“What florists can do to tap into one of the most popular trends in years.”
Michelle Weber has been in the wholesale plant business for a long time. For decades, her family’s wholesale plant company, Weber’s Wholesale Market, has been meeting the plant needs of florists, landscapers, hotels, restaurants and other businesses across the Portland, Ore, region.
But in all her years of peddling plants, Weber has never seen the business as hot as it is now. “In the past three years, we’ve seen an uptick of at least 80 percent,” she says. “We’ve had lots of new customers and lots of new sales.”
What’s more, Weber’s father, who ran the family business for years before passing the reins, said the current plant boom is nothing short of extraordinary.
“My dad said it was kind of like this back in the ’70s, maybe into the early ’80s, and then it dropped lower,” Weber says. “But he’s never seen anything like this.”
Indeed, houseplants have burst back onto the scene and their popularity has grown like a weed. According to the 2019 “National Gardening Survey” from the National Gardening Association (NGA), retail sales of houseplants in the U.S. have risen almost 50 percent over the past three years, to $1.7 billion.
One of the biggest drivers behind that explosive growth has been the rise in popularity of plants among millennials. The NGA reported that of the $52.3 billion spent on lawn and garden retail sales in 2018, a quarter of it came from 24-to-39-year-olds, whose spending on plants has grown faster than any other demographic in the past five years. Chalk that up in part to the younger generation’s tendency to put off buying homes and having kids until later in life while still needing something to take care of. Their affinity for social media has played a huge role, as well.
There are thousands of accounts focusing on lush interior design aesthetics, and plants offer an accessible way to re-create the same looks at home,” says Casey Godlove, creative director of PlantShed, a longtime floral and plant business, with three locations in New York City. “[Millennials] are increasingly interested and excited about the botanical world and even coming in with a huge interest in nostalgic plants that they remember their grandparents having,” he says. Throw in the increasingly good news about the impact plants can have on health and indoor environments, as well as an overall rise in demand, and it’s no surprise that plants are more popular than ever.
Florists not already reaping the benefits of the popular plant scene would be wise to jump on the bandwagon because there’s consistent agreement in the industry that plants are here to stay. Florists’ Review touched base with florists, shop owners and designers to find out how they’ve made the most of plants — and how you can, too.
If you want to reach the masses, especially the millennial ones, social media is the way to go. “It’s very much about social media,” Weber says. “If it’s on Instagram, they have to have it.”
Instagram, in particular has become a popular place for plant fanatics, who have taken to the very visual social media platform to share their own houseplant vignettes while seeking out new greens to add to their collections.
“Social media has played a big part in the uptick in plant popularity,” Godlove says. “The ability to share information about different types of plants, along with showcasing the aesthetic appeal, has sparked interest across the board.”
Consider highlighting unique plants you have in your inventory on Instagram, share tips about how to care for them and tag posts appropriately. Some popular hashtags are: #houseplants, #plants, #succulentlove and #crazyplantlady.
Though the popularity of houseplants may be new, the plants people want most have been around for a while. Godlove says the same staples seem still seem to be favorites — snake plants (Sansevieria), cacti, succulents and fiddle-leaf figs (Ficus lyrata), to name a few. There’s a certain nostalgia to some plants – spider plants (Chlorophytum) and Sansevieria that make them appealing to today’s buyers.
Weber’s Wholesale Market offers more than 500 genera and species of plants – proof that there’s lots to be said for variety. Weber says plants with striking variegation or exotic appearances have become popular in recent times, while Godlove says oversized cacti are in high demand. He also says it pays to be able to have a large variety of plants in stock or at least available on short notice.
“We carry hundreds of different plants in store and for our e-commerce site,” he says. “Our buyers always have their fingers on the pulse of the market to see what is trending, and they are in constant communication across all of our stores to see what is performing well. New York City is diverse, along with growing conditions and our clients’ needs, so we try to be accommodating and have a supply for all types of jobs.”
Despite the renewed popularity of houseplants, some people are still wary of taking care of a plant and, frankly, don’t think they can do it. Florists can ease that anxiety by educating their customers and matching the right person with the right plant.
“We’ve had a lot of success in taking the time to educate our customers and taking some of the mystery out of plants through low-cost workshops, social media and knowledgeable staff,” Godlove says. “We find that people shy away from the work of actual transplanting or are fearful of over- or under-watering. Sharing knowledge, offering repotting services and having a large selection of potted plants has proved to be a great way of converting walk-in customers to true plant enthusiasts.”
Baylor Chapman, founder of Lila B. Design, a floral and plant design studio in San Francisco, says it’s also helpful to encourage prospective plant owners to just try out a plant that appeals to them.
“Bring in what you love. Try it out. Let it bring you joy,” she says. “If it doesn’t thrive or even suffers, it is okay. Compost it or give it to a green thumb. Try something new. It is okay if a plant doesn’t make it. Try, try again. You’ll find a good match for your style and your home’s light conditions.”
Speaking of education, don’t forget to throw in some of the health benefits of houseplants when chatting with potential customers. WebMD notes that houseplants serve as filters to catch allergens and volatile organic compounds, and they help purify the air. Certain plants, such as spider plants (Chlorophytum), can add moisture to a dry room, and some studies have shown that having plants in homes and offices can help relieve stress.
Houseplants are great for a lot of reasons, but here’s one to play up to your customers: They last much longer than cut flowers.
“A benefit of live plants over flowers is that they offer an extended experience,” says Jimmy Lohr, “chief eccentric officer” for the Pittsburgh florist greenSinner.
That pertains both to plants that are displayed not only in homes but also at events. Don’t be afraid to suggest plants for use in other settings like weddings, parties or conferences.
“We focus a lot on living centerpieces – plant arrangements for events, parties, offices and homes – that can be enjoyed for one night to several weeks or even months,” Chapman says. “After their use as an arrangement, they can be taken apart, replanted or given as gifts.”
Competing on price when it comes to plants is only part of the equation. Godlove says it’s important for PlantShed to be competitive on pricing, but there’s much more to success with plants than that.
“The transaction might start with that initial sale, but we are hoping to build a relationship with customers who purchase here,” he says. “We guarantee our indoor tropical plants for 30 days, and we love seeing customers return one or two years later to repot the same plant into a bigger container. Our team is always available to answer questions and even help with a plant that someone may not have purchased from us. We want to share our knowledge and learn from our clients by listening to their needs and seeing what is working for them. At the end of the day, these are living things and we must keep that in mind as we pass them along.”