September 12, 2019

March of the millenial

Understand millennial customers and employees — by understanding their values

BY DIANE STEWART-ROSE

Millennials comprise about a quarter of Canada’s population. Do they all really eat avocados on toast, live in their parents’ basements and spend all their spare time on smart phones?

As the baby boom generation works to understand what motivates generations that follow, we need to examine our attitudes. Societal trends can lead to opportunities for growth and future sales. Harnessing attention can ensure future profitability.

According to a CBC news report, “Millennials, the age cohort loosely defined as being born in the 1980s and ’90s, are increasingly important to retailers — and those who aren’t able to capture the attention of the tech-savvy generation tend to struggle. Millennials don’t gravitate to car-ownership as much as their parents did, making them less likely to drive to a mall and more likely to shop online or stick to local stores. They also prefer to spend more money on experiences, such as travel over material things; forcing retailers to reinvent their spaces to attract shoppers.”

Marketwatch writer J. Settembre says millennials are sometimes, “blamed for killing industries such as housing, soap, diamonds and automobiles. A new study from the Federal Reserve finds millennials have simply fallen behind on making money, seeing as they grew up during the Great Recession of 2008 and faced a scarce job market once they graduated.” Settembre further notes that, “Millennials do not have less of a taste for consumption than members of earlier generations; they just have less money to indulge those tastes.”

But all that is about to change, as a whole generation of gardeners is set to redefine themselves, retire (or pre-tire) and reallocate their discretionary spending. The resulting effect will be both openings in employment positions and opportunities for retailers to convert a whole new generation into a committed group of garden consumers.

MEDITATE ON THAT THOUGHT
Offering both connection to natural surroundings and opportunities for relaxation, exercise and meditation, gardening will have a strong appeal to millennials suffering from generational angst and searching for meaningful activity. 
 
Garden communicator and trend watcher, Kathy Wood observes that time spent in the garden has an inter-generational appeal which should naturally extend to millennials, since “people are looking for deeper, more positive relationships.” Wood also observes, “There is a resurgence of interest as people become more aware of issues like climate change and its effects on the world of nature.” Communicators, such as Wood, are intent on capturing the attention of the younger generation through social media, blogs and websites, sharing information in a new way. 
 
In the garden centre, sales coaches and mentors can work to develop relationships with new communication technologies, knowledgeable staff and good signage to prepare young folk to be the next generation of dedicated gardening consumers. 
The focus could be on practical, short-term gardening pursuits, such as working toward a more plant-based diet by growing herbs, small fruits and vegetables. A step-by-step approach to individual projects, and handouts with detailed instructions, support the newbies as they move towards larger projects with longer horizons. 
 
My colleague Paul Zammit, horticulture director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, agrees and observes, “Those that have the space and actually choose to garden, appear to be more focused on using outdoor spaces for potential food production.”  
 
Millennials are aware of international issues such as climate change that may influence their purchasing habits, helping all of us to pursue collective goals and become, as Zammit observes, “More aware of the power of gardening, not only for its proven health benefits but also as an opportunity for us to be responsible land stewards and do our part to nurture nature.”
  


 
 
DEFINE “GARDEN”
I asked Toronto realtor Robert (Bo) Fleischman to share what he has learned or overheard in his professional career, that began in 1975. I wanted to know how millennials define and value their garden space.
 
 


 
Based on Bo’s experience, many millennials “will take next to nothing that may be described as a garden according to the more traditional definition. They want a place to put a barbeque and a patio or deck, and perceive that everything else in the yard is just work — when they would really rather be out enjoying and experiencing what life has to offer.” 
 
Also at issue is the affordability of a home with a large lot. “Whether by choice or by situation,” Bo states, this generation “is not as much about landscaping.” In Toronto, at least, some millennials urbanize to smaller downtown properties and are satisfied with a yard that provides them with a place to sit outside. 
 
Condominiums may include a balcony space where growing herbs, vegetables in containers, vines for privacy or shade and possibly annuals to complement the plantings may be the primary focus.
 
Bo cites examples of millennial couples, just starting their families, moving out of urban areas and into older and established suburban regions or satellite cities. Homes here come with larger properties, lawns, outdoor living space and parking — all of which make life easier for families. Bo explains that senior grandparents may offer coaching on maintenance practices such as pruning, planting, experimenting with perennials and privacy plantings. Bo also observes that, “When growing marijuana is legal, millennials may all start to enjoy landscaping!”

 
FRESH TALENTS AND ATTITUDES
Millennials challenge the post-second world war work ethic, searching for engaging, meaningful employment that allows them to 
express their passions and create work/life balance. They are a much more fluid workforce, bringing fresh attitudes and talents to their employers. Capturing their varying strengths will reveal a future with a strong working relationship.
 
