Saturday, 4 January 2014

Retail and media

For many years there has been a feeling in commercial horticulture that the media, particularly I think the TV, should work more closely. In an ideal world a retailer (either a nursery or garden centre) would have plants in stock, and then a gardening programme on TV would then talk about a certain plant and the retailer would simply slap a sign to a display of said plant which says “as seen on...” and the customers would flood in. Certainly it has happened before, but it was never with everything, but certainly doesn't seem to be happening as much these days.

Part of the problem is range; TV programmes have the luxury of being able to descend on a garden and talk at great length about a plant that happens to be looking good for the camera, but in actual terms it is highly unlikely that the plant that they choose will be available all that widely. Let's take, for example, this Camellia 'Bokuhan'...
Camellia 'Bokuhan'- nice, but where can I buy one?
It's a beautiful plant and fairly straightforward to grow (by Camellia standards), but it's also rare. TV crews could show sexy close-up images of it and fire up enthusiasm with the public, but I'd be astonished if there were ANY retailers in the UK able to mobilise stocks quickly enough to take advantage of the demand. Likewise nurseries and garden centres will (nationally) stock an enormous range of plants that never make it onto the TV, despite having their own merits, simply because they don't fit in with the agenda of the programme makers. TV companies create programmes to entertain their viewers and this is how they make their money, not by promoting horticultural businesses. Unless retailers or even the industry as a whole commission their own programming this is how it will remain.

When gardening TV was 'in it's prime' there was a lot less competition from other forms of media. Yes, there were garden supplements in the papers and gardening magazines around, but the internet was still a fairly new thing for most people. When I started in horticulture we had only just signed up for the newfangled broadband, and companies like Crocus and gardening websites like Shoot were merely embryonic thoughts at the back of their creators' minds. If you wanted to be told about gardening and plants you watched the TV. Now you can watch a gardening show on TV while surfing the net for more information and inspiration; in theory gardeners could be sourcing plants they see on screen while they watch the show, but how many people do that? My own suspicion is that people watch the TV and might comment on a plant they see for the 10 seconds it's featured, but then forget about it and go back to their lives. I have been fortunate enough to know nurseries featured on Gardener's World and their stories are the same- people come up and say “oh we saw you on Gardener's World” but the increased status doesn't translate into sales. It's almost as though the programme creates celebrities out of gardeners but not the gardens or plants featured....

There is also a matter of the type of customer. Gardener 1 loves their garden but buys plants when the weather is nice (but not too nice because they'd prefer to be at home enjoying their garden). Spring pots full of perennials bursting with life are the order of the day, but really who would buy plants in winter when there's nothing to see. Gardener 2 loves their garden, and will be out in any weather. Cold winter days are great times to visit the nursery and see if there's anything worth having. These are the people who wander around sales areas in wind and rain, but they are by far in the minority in the modern world. The problem here is that most retailers will agree that the majority of customers are like gardener 1.

The old adage is true; there's no such thing as a free lunch. The media will look after it's own interests first, and retailers would have to be exceptionally lucky or well placed to take advantage. The fact remains that any single feature about any single plant/product is but a tiny drop in a very large media pond. With so many different things vying for the attention of the consumers you have to really work very hard to get your product seen. Of course though, if it rains on the weekend after your plant is featured then most customers will stay indoors and your hard work counts for nothing.

The answer? Yes, even though this is a hopelessly complicated issue I'm going to give an answer. Yes, court the media... but above all 
be your own evangelist
I have a saying; blow your own trumpet because nobody will blow it for you- tell everyone by any means possible, through social media, your own Youtube account, and even your own website (you'd be amazed how many companies seem to forget this bit!)! Make sure that everyone possible knows about you, your products/services, and how awesome you are, because nobody else will do it for you.