PHOTO © marcovector | adobe stock

How do you find the next big thing? That is a question I am asked a lot, especially when I am at industry conferences. Unfortunately, none of us are getting the benefit this year of attending industry conferences, where we normally get exposure to new plants, products and consumer trends. Not to mention, missing out on all the in-person networking that helps us connect the dots and generate new business. With so much less live networking going on these days, you are going to have to hone your trend-spotting skills in other ways if you want to keep up with — or get ahead of — the times.

When faced with figuring out how to predict, or at least catch up with, potentially profitable market trends, where should you start?

Ask first

Before good answers always come good questions. Start by drilling down into the overall marketplace and our industry to develop the right questions. What is staying the same with consumers overall and what is staying the same in the green industry? What is changing in both? What do your customers value about our industry and your business? How are current industry trends impacting or changing our values? Use these questions to help you find new paths to profits.

What not to do

Figuring out what to do next may often come from first figuring out what not to do. Pay attention to what is not working — either industry-wide or for you personally. Sometimes it pays off to sit back and wait while brand-new trends take off, to see how quickly they start to fizzle. When you can observe how something is quickly not working as well or selling as well as was anticipated, you might spot an alternative opportunity. What was missing from the plant, product or service in terms of why it did not fulfill customer expectations? Can you move in with a better solution?

Anticipating change

Do you enjoy managing change, or would you rather lead it? Reacting to and managing change is often a chaotic and exhausting endeavor. It can make you feel like you can never catch up. If instead, you work to keep your finger on the pulse of what general consumers — and gardening industry consumers — are doing, using and responding to, you can either create the change you want, or at least lead it. That means paying attention across many different media platforms. A lot of attention. If you do not have marketing staff dedicated to this kind of work, now’s the time to hire on staff or contract out someone to help you.

Accepting change

Yes, there are still quite a few companies in the green industry that have not accepted that a lack of a website and social media presence, or a lackluster website with no e-commerce capabilities, puts them at a severe disadvantage. Clinging to the status quo for dear life just is not a good strategy for business success and growth. When I work on website projects with clients, my motto is “go big or go home.” Meaning, a cheap static website with no commerce capabilities is not going to cut it. If you do not accept how we all — your customers included — live, work, learn, socialize and shop online these days, then your days in business are numbered.

Tempo

The speed at which you either create or adopt a new trend will of course determine your ROI (good or bad). The more proactive you are at keeping up with technology and innovation within your company, the faster on your feet you will be when a big new opportunity presents itself. If you are way behind the times with your technology — be it equipment or digital tools — the more difficult it is to pivot in time.

Trend-spotting tools

Personally, I find that good trendspotting comes naturally from paying attention to a lot of different forms of media. TV commercials, print ads and branded social media content always contain tell-tale indicators for me about items that have garnered mass consumer favor. I often spot common threads through multiple forms of media at the same time. This observation tells me that something has already been identified as a trend by a lot of other expensive marketing companies; they have already done the high-price analysis for you. Whether it is houseplants showing up in the ads, specific colors or styles of decor, they are worth paying attention to.

If you want to do a little digital data mining, then get cozy with Google Trends. This free analytical tool can be found at trends.google.com, where you can input any combination of keywords or phrases to see their relevance in terms of online searches. The results will also provide you with comparisons to related keywords or phrases, and you can of course drill down on your geographical region. I guarantee what you discover will provide you with some surprises and aha moments — as well as some reminders about the constant and ongoing needs of beginner gardeners.

Make the trends

Personally, I am not one who likes to sit back and wait for trends. I prefer to create and drive them. In my opinion, it is not the customer’s job to decide what the next “hot thing” is while we wait around for them ... it is our job. The better we are at proactively producing plants, products, services and content that customers will desire — and the more proactive we are about consumer communications — the more we get to control the conversation.

Your challenge for 2021, if you choose to accept it: Do you want to be a trend-setter, or just a trend-chaser?

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com