June 15, 2012
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Recently I heard Dr. Charlie Hall, horticultural industry economist at Texas A&M University, speak about the future of our industry. Dr. Hall is thought-provoking, wise and insightful. Here is a summary of one aspect of his talk. I am sure you will find his perspective helpful.   

Dr. Hall pointed out there are five interrelated underlying issues that must be dealt with if we are going to improve and advance the industry: over supply, over leverage, environmental Issues, labour force and underestimating the value proposition.

The recent U.S. economic downturn did not cause these issues. The recession simply made them come to the surface. Companies that understood how to sell value were flexible enough to respond to shrinking markets, were not overly leveraged and with competent and dedicated employees were able to survive the worst economic storm in 80 years.  

Learn from U.S. companies

Some companies even thrived. There are lessons to be learned from the U.S. experience. Why is it that in an economic environment, where 30 per cent of landscape companies and growers exited the industry, 13 per cent experienced significant growth? Why are they different? The answer is that they addressed the five underlying issues.   

Let’s look at two of these issues.

Oversupply and underestimating the value proposition are two issues that go together. It is not necessarily oversupply, but instead is stimulating demand by selling value. We are underachieving at selling the benefits of our products and services. We focus on selling beautification, yet we offer so much more. Our sector is unique. We improve the quality of life in so many ways that it is difficult and confusing to communicate our benefit. What other industry contributes economic, environmental, health, recreational, aesthetic, therapeutic, spiritual, lifestyle, tourism and community pride benefits? Would we not benefit from a common, simple and clear message?   

People afford what they want

Dr. Hall pointed out that people find ways to afford what they want. It is not uncommon for most of us to own vehicles that are far more expensive than necessary to get us from one place to another. We buy homes that are far bigger and luxurious than we need.

During the economic downturn, Apple became the largest company in the world by selling iPhones and iPads. We need a clearer value proposition. We grossly undervalue what we have to offer.

I recently reluctantly paid $7.00 for a beer in a hotel bar. I could have purchased a shrub for the same amount of money, even though the shrub will give me and others a lifetime of aesthetic, utilitarian, economic and environmental benefit. It does not make sense.

Few people hesitate to spend $30,000 on a car. Many would balk at spending the same on their landscape, even though one will appreciate in value and the other is a huge drain in finances. Consumers will spend if they see value, relevancy and authenticity. Selling our industry on being pretty will no longer work. We need to sell on wellness, health, self-improvement, functionality, experience, lifestyle, quality-of-life enhancement and legacy improvement.  

A powerful communication tool

We are fortunate to be in an industry that provides huge quality-of-life value to society. Our challenge and opportunity is to communicate this value in a way that inspires imagination and stirs emotions. We do not have the communication budgets of the large multi-national companies. What we do have is a sector of many diverse and small family-run businesses that collectively have huge communication power. If all of us took responsibility to communicate our value in an effective, unified and organized manner to the people we already touch each and every day, we would become a formidable and unstoppable communication force for change.

St. James Park

One clear example is what happened last December at St. James Park. In just two days (without a budget), we were able to achieve 20 million impressions (over two-million dollars worth of advertising) based on coming together and using our knowledge, skill and contribution ethic to restore a park. Over 55 companies and 340 individuals participated in communicating the same message. The result was spectacular.

A unified approach will give us huge impact, especially when we demonstrate the quality of life benefits through action. This is why we developed the Green for Life co-brand. Are you participating in “telling our story” of life enhancing benefits?   
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com.