New customers and old customers with a new attitude

It’s been a roller coaster few weeks for the gardening sector. Everyone has had to adapt to the Coronovirus restrictions, but it’s great to see garden centres buzzing with customers. It’s been a bumpy ride for suppliers too, and I think it will be a while before they can return to anything approaching normality. Their main challenges seem to be around rebuilding the supply chain whilst maintaining safe conditions for their employees, and trying to crank up production and deliveries to meet the unprecedented demand. 

New product development and future business strategy, marketing and trade communications, research, insight and sales presentations, trade exhibitions and training activities have all been kicked down the road whilst we focus on the here and now. Time and money need to focus on short term survival. But whilst we are all so preoccupied with the short term I think it’s worth considering what the longer term future might hold and how we need to change and adapt to the new market norm. 

New shoppers

YouGov report that 40% of people claim to have done much more gardening, with another 40% doing at least the same amount since ‘lockdown’. It’s critical that we hang on to new converts and make sure they turn into garden advocates. A large percentage of the ‘newbies’ are probably not (yet) engaged with the hobby of growing. They’re driven by the instant decoration of their outdoor room. We need to make sure they’re not turned off by conventional horticulture and recognise that they may not respond to the longer term promises  presented by seeds, bulbs and autumn planting for example.

We understand our core consumer HTA Garden Elders and we have become adept at looking after her needs. But I’m not sure we really deeply understand some of the newer market entrants like those described by HTA Family Focus and how to appeal to them. They love spending time in their gardens, but they don’t necessarily enjoy gardening itself. And they’re impatient. They want it now. That means they might easily be put off by anything that suggests extra work, like planting, weeding, pruning, feeding, digging. In communicating with this group we should eliminate the ‘ing‘. Drop the ‘DO’ and focus on the ‘HAVE’.

Because they’re very much in the here and now, they may not respond so well to long term projects. They will probably find the prospect of planning several months ahead a turn off. So we should not expect them to want to sow grass seed if turf is available. And they probably won’t engage with an autumn planting promotion on the promise of a beautiful garden next year.  So, if we want to keep their attention we will need to exploit their desire to extend the use of their gardens into the autumn with instant practical solutions like firepits, solar lighting and generously planted colourful containers. 

Different attitudes

Its no surprise that consumers are all embracing online shopping more readily. YouGov say that half of all consumers have turned to online shopping for ‘non-essential’ items in the past 8 weeks. Many product categories have seen huge upturns in demand online. For example, fence and shed paint saw an incredible 8000% increase in search activity on comparison site PriceRunner compared with the same time last year.

Many garden centres hurried to establish functional online operations in the first weeks of the crisis. But, we have to make sure that the online experience in gardening is as good as it can be to tempt and retain those consumers. 

51% of consumers say they have had their view of China negatively impacted and 47% see China as a threat to Britain. When the dust settles, these views may easily translate into consumer preference for more locally sourced product and potentially an uplift in UK and European manufacturing.  Maybe there’s a competitive advantage to be exploited based on a local sourcing policy alongside the established trend for products with strong environmental sustainability profiles.

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