A Hefty Dose of Reality

A Hefty Dose of Reality

by Robert Hendrickson

One of the coolest outcomes of my career is meeting some of the smartest people on the planet. While the list continues to grow as a result of knowing someone who knows someone who introduces me to the next big brain person I meet, David Wolfe remains the one person that impresses me most with his knowledge and insight, especially when it comes to marketing. David sent me what I consider to be one of the top three business books ever written, Ageless Marketing (it so happens David’s other book Firms of Endearment is also one of my top three.) After reading his two books my approach to marketing has remained forever unwavering.

Over the last several years David and I worked together several times, at The Group’s 2007 Fall Event then at other workshop sessions where I invited him to speak. David died of cancer this past February. His perspective and straight forward approach to marketing and consumer insight will be sorely missed.

Here’s what David had to say about what I call the Alphabet Generation issue so pervasive in our industry and the misleading notion of trying to focus marketing on specific age ranges: 
“The problem with age-based marketing is exclusivity. The alternative to age-based marketing is ageless marketing; marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.”

“For example, a company’s genuine concern for the environment is a value that speaks to people of all ages including children, young adult interests as well as older generations. Hallmark does a great job at this. It simply sells love, a universal value for any generation.”

Retail Rules of the Road:
 “It’s not the media you choose to use as much as the message you choose to relay.”

All it takes to see the fallacy of trying to “target” the next generation is a visit to any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Lines are backed up into the store with a mix of every generation possible. If you’re “cool” enough, all generations will find you. You don’t go “get” a target customer as much as the target customer finds you.

To find out what garden centers were actually doing to attract the elusive younger shopper, I ran a contest in my weekly enewsletter asking for examples “that attract and retain younger generations of repeat inventory purchasing customers”. Once all the entries arrived it became obvious that people running garden centers and those responsible for their marketing fell into one of three camps as it pertains to this next generation issue…

Camp #1: Make sure to participate in every social media program invented to date

Camp #2: Make sure your garden center entertains the public by providing an unending stream of special events, along with a farmer’s market or café of course, regardless if the results have any impact on selling more inventory

Camp #3: Understand the demographic and psychographic lifestage currently in play in our country and realize it’s difficult to sell inventory to any “target” if they have little to no interest in what you’re selling

The majority of entries favored Camp One and Camp Two but only stated what their garden centers were doing, not if the actions were having any ongoing financial success as a result. Two entries arrived explaining the reasoning behind those residing in Camp Three…


In 45 years I’ve witnessed a number of industry and generational changes, but one thing remains constant. If people have no interest in a product, they’re not going to buy the product. With few exceptions, folks under 40 aren’t interested in what we sell… they’re interested in relationships, cars, boats, vacations and other assorted desires. At their age I was too! When they settle down, buy a home and start a family they will become aware of their need for the type of products garden centers offer. Then it’s up to us to provide the goods and services they desire.

For years I’ve attended meetings and conferences where the concern has been first the box stores and recently the Alphabet Generations. In reality it’s taking care of those customers who visit your garden center today that is of the utmost importance… they’re your bridge to the next generation! We as an industry spend way too much time and effort concerned with the future. The emphasis should be on practices to make sure our current customers remain loyal. It’s about establishing relationships and providing a pleasant shopping experience. Remember, there’s no better reference than Mom and Dad.”

And this one…


As for the younger generation, I hear all the talk about it but I’m a lot more concerned about staying in business today, tomorrow and over the next couple of years than I am concerned about whether or not I am doing things to turn kids that are 10-15 years out from being my customer into future customers. They will become future customers when they have families and homes. Then if we are still in business selling and doing things they need and want, we stand a good chance of attracting them.”

Sometimes a dose or two of reality helps to clarify an issue.

Wendy’s two sons and my daughter fall squarely into this alphabet generation discussion. Before beginning their careers none of the three cared a lot what their parental units did for a living. But as soon as marriage and/or home ownership arrived, questions on landscaping, herbs and compost became hot topics.  “Finally… the answer has become clear once and for all. All that’s required for getting the next generation interested in garden centers is marriage and a home.” But we didn’t see the next hurdle ahead when much of our children’s and most of their friend’s enthusiasm for what our industry has to offer came to an abrupt halt.

Kids… grandkids to us. Little bundles of joy that suck up every waking minute and spare dollar these younger generation and recent garden center shoppers have to spare. Now its diapers, not compost. No time to grow fresh veggies any more… just buy organic baby food at the local co-op. Lawns, flowers, perennials… as little attention as necessary while available funds go toward baby transport units, educational videos and a much needed mini-vacation close to home and low cost as possible. Oh well… we had them for a while and they promise to come back to gardening. But not until Lucy, Fiona and Troy are a bit older and the families have a few extra dollars to spare. Until then they’ll still attend all the free family events their local garden center offers but the line you’ll find them in will be for face painting, not the register.

Looks like David Wolfe’s “lifestage” theory is firmly in place.

“Sorry, Gramps.”


Got questions or need more information about your marketing programs?
Give Robert a call or email!
Robert Hendrickson
Cell: 443-255-8282


Robert Hendrickson is founder and a service provider for The Garden Center Group and our "guru" for how to best tell your story. 

REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as Robert Hendrickson, Steve Bailey, Sid Raisch and Jean Seawright, are included in your retainer!


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Comments on "A Hefty Dose of Reality"

Comments 0-5 of 2

Peg Castorani - Thursday, February 01, 2018

Dear Robert, Thank you once again for calming the anxious winter waters when there is too much time to worry about how to make it all better before March 1!

Stephanie Fleming - Monday, August 21, 2017

Thanks Robert! Once again you nailed it! Stephanie @ Behnke Nurseries

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