March 20 marks what might just be the most eagerly anticipated first full day of spring in memory, as the majority of consumers nationwide look forward to the end of a very rough winter.
So in a nod to the season of fresh starts, you might want to find some facet of the lawn and garden industry that meshes with your beats – from residential real estate to personal finance to retail to technology and innovation.
Lawn care and amateur horticulture are big areas of U.S. consumer spending and focus; this Bankrate.com story notes a widely cited Bloomberg estimate of $40 billion a year on turf care alone, as well as a big investment of time on the part of homeowners.
From landscapers to seed sellers to equipment makers and sellers, that spending ripples through the local economy. Add in the floriculture industry – which grows and sells all of those petunias, impatiens and other flowering annuals – for another $4 billion or so in wholesale value alone.
Obviously if your area is headquarters to any big-name seed companies, chemical/fertilizer firms that make consumer goods, or power equipment makers, you’ve got a built-in news peg but if not, seek out sod farms, landscaping firms and other area service businesses for their spring/summer 2014 business outlook. Here’s one report from KCRG.com quoting a nursery operator who’s getting a late start on planting due to the winter storms, for example; not having plants ready by the big Memorial Day weekend (or before then, depending on your location) could be crippling to small growers. What are they doing to speed things along or obtain nursery stock from elsewhere? How will that affect selection and price offered to consumers?
If you cover the restaurant scene, look into trends about local sourcing of organic and hand-grown produce; ask retailers about consumer demand for organic and heirloom plants and seeds vs. genetically modified.
A just-out report from market research firm IBISWorld notes, however, that despite an uptick in consumer demand, all is not rosy for retailers of lawn equipment, which face headwinds from big box retailers and consumer caution. Similarly, a quick Google search turns up a number of stories about beloved area garden centers going out of business; bad weather, competition and financing woes are some of the culprits. You might want to do a quick survey of similar retailers (including nursery greenhouse operations that sell direct to consumers) in your backyard, are they having difficulty getting loans or revolving credit for inventory, and why?
If you’re looking for the quirky, the composting industry seems to be in the zeitgeist this year; I know it’s anecdata but I’ve heard of two such firms expanding in my region in just the past week or so. The U.S. Composting Council’s website is a trove of story nuggets, from the group’s quest for its own industry code (they tend to get lumped in with solid waste) and lobbying to keep landfill bans on yard waste alive, to education and careers info. Check out the recently completed annual conference program for clues to other hot industry topics, experts and exhibitors.
If you cover real estate, ask agents about trends in landscaping design and spending; rain gardens, for example, seem to be the buzz lately – would adding one increase a home’s saleability? Don’t forget about seasonal jobs – here’s an ad for a Boise job fair focusing on the landscaping trade, for example.