one of the problems we have is the perceived disconnect between the growers and the retailers, and ultimately the consumers. Either way, we need to make sure we do not become obsolete.”
Part of the change for the industry comes from demographics, he said.
“The retirement of the Boomers, the emerging Y Generation, and the X generation stuck in the middle all have different buying patterns and the outlook is not good for us, at least for several years, perhaps a decade or so,” Geary said. “But we can’t just sit around and wait for the size of the population to catch up—we need to stay in business in the meantime.”
“People want to buy fast, good and cheap,” he said, adding that superior retailers will do that and “then add something extra” for consumers.
But he noted that the Boomer generation is no longer landscaping to the level of the past and the younger generations do not yet have enough disposable income to purchase a lot of plant materials.
Plants now have to be more than “pretty” to sell; they have to be essential to someone’s life, Geary said. And the Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2005, make purchases according to “hipness, health, efficiency, gadgets, sustainability/green and experiences.”
“We’re going to have to produce plants and shopping experiences that meet those needs,” he said.
Providing ways for people with limited transportation to haul plants back to their homes or setting up mobile trucks similar to what the food industry has done to take products to consumers might be alternatives, he suggested.
“Getting plants into the hands of consumers is more than just an economic issue. It’s also a geographical problem in some areas,” he said.
He also said that the success of using the Internet for plant sales has not been proven at this point, but pointed to a recent study by Today’s Garden Center magazine which found that only 78 percent of respondents have a website, 74 percent use Facebook, 18 percent use Twitter and less than 10 percent are using Pinterest.
“And yet, what generation is the emerging market? And how do you think they receive their information and engage in commerce and community building?” he asked.
Geary said while the changes in society are impacting the industry, nursery suppliers also are trying to figure out how to match supply with demand.
“How many purple petunias do we need? With fewer purchases happening, the breeders and growers are asking questions like that,” he said. “There’s definitely a shift happening at the other end of the supply chain. When the market grows everyone wants a piece; when the market shrinks they have to make tough decisions.”
“Companies are focusing on only a few of their best selling products and stopping or selling other lines. With the market shrinking, competition is heating up and changing the structure and performance of the industry,” he said.