What Do Millennials Want, Anyway?

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What Do Millennials Want, Anyway?


Allow me to summarize the past 20 years in the gardening industry

  1. Good times abounded! Baby Boomer women couldn’t get enough plants, especially the endless stream of new annuals hitting the benches. We’re rich!
  2. Growing anxiety… The Gen Xers don’t seem interested in gardening. The Boomers still sustain us but our mean customer age is rising and our base is shrinking. We’re doomed!
  3. Elation! The Millennials love gardening. They’re buying tomatoes and succulents by the truckload. We’re saved! Wait… How do we talk to them?

The Millennials, with their staggering tech savviness and infectious optimism, are the future of gardening. Baby Boomer woman, at 51% of sales, are still our foundation. But the foundation is shrinking.




“I think Millennials are a generation unlike anything we’ve ever seen on this planet.”

                            – Chelsea Krost

Are You a Victim of Success?

Did you master the art of selling to Baby Boomers? Let’s find out:

  • Do you have hundreds of varieties of everything lined up on the bench as trim as a battalion?
  • Are your experts so knowledgeable that they can spot a woolly aphid at a hundred yards?
  • Is there Latin in your store? Be honest now…

If you answered yes to at least 2 of these, you’ve become a Baby-Boomer sales ninja. If you’re really good, it’s become cultural in your Garden Center. And that’s the challenge.



On Selection:

How many varieties of trailing petunia do you stock in the spring? 20, 30?

We’ve taught ourselves that more variety is better because we’re more likely to have the specific variety our Boomers come looking for. We’ve also created an overwhelming spectacle that a Millennial Mom, who just wants something beautiful, may not know how to access.

You can line up the varieties like toy soldiers, but are you inspiring your customers? Are you showing them how to use the trailing petunias in a way that makes them feel confident about taking that chance?

We must pivot our displays from the shock and awe of overwhelming colour to empowering and inspiring. Mannequin plants, visual aids, and cross merchandising all help contextualize the plant in terms of how it’s used, and not simply what it is.



On Service

Boomers know a lot about gardening. They know so much that many of us have evolved our training to prioritize memorization over education.

Millennials probably won’t ask “what’s an environmentally friendly way to get rid of sod webworm?” They will ask, “there are brown spots on my lawn can you help me?” It’s up to us to spend the time necessary to fill in the blanks (what do the brown spots look like, is there webbing, etc), in order to diagnose and help.

When your staff, or yourself, gets asked a question, like “is this what an aphid looks like” or “what kind of tomato grows in the shade,” how do you make that customer feel. The silence after a question like that is a crucible moment.

If you patronize her and make her feel like she should know the answer, she’ll walk away and start buying her plants at the Home Depot where she can be anonymous and no one makes her feel stupid.

At my GC, I tell my staff that a silly question = a new customer. That person may not have gardened before. She’s taking a risk wading into the lion’s den of experts, but she’s determined to grow healthy food for her family and be the Mom who harvests carrots with her kids. So she’s in your store, and the ball is in your court.

On Latin

Consider this. How many times do you think people in your sales area type in a Google search for “How to grow Daucus carota?”  

Now… how many times do they ask Google about carrots? The strategic goal of informational signage is to answer the questions they came in with, and in doing so make them more confident to make a purchase. Intimidating them with an archaic language will do the opposite.

For shrubs, perennials, and trees, I don’t think it does any harm. But for annuals and edibles all it can do it intimidate.