In an excellent article that rethinks negative stereotypes and offers new analysis and insight into millennial workplace expectations, author Shelanne Augustine explores how this newest working generation of young adults is changing the way businesses offer service. “Millennials may be feared, but many experts agree: They’re a powerful generation that is bound to transform the way businesses operate.” Augustine observes, “While communicating and fostering community are key to keeping millennial employees, employers should also look for ways to tap into their unique set of skills. Millennials also thrive on clear communication; they want to receive constructive feedback and clear instructions on how they can improve, and they want to feel like their opinions matter to the company.”
 
In a separate interview, Augustine adds, “Gardening and landscaping can be very fulfilling work, especially for millennials that have grown up with greater environmental awareness. It is evident that older generations tend to view millennials as lazy or uncommitted. In the future, I’m certain we’ll see a shift in that line of thinking. As older generations retire, younger generations will play a greater role in the workplace. Their style of work may appear different from prior generations, but that’s okay. In fact, because millennials are driven by their desire to make a difference, they will likely serve their workplace with greater fervour. The more that baby boomers and gen-Xers recognize the outside elements that have shaped the way millennials behave, the easier it will be to work alongside them until retirement.”
 
Searching for meaningful work that inspires passion, with an impact that satisfies the entrepreneurial spirit, are worthy goals for the millennial generation. But will these goals conflict or align with retiring baby boomers demanding full service in the business of gardening?
 
GENERATIONAL CHANGE AND ADAPTATION
In service industries, generations learn to carve new relationships in the pursuit of common business goals. The physical demands of landscaping offer obvious opportunities for training and mentoring new young recruits. Parklane Landscapes of Beaverton, Ont., has created an environment that works well for multiple generations.
 
Rachel Castellano is a millennial sales assistant at Parklane Landscapes. I asked Castellano to describe this owner/operator business, which celebrated 60 years of service in 2018.
 
“The business was founded by Casey van Maris and was then taken on by his daughter Anna. It is now operated by Anna and her daughter Cassie (Casey’s granddaughter). Parklane offers homeowners all the pleasures of a beautiful outdoor space as well as the good feeling of knowing they’re taking care of our world in the process. As experts in sustainable landscapes and beautiful outdoor living, we offer people thoughtful, responsible, entertaining and enjoyable green living spaces — spaces that address our lifestyle and comfort as well as contribute to the health and beauty of the environment. Our mission is to lead people back to a sensitive, sensible approach to our outdoor spaces. We’re interested in pushing and growing ourselves, our clients and perhaps an entire industry to enjoy ALL that our landscape has to offer and be even better caretakers of the spaces we live in.”
 
In this forward-thinking, multi-generational workplace, coaching and mentoring is part of the process and repeated with practical application every day.
 
“The staff at Parklane Landscapes is made up of over 50 per cent millennials,” Castellano says. “Each group of generations at Parklane interacts with ease on a daily basis. We work together to train and coach and supervise to ensure quality and consistency. For example, my main responsibility is sales-related, so I work very closely with the company president, to learn from her and be trained by her. When it comes to the construction side of things, I work directly with the project manager, who is the same age as me.  From sales to design to construction, we all get the opportunity to learn from the different generations and for different reasons.”
 
Parklane has created a working environment which adopts a variety of practices, allowing them to attract the brightest and best of the younger generation. The owners take the time to really get to know their employees, inviting their contributions and uncovering their individual paths to success. Regular opportunities for feedback encourage improved performance and active contributions.
 
“Many staff members are millennials. One is in sales, a few are project managers and site supervisors,” says Castellano. “They are essential to our company. Millennials don’t just want a pat on the back. They want to know what they can do better. They want to improve, grow and help their businesses to succeed.”  
 
NEW GENERATION OF RETAIL SERVICE STAFF
In Garden Gallery Bradford Greenhouses of Bradford, Ont., on a Sunday morning in November, 2018, I join a sea of enthusiastic consumers touring carefully co-ordinated holiday displays. Almost everyone is armed with a shopping cart, and they are almost all baby boomers accompanied by their family entourage. Early in the day and with ample staff on hand, I meet a handful of young service workers busily tending to displays and awaiting customer requests. I pose a single question: How do you like working in a garden centre? The response is uniformly enthusiastic, highly practical and familiar to me as the reasons for starting work in this industry.
 
Cheerfully accepting of the seasonality of the business, they point out that:
  • This is a great place to work.
  • Garden centre work offers the opportunity to work part-time through the school year and full-time in the high season.
  • The positions offer physical activity and the enjoyment of “being on my feet all day.”
  • Their department managers are really great, really organized.
  • I worked in soul-less industry before (food service), and I am never going to do that again. 
  • Unbidden, one even described an upcoming special event.
Here come the millennials! 
 
Diane Stewart-Rose is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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