Seeley conferences were established in 1986 in honor of Dr. John G. Seeley after his retirement from Cornell University. Each year, the Board of directors chooses a conference topic important to the future of floriculture. This year’s theme, Floriculture’s Biggest Challenge: Creating MindShare Opportunities, generated discussions around consumer behaviours and how these have changed with the recent recession and the emergence of new technologies.
For a trained researcher like me, the structure of these conferences is rather disconcerting at first since most communications being made by speakers drawn from the industry, there are no proceedings released. The schedule is very flexible to allow ample time for discussions and exchange. Conferences are described as think tanks and to assure free exchange of ideas, participants are asked not to attribute comments or points of view to speakers or industry leaders unless such dissemination is agreed to by the person expressing their point of view. So the addicted twitters attending the presentations had to refrain themselves from breaching that rule.
About 50 attendees gathered this year at the Seeley conference hosted at Cornell University by the department of Horticulture. The majority of participants attended for the first time, like I did, while some veterans have been active in this organization for many years. Participants’ profiles included mostly people from the industry, whether they were growers, wholesalers, or independent retailers. Only 3 Canadians were there while the others from the USA; all the discussions were related to the US economy or US markets however many points discussed could apply to Canada as well.
My take home messages are the following and in no particular order:
- Consumers of flower products have changed:
- Baby boomers have been the primary consumer target, however, as they age, would they continue to enjoy as much gardening?
- The new generations, X-ers and Y-ers are not so much interested in gardening or floral gifting. How can we capture their attention?
- Consumer behaviour and value chain restructuration had impact on the retail and wholesale levels
- Supermarkets and big box stores offer seasonal garden centres where consumers can buy shrubs and bedding plants; these new channels created not only competition to the independent centres but also changed the rules for the wholesalers.
- Recession led to change of consumer priorities; the overall spending is back to normal now but consumer still look for deals, convenience, and practical pleasures-good enough is considered versus the very best product.
- Consumers have changed their way of shopping; they are less conspicuous, more conscientious, they look for immediate gratification (Y-ers: what’s in for me?); they spend more time online to select the items and the stores to shop. X-ers and Y-ers use social media and mobile technologies to get the information or even shop (online shopping is out).
- New opportunities exist to catch consumers attention but we should not forget our loyal plant consumers
- Baby boomers are still a target because they are a source of sales size and scale; Y-ers are source of growth
- Flowers are not branded products, however is it an opportunity?
- Promoting all the benefits of plants on health and well-being
- Customization of products: e.g. home décor, expert service, type of containers for cut flowers, use QR codes to provide useful information
- Sell an experience, not just a product: e.g. sell projects-bundle of products
- Fight the barriers to gardening and offer remedies
- Develop the channel of “buying for myself” versus gifting
- For independent flower stores or garden centres:
- Use Social Media to develop trust and loyalty with your customers, and drive traffic to your store.
- Use more traditional networking venues (Chambers of commerce, Rotary, etc.) to spread the word out and show yourself=brand recognition
- Diversify offering to avoid depending on sunny spring weekends to make your living; know your customers and offer products, services they will seek off season: e.g. jewelry, personal care, home decor
- Showcase your company:
- Be involved in the community: America in Bloom, partner with the city initiatives
- Open your greenhouse and organize tours for public, schools: if people see inside, they will better connect with the industry and understand “how plants are produced”.
- Be inviting (greenhouses are often ugly from the outside and beautiful inside: take care of the outside!)
- Beware of constraints and risks of engaging in social media: it’s about building relationships not making sales pitches.
- Connect flowers with art:
- Art in the public gardens
- Art studio and classes (think Van Gogh’s Iris)
Many thoughts to bring back home and implement. At least that’s what I suspect the colleagues from the floriculture industry will do. For the researcher that I am, many new ideas emerged for better marketing floriculture products. I look forward to the 2012 Seeley conference.