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Expert warns of disconnect from owners to customers

By CAROL KINSLEY
Staff Writer

Linthicum, Md. (March 14, 2016) — There is a great disconnect in the way the green industry and consumers think about plants, said Lloyd Traven, keynote speaker at Chesapeake Green, a two-day horticultural symposium held in late February.
“We think horticulturally; they think emotionally,” Traven continued. “We need to think like them.”
A plant that is “grower friendly” might fit on a rack, but doesn’t always grow in a garden, he added. “Grower friendly is not a benefit to the consumer.”
Chesapeake Green, an annual event made possible by Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association Inc., offers education and networking opportunities for all aspects of the industry — nursery growers, greenhouse growers, landscape contractors and retail garden centers. The symposium was held this year at a new venue, the BWI Hilton.
Traven, called both a “mad scientist” and “plant geek” by his friends, is passionate about growing quality plants. He is also committed to using advanced technology combined with sustainable and organic growing techniques.
He and his wife, Candy, purchased a 25-acre farm in Kintnersville, Pa., in 1983. They were among the first to successfully invest in sophisticated environmental control systems for their operation. Their Peace Tree Farm is where many of the plants that will be on display at the Philadelphia Flower Show are forced into bloom.
Traven was on the Chesapeake Green agenda twice, with a talk on “Leveraging Edibles” in one of the break-out sessions later in the day.
His keynote address was entitled, “Are We Still Sending an 80s Message in the 21st Century?”
Those in the green industry have become so convinced that they know what customers want and need that they’ve stopped listening, and so customers have stopped coming, he said.
There are two crucial questions for which today’s consumers want answers, Traven said: “What does this do for me? How does it make me feel?”
Function trumps beauty when it comes to plants, Traven said. Plants have mental functions: relaxative, therapeutic and emotional.
They have social functions, serving as community builders, offering community pride, gathering places or security. They save energy and increase property values.
Of course, there are environmental benefits such as water retention and providing wildlife habitat.
“You’ll notice I did not mention color,” Traven said, after enumerating a long list of benefits. Contrary to the notion, “if it doesn’t bloom it gets no room,” Traven said, “flowers are far down the list of what people care about.
“Consumers want participation. We’ve taught ourselves to believe they want it done for them.” As an example, he noted combo choices for containers have been decided for consumers, who no longer need to choose what they think will grow nicely together.
“They’ve come to expect gratification, but plants don’t work that way. Our job is to show them to care for plants. That’s participation. We took away the experience. We thought we knew better than they what they wanted.”
What consumers want, Traven suggested, “is to do it themselves, even if they fail.”
Traven suggested a new mission: to leverage passion. For example, if, as a dog food company, you can convince me that you love dogs, I’ll let you feed my dog.
Discover what got you where you are — your passion — and share that. “Sometimes, passion is a garden, or a spot in a garden, or just one plant, or just one flower, or just leaves.”
Let consumers tell you about their passion, and they will tell people about you.
Traven summed up his talk: “Help consumers to take back their yard! We want to get them back.” And, if we can reach new gardeners, the kids, they’ll bring their parents in.