The closest hydroponic shop to us is selling plants now. They are also touting the “local”, as in “your local garden center”. Fortunately for us, they don’t know what they are doing, but the trend is clear. Here in California the hydroponic market is beginning the great unwinding we predicted. Also as predicted, the forward thinking garden centers are starting to capture some of the formally exclusive hydroponic market, which includes the coveted “non-gardening” younger generations. You see, they are super enthusiastic about gardening, but on their own terms. Don’t patronize or talk down to these customers. They just want to know the “why” and “how” and “where from” more so than our older customers.
Today a trade magazine representative asked how we feel about our future as a garden center. The future is as bright as it can be in these uncertain times. In this particular northern California location my customer base is likely 50% under 30 years of age. So we have an interested younger group of potential long term customers. The separation of the hydro business and conventional garden centers is blurring, allowing us a larger customer base who just want to “grow their own”. Growing organically is huge and getting bigger. This is perfect for separating our business from the chemically heavy competition of box stores. They don’t carry three types of bat guano, brew their own compost tea, or sell “veganic” nutrients. The uncertainty in the economy, especially here in northern California continues to drive people to grow their own.
The challenges we face in the future should not be discounted. Yet, on this first day of summer I feel like some of what we have discussed and implemented over the last few years is paying off. Stay small, accessible, and enthusiastic. Drop lines and companies that don’t work. Carry stuff the competition doesn't, and be able to explain why it’s better. Go organic, and encourage your customers to do so by having what they need to accomplish it. I foresee a time when the local garden supply store may very well take its place once again as an indispensable part of the community. Be bold, and remember “small is cool”.