Marketing to a New Age of Canadian Consumers
July 23, 2019
For many years, the garden centre industry has focused on the Baby Boomer generation, with good reason. Defined by the surge in births that followed World War II, the Boomer generation was the largest North America had ever known. Plus, they loved to garden and spend money on their landscapes and homes.
But in 2019, Baby Boomers are turning 55 to 73 years old. They’re downsizing their homes and gardens and spending less on gardening as they age. As a result, many in the Canadian garden centre industry have worried whether the next generations will step up and take their place.
Some of the predictions have been grim. The post-Boomer generations weren’t gardening, some reports said. But many of those forecasts overlooked a very important point: Gardening purchases, such as those common among Baby Boomers, have always been tied to three essentials — homeownership, discretionary income and parenthood. Those three forces hadn’t fully hit the coming generations quite yet.
As Boomers have retired, Generation X and the Millennial generation, as well as the post-Millennial Generation Z, have been quietly coming into their prime consumer years. Garden centres that tune in to the preferences and experiences that distinguish these generations can expect success with this new age of Canadian consumers.
Getting to Know Generation X
Often lost in the shuffle between the much larger Baby Boom and Millennial generations, Gen Xers are hitting 39 to 54 years in age this year. While Boomers were planning their retirement years and Millennials were continuing their education, Gen Xers were hard at work in the world. A generation of determined achievers, driven in the workplace, they’ve purchased suburban homes, had children and completed their families with pets. Competition for their limited free time has been intense and, in most cases, gardening didn’t win.
The most time-strapped of all current generations, Gen X simply hasn’t had time to garden or learn the skills. But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the beauty of a finely manicured landscape and the casual luxury of bespoke outdoor living rooms. Many Gen Xers are now moving up in homes as well. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) 2018 Canadian Mortgage Consumer Survey reveals that 31% of repeat homebuyers were Gen Xers last year.
A primary way you can win this generation’s devotion is through products and services that help them maximize the leisure time they lack. This tech-savvy age group appreciates digital shopping and buy-on-line/pick-up-in-store conveniences — or better yet, services like home delivery, custom installation and garden maintenance.
Health and wellness and outdoor living are especially important to this group of design-conscious consumers, who have accumulated the style sense and income to express their preferences accordingly. Rather than do-it-yourself projects, Gen X prefers that you do it for them, and that you help them achieve their unique vision with high-quality, exclusive products that aren’t available at just any garden centre.
Meeting Millennials as They Mature
One of the most talked about of generations, Millennials are the “sonic boom” heard ‘round the world as the Baby Boomer generation had children. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, Millennials are approximately 23 to 38 years old in 2019. As mortality takes its toll on aging Baby Boomers, Millennials — bolstered by immigration — have replaced them as the largest living generation in both Canada and the United States.
According to 2018 market analysis by Nielsen Company-Canada, Canadian Millennials number more than 10 million and represent 27.5% of Canada’s population. However, 35% of Canadian Millennials still live with their parents; only 16% report being household heads. That’s not uplifting news for garden-related purchases tied to homeownership, but research shows the tide has begun to turn. Millennials are moving toward traditional milestones of adulthood, such as homeownership and parenthood.
CMHC’s 2018 survey found that Millennials made up 49% of Canada’s first-time homebuyers last year, and Statistics Canada reports that Millennial-age women accounted for more than 75% of all Canadian births the year before. Add to that, study results from Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Research and Land Development show Millennials are not that different from previous generations at the same age. They hold the same dreams for single-family homes that their parents held. It also seems those extra years living with mom and dad helped; Millennials have less debt growth than previous generations.
Even as renters, Millennials have acquired tastes for nature, houseplants, environmental causes, and the grow-your-own-food movement, which all bodes well for the garden centre industry as this age group continues to mature. Millennials don’t identify as “gardeners” per se, but many consume gardening-related information voraciously.
The U.S.-based 2018 National Gardening Survey reveals that Millennial-age consumers now account for 29% of U.S. gardening households. In addition, males under age 35 surpassed females age 55-plus as the biggest consumers of “gardening information.” Millennial women plan to join the fun as well. A Flowers Canada Ontario report reveals that 60% of Canada’s Millennial women plan on gardening outdoors, and 80% of those women plan to buy at garden centres rather than shopping supermarkets and big box stores.
Even more so than Gen Xers, Millennials strive for individuality, self-expression, sustainability and authenticity. According to Canada’s Environics Analytics, they are the most culturally diverse generation in Canadian history. They want their plants and their indoor and outdoor furnishings to reflect their modern, organic approach, with uncommon colours and exotic, expressive textures in everything from houseplant foliage to containers and outdoor furniture — whether destined for urban balconies, rooftop gardens or interior rooms.
Connecting with Generation Z
Following Millennials can’t be easy, but Generation Z seems up to the task. The oldest members of this young generation are just turning 22 years old. The children of work-driven Generation Xers, this young consumer cohort is on track to become the largest generational segment of Canada’s population very soon. Statistics Canada’s 2018 population estimates put Gen Z at more than 20% of the nation’s population, and they’re far from through.
A 2019 survey commissioned by American Express Canada reinforces that Gen Z is more than an extension of Millennial youth. These young Canadians are already working. Many pay for 100% of their personal purchases, and they heavily influence their parents’ discretionary spending. They’re ultra-savvy when it comes to technology, but they relish the human touch — 65% of Canadian Gen Zers prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. Environmentalism and sustainability are critical purchasing drivers, and quality and authenticity are priorities, too.
While much is still to be learned about this young group of consumers, a glimpse of a gardening connection can already be seen. As early as 2015, Nielsen’s Global Generational Lifestyle Report revealed that 2% of Gen Zers list gardening as one of their top three spare-time activities. Keep in mind how young this nature-minded generation is, and consider that a true spark of hope. By connecting now with these up-and-comers, along with their Gen X parents and Millennial relatives, you can position your garden centre for success.