A few months ago, I received a New York Botanical Garden email inviting subscribers to engage, either in person or online, through some of the garden’s offerings. The subject line read, “Treat yourself to natural wellness,” and as I scrolled through the email, I could register for classes about herbal medicine for immune support, learn how to make kombucha or dive into any of the therapeutic horticulture courses.
Like NYBG, many other public and private gardens I follow on social media are using their accumulated scientific knowledge about the wellness benefits of plants and nature to craft special experiences. Their goal is to attract more visitors, grow financial support and create a lifetime of meaningful connections.
If you’re in the garden center business, you should consider turning your store into a wellness hub and unleash its potential, no matter the size. Besides beautifying our spaces, plants help us reduce stress, lower our heart rate, increase productivity and improve our mood.
Nowadays, wellness is one of the top priorities of consumers. A report released by market research company McKinsey & Company in the early fall of 2022 found that almost 50% of U.S. consumers prioritize wellness (compared to 42% in 2020), and interest will continue to grow, especially in the health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep and mindfulness sectors. Although billions of dollars are spent on products and services in the wellness segment, McKinsey indicates there are still unmet needs.
“The companies that thrive will be those that can identify and target unmet needs through offerings that are thoughtful, differentiated, tailored, and — increasingly — that target multiple dimensions of wellness,” a recent article from the company said.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “10 Ways to Boost Customer Satisfaction,” the authors share that customers nowadays are comparing your store experience to other experiences across many industries. It’s not just direct competitors IGCs should worry about, but businesses where your customers are buying their coffee, electronics or even shoes. Showing your customer that you care for them doesn’t require spending half of your monthly operation budget, but does go beyond understanding their needs for a garden project.
How well do you know wellness?
In people’s wellness maps, you want your business marked as a go-to stop. Like botanical gardens and public parks, garden centers and plant shops are primed with potential to attract customers seeking an energy boost or a retreat into nature
Once you’re aware of the amazing opportunity your business has, make sure you and your team understand what wellness is, so you can better align your products, services and experiences with your customers’ needs.
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” Why is this important to understand? Because your IGC can become an essential part of your customers’ experience and wellness lifestyles. Your customers are not just coming in to buy the plants they need for flower and vegetable gardens. They are also pursuing more holistic health and wellbeing avenues — which can be affected by factors like the economy, the environment and/or a global pandemic. For some people, vegetable gardening is the chosen road to a better life. Beyond gardening supplies, your staff and business can also provide infinite wellness support.
Since the pandemic, interest in gardening and nature-based activities skyrocketed while millions sheltered at home. Now, gardening is an obvious, year-round wellness tool to support their physical and mental health.
Beat the winter blues
Like NYBG, your IGC can host in-store or virtual experiences to guide customers on turning to plants and nature to improve their health. An informed team educated on issues that affect the community’s well-being could make a significant difference in which products and services to highlight and how to showcase certain experiences.
During the winter months, seasonal affective disorder — a clinically diagnosed depression related to shorter daylight hours — affects more people living in northern parts of the United States because winter nights last longer, according to the National Institutes of Health. If your plant shop is far north, this is something you might want to stop to consider on behalf of your costumers.
People diagnosed with depression have lower energy levels, may experience feelings of hopelessness, sudden mood changes and may lose interest in activities they usually enjoy, like gardening. Some of the symptoms can last until spring or summer if not treated.
Once diagnosed, health professionals can recommend specific approaches or a combination of therapies, which might include behavioral changes as well as possible medication. Mental health activities may include frequent meet ups with friends, going for walks outdoors or volunteering in the community. The idea behind it is to schedule “engaging and pleasurable” activities in the person’s daily routine. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your store (thanks to its design features, staff service and quality products) counts as someone’s go-to place as part of their wellness regimen?
To do this, use your social media channels and email list to gather your community and even convene with professionals willing to join forces with you. There’s no need to do it all by yourself. Let people know you want to be part of their wellness journey and you will turn loyal customers into raving fans.
