The greatest challenge garden centers face is the declining size of the next generation, as well as the enormous debt the next generation is responsible for. The New York Times had this article concerning the student debt the next generation is amassing. Imagine coming out of college owing 150,000 USD and trying to find work in one of the worst job markets in decades. These are the people who are going to buy houses and shop at the local garden center?
Not only is the next generation in debt, and facing an awful job market, but there are just fewer of this generation to replace the boomer generation who is retiring. If the garden center trade is waiting for economic recovery to take place and get back to the way things we’re, it’s going to be waiting a long time. There are just too many garden centers, home stores, box stores, and wholesale suppliers selling plants for the market. Further shrinkage of the trade is inevitable.
I know most in our trade are tired of hearing about how the next generation doesn't want to garden like their parents did. I imagine it’s because we just don’t know what to do. I was talking to a friend who is a wine maker, and that industry is looking at the same thing. They are not buying or drinking wine like their parents did. There is way too much acreage in this State of California growing grapes for the need. How many of these young people can afford $20 USD on wine? How many just don’t drink wine? That trade is shrinking just like the garden center trade.
The younger generation is interested in growing food to eat, and some of the same gardening their parents did. There just isn't enough of them with homes and steady jobs to support the trade. I expect to see the results of this trend first in Europe where the youth unemployment is skyrocketing. It’s already begun and those of us who wish to stay in this trade will have to figure out how to service a shrinking demographic who's interests are different than the generations who helped build the trade.
The only certainty is a smaller and poorer demographic will be our next generation of customers. What can be done to survive and prosper in this environment? I think the future is very bright for those who can figure out which path to take. There will just be a lot fewer of us on that path.