Review of John Stanley seminar ‘Become a game changer’ – Paul Robbins

Article based on a seminar delivered by John Stanley in conjunction with the HTA

Any business is operating within a changing world, a world creating new challenges and likewise new opportunities. The global change taking forefront at present is and will be for the foreseeable future, the environment and the risks associated with climate change. In the gardening sector, these risks can be felt with the greater occurrence of extreme weather events. We only have to cast our mind back to the ‘Beast from the East’ and more recently quite extreme drought over the summer and the ensuing hosepipe bans.

It is no surprise then that the consumer is changing their perspectives on the world and adapting their spending habits with the environment in mind. The Millennials, otherwise known as Generation Y or simply GEN Y, are people born between 1980 and 1994 and are the new class of principal consumer in the retail sector. There is a switch from “me” to “she” (Mother Nature) and “Self-care” to “Earth Care. Health and Well-Being are the new drivers for the Millennial consumer, anxiety over health is in this cohort is increasing. Gardening is well placed to grab this opportunity both inside and outside the living space. What can gardening do to give wellbeing and health? An example inside would be ‘Breathing Rooms’ – these are created by introducing houseplants into the home and this market is growing again, but must be marketed correctly. Outdoor we have the opportunity to sell gardens, patio complimentary products such as pre-made containers, barbeques and garden furniture. These consumers will want to change things by following current trends, perhaps not throw away but certainly recycle or up-cycle year on year – sell on (eBay, DoneDeal) and buy new.

James Wong – A millennial who is hitting that market with his book ‘How to Eat Better: How to shop, store and cook to make any food a superfood’ and website –

Focus away from HOW to WHY. Promote the benefits, especially if a health angle.

On a company level there are three market positions one can adopt:

Convenience – possibly grabbed by Amazon and other online retailers.

Price – perhaps grabbed by Aldi, Lidl and B&Q.

Experience – this is still open with the opportunity to be taken.

So, what does an experience market position look like? Retail space is changing to a ‘Gathering Space’ somewhere to go and have an experience rather than a place to buy things. Events and workshops drive this experiential consumer as does the almost obligatory coffee shop. Think more Harley-Davison than planting up containers. An event can be completely non-horticultural and, in many ways, better if it is as this will bring in a new type of consumer to the garden centre. Christmas bauble painting, for example, will enthrall many people and relatively simple to organise. Having a Harley-Davison meet-up is one outside the box.

The Future Model

First, identify your tribe, that is your consumers and work towards a partnership. Some of the key drivers to consider:

  • 3D printers
  • Home delivery
  • Personalised products

What should the grower be thinking about?

Direct marketing to the consumer in addition to wholesale business.

Storytelling – what is the story behind each plant – move away from commodity selling.

Provide solutions – identify the problems and provide solutions – e.g. Drought resistant plants.

Promote nursery skills to the consumer. Educate the consumer on budding, grafting, taking cuttings. This will have to be backed up with a short (1 to 2 minutes) YouTube presentation. ’How-to’ is now going online e.g.

Smaller plants, easily transported to the customer.

What should the retailer be thinking about?

Sell a garden not product. Think of the added value if you sell an entire garden.

If we recommend planting in groups of three then provide a price for a group of three! Why sell in units of one?

Social media – Social impact marketing.

  • Instagram no 1.
  • YouTube TV station – short & sharp
  • Facebook – twice a week probably enough at most.
  • WhatsApp
  • Twitter – is this going down?
  • Pin Interest – one to watch

Participate in available national media promotions – Bord Bia’s ‘It’s Gardening Time’ and ‘Bloom’. UK based ‘Love the Plot you’ve got’.

Bloggers – needed in Industry to get the gardening message out there and be current.


Gone with the wind – wind-resistant plants.

Gardens that rock – drought-resistant plants.

Don’t get bogged down – plants for wet areas.

Less and less plastics – more wood for cardboard!

Imperfect gardens – weed control techniques.

Breathing rooms – room with plants.

Grow your own protein – beans, etc. Nano-gardening with micro-greens.

Purple reign – Colour for 2017, maybe a year left before mint takes over – Colour of the year 2019 is mint.

The future is about ‘Gathering Spaces’ not retail space. Where people can meet and spend; event or activities based.

Tourism – help produce a garden centre and food and garden trial for NI and ROI.