Plant shops with wellness in mind
Hannah Brookfield, owner of BotaniGal, a houseplant boutique in Sykesville, Maryland, says houseplants and plant experiences are going to continue thriving. The horticulturist and certified horticulture therapist is constantly restocking her shop with plenty of both plants and wellness experiences.
“I think the houseplant boom is going to continue,” she says. “This year consumers are going to want to have more plant experiences, like attend plant classes, visit gardens and other plant-related designations, and look for ways to expand their collections.”
Brookfield, who has been in business since 2020, says she’s very intentional when promoting and presenting wellness experiences to her customers. “At BotaniGal I created a very passive form of horticulture therapy by packing the store full of plants. Every crevice has a plant, so when a customer walks in they are immediately immersed in plants.”
The store, which currently employs three people, including Brookfield, provides everything a plant parent needs to be successful, and provides horticulture therapy services to the community.
The Penn State graduate uses a custom soil blend which contains mycobacterium vaccae — a naturally occurring bacteria present in soil — which research suggests helps boost serotonin production in the brain. That, in turn, improves a person’s mood.
“I host several different classes and workshops in order to get my customers working with soil and plants to improve their mental and physical health,” says Brookfield, who received her horticulture therapy certification in 2019 from the Chicago Botanic Garden.
As a green industry professional, Brookfield says that the information she shares at BotaniGal, she implements in her own life, too. “I come up with new classes and workshops after doing them myself at home. Every bit of advice I give to customers is from personal experience and the same goes for my employees, who are also experienced plant parents,” she says.
7 ways to make gardening accessible
From older adults and people with mobility challenges to parents with newborns, everyone can enjoy the benefits of nature and gardening-based activities. Make an inventory of the potential wellness products and services you already have or provide at your store and try to match them with some areas people are focusing on improving like health, fitness, nutrition or sleep, and build from your ongoing wellness program. Here are seven suggestions to make wellness a part of your IGC experience:
- Connect with the comunity Research who’s buying from you, who’s not, and why. Information is only powerful when we put it to good use for improvement or changes. If you ask, your loyal customers and new ones can share bits of data that will help you contextualize better experiences. This research can help staff host better workshops, pick the right guest speakers, display products effectively and even boost attendance for regular events.
- Excitement stirs up excitement Some botanical gardens surprise visitors at the entrance, showcasing what’s in bloom that week and point them toward the plants. Do the same! Welcome your customers with garden products or services you’re excited about, particularly because of their wellness features, and direct them to their location in the store. Remember that curiosity trumps hurriedness.
- Engage the senses Help your customers engage with your products, and make sure they are accessible for people who use wheelchairs or can’t bend easily. Use graphics or big lettered signs to reinforce the action. Share at least one wellness benefit and warn about features that might cause an injury or reaction like thorns or pollen.
- Encourage garden breaks Of course you want to close a sale and move to the next one, but no one wants to feel rushed. Sometimes the garden center visit is what keeps people from isolation, especially older adults. If you have the space, strategically place a few benches around plants where customers can sit and take a breath before continuing their shopping. Maybe they bumped into someone and would like to catch up for a few minutes while seated.
- Offer accessible aisles If your store is only fun and accessible for able-bodied people, you may lose out on valuable business. If a person using a mobility aid — such as a motor device, a wheelchair or a walker — can’t smoothly navigate through your aisles without bumping, squeezing or procuring stock, you won’t be on their destination list.
- Host wellness professionals Reach out through your media channels or professional organizations, or ask your suppliers for recommendations. Schedule talks and workshops for your community year round, while tying in some of your bestsellers or in-season products. Invite horticultural therapists, authors, nutritionists or fitness instructors, and ask them to craft presentations.
- Keep up with the news If you are making adjustments in your business due to inflation, climate change or local policies, your customers are probably facing the same stressors. Showing support through special workshops and talks can help your customers thrive, even in challenging times. From multifunctional plants that help to stretch the dollar to the correct way to use products indoors and outdoors, make sure to adapt useful solutions to different populations for inclusiveness.
The author is a professional communicator, wellness speaker and founder of Agrochic, a woman-focused gardening lifestyle platform.