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Industry Talk: Bruce Butterfield

Garden-market researcher offers ways retailers can sell more outdoor products.

The National Gardening Association (NGA) has tracked consumer gardening practices, trends and product sales for 35 years through its annual National Gardening Survey. Bruce Butterfield, the NGAís market research director for more than 25 years, spoke with Super Floral Retailing Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan about the 2006 survey results and how retailers can apply them to their business. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. The survey shows 83 percent of American households participated in gardening in 2005, a record number. To what do you attribute this growth?
The main driver of increased lawn and garden participation was the strength of the housing market. Once you move into a home, youíve got to do something to make the outdoors more livable and attractive, and so weíre seeing the end result of five years of a strong housing market.

Q. The housing market appears to be slowing. Do you see that as a challenge for the garden market?
I do. I think another challenge is that many people are what I would call casual gardeners or reluctant gardeners. Many of the people buying new homes today are younger folks, 18- to 34-year-olds, and their participation and spending on gardening is the lowest of any group demographically in the country. They want to have instant gardens and not spend a lot of time and, perhaps, money on them.

Q. What can retailers do to get those 18- to 34-years-olds more interested in gardening and buying outdoor products?
They can sell them ready-made gardens. One trend I have seen in a number of markets on the West Coast and in more urban areas is you donít have to buy the plants and the pot and the soil and put them together. You buy an already-planted container garden, put it in your cart, take it home, set it on the deck, and youíre done.
When merchandising plants, display is key; freshness is key. People relate to color emotionally, so you really need to take a lesson from merchandising the floral department and the produce department and apply many of those same principles to selling plants and container gardens outdoors.
Another thing thatís clear to me is that many people are buying plants on impulse. Thatís the reason the big-box stores put them right by the checkout counters, and so you also need to ask, ďWhat can we do to motivate people to make that impulse buy?Ē

Q. What other trends are you seeing?
There have been increased sales of larger plant material in 4-inch pots. What that says to me is that people want the mature look. They donít want to take a product home, plant it and wait a month to see it flower. Itís almost like we need to create living bouquets for people.

Q. The survey showed that although more households participated in gardening, sales were down by 4 percent from 2004. Why was there a decline?
I donít see it as a terrible decline. I see sales as basically being fairly flat. What it says to me is we need to sell gardening to people each year, and that in the 21st century or the electronic age, people are distracted. One thing that is interesting to me in this new study is that, on average, people will spend two hours per week during the growing season taking care of their yards, and they spend only about $400 each on their yards. I would bet you most people spend more than two hours in an evening in front of the TV. We need to reintroduce people to the pleasures of doing things for themselves rather than just being entertained.

Q. What role do retailers have in that?
There are some places where people see good examples of gardening when they go shopping, whether itís the median strip or whether itís the planting around the store. Itís almost as if the retailers, to be good citizens, need to put their best face forward when it comes to showing plants and color, and have their establishments look like what they want their customers to emulate.

You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan by e-mail at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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