Where is the passion?

Interesting comment at my post on "The Slow Decline of the CANGC" California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers." The commenter, who's is from one of California's "biggest and best known nurseries," lists the reasons why they feel The Association has declined, many of which I agree with. One passage caught my attention since I had heard the same thing from author Amy Stewart, after her visit to the IGC (Independent Garden Center) show in Chicago. Here is part of the comment from my post. "Finally, and maybe most significant for me at least, was that all too often CANGC was not about gardening and the celebration of plants and flowers and soil and everything green and alive. I and many others are in this business to encourage gardening – REALLY! CANGC was not (and sadly is still not) led by passionate gardeners. It’s led by administrators and clerks who all too often are more interested in the process than the product."

Here are some of Amy's observations from the show, which in many way's mirror the commenter above. "We told Hort Coture that their handbags-and-high heels marketing was sexist and insulting--that it assumed that women were only interested in plants as fashion accessories. (And that women give a shit about fashion accessories. Have these people met any women?) One funny thing that happened during the panel was that we went on and on about how our reader survey said that what our readers want from their IGC is FABULOUS INTERESTING UNUSUAL PLANTS that they can't find elsewhere, and the Hort Coture guy actually raised his hand and said, 'When you say different or unusual plants--what would be an example of that?' Like he had no idea that there were other plants out there. (in Hort Coture's defense, this guy was  a regional sales rep, not actually working for HC)"

Amy continues, "here's the problem with the plant brand people: They all say, 'Yes, we get it, we like interesting and unusual plants too, but our customers are too stupid to get it. So we have to take this dumbed-down approach because they are not as smart as we are.' That's so insulting. If you think it's cool, you can convince your customers that it's cool. Look at Annie's Annuals, for christsake. As you can see from our post-IGC posts on GardenRant, we got very tired of  these vendors telling us, 'Yes, that may be what you want, but you're gardeners. What about the non-gardeners?' To hell with the non-gardeners! Let them play golf!"

See what's going on here? Both at the CANGC and with the plant brand's, people who may not be passionate gardeners are calling the shots. We are looking at it from outside, instead of from the inside, as a fellow gardener. We have assumed, just like CANGC and the plant brand's, that we know best.  Just like CANGC, who thought it important to get the box stores (non-passionate, non-gardeners) into the membership (huge mistake), the big plant brand houses think it's important to attract non-gardeners , rather than appeal to those who already consider themselves gardeners.

Here is more of what Amy had to say. "As you know, I own a used & rare bookstore with my husband. We don't cater to non-readers. We cater to passionate book lovers. Our way of expanding our customer base is to MAKE MORE PASSIONATE BOOK LOVERS! After all, nobody is born a book collector. Someone had to get them fired up! If we can't get them excited about paying $100 for a signed first edition of some rare book, that's our problem, not theirs. If you can't persuade people to become passionate gardeners by showing them fabulous plants, beautiful gardens, amazing products--then you've given up and you should just go home.  My local IGC has NOT ONE SIGN anywhere in the garden center expressing the slightest bit of enthusiasm for a single plant. NEVER ONCE has anyone at a local garden center been effusive, excited, elated over ANYTHING and attempted to share that magic with me. As one reader said in our survey,'I wish the employees were as excited to be (at the IGC) as I am.'"

I know from experience that you can get burned out in this business, just like any business. The passion and enthusiasm we felt about selling garden plants and supplies when we started is often crushed under the strain of keeping the doors open. Lack of small business credit, customers who are more interested in price than quality, competition with box stores, increasing taxes, increasing regulation, vendors that don't get it, etc. Amy is passionate about the floral industry and say's, "... honestly? Most people I meet in the hort industry or at garden centers don't strike me as gardeners. They might do a little 'landscaping with plant materials' around their home, but they are not obsessed, dirt-under-the-nails gardeners. It's like the floral industry. I met a lot of people who are not total flower floozies. They run warehouses, greenhouses, trucking operations, or retail stores. They do not swoon over flowers. They process merchandise. (The exceptions were the few wonderful independent florists run by people who loved flowers so much they couldn't NOT open a flower shop!)"

What a breath of fresh air! The whole purpose of this blog has been to bring into the light issues I, and may of you care about. Not always what we want to hear. This blog has never been a cheerleader for "the industry". The industry has fragmented. Those of us who want to operate small garden centers realize that what's good for "the industry" may not be good for us.