by Courtney Llewellyn

The Millennial: what a debated figure in the current economic climate. They have been accused of killing everything from the diamond industry to blowing their meager disposable income on frivolities such as avocado toast. They do make money (often at more than one job), and they do spend it. But how does a business lure them in?

There is no dearth of studies on this age group, usually defined as those currently between the ages of 22 and 38. Millennials total about 83 million people in the U.S. – about 25% of the total population, making them the largest age group in the country.

Some more quick facts: The vast majority of this generation lives in metro areas (88%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), and their yearly expenditures total just over $47,000, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a decent figure, but they spend only two-thirds of what Gen X and Baby Boomers do on entertainment. When it comes to goods, many prefer to shop online versus traveling to a physical location, but ultimately, they prefer brands that offer unique experiences, good value for the money and great customer service. Eventbrite, an event management and ticketing website, found that three out of four Millennials prefer an experience over a physical item.

To sell to that mindset, business owners need to adapt – and not just those selling clothing or furniture or books. Those running garden shops, greenhouses, flower shops and farmers markets also need to discover new avenues to market to Millennials. It takes a certain savoir-faire – being adaptable and adroit, knowing what to do in any situation. Many markets have stepped up to the challenge.

Spending the day at Dane County Farmers Market

“One of the founding goals of the Dane County Farmers Market (DCFM) is to provide a community gathering space which fosters not only direct interaction between farmers and customers, but also social gatherings and interactions among community members,” explained Sarah J. Elliott, market manager for DCFM. To make this easier, their organization actually hosts four markets – the Saturday Market on the Capitol Square in Madison, WI, the Wednesday Market on MLK Jr. Blvd, and two indoor markets.

One of the goals of the Dane County Farmers Market is to provide a community gathering space which fosters not only direct interaction between farmers and customers, but also social gatherings and interactions among community members, Market Manager Sarah J. Elliott said.
Photo courtesy of Dane County Farmers Market

Elliott said the Saturday Market is their flagship market. “Our permit for this market is with the State of Wisconsin and extends only to the sale of Wisconsin grown and raised agricultural products,” she said. “As a producer-only market, all of the products are sold directly by the person who grew/raised/made them; there is no resale allowed.”

The Saturday Market commonly draws weekly crowds of over 20,000 people, and the City of Madison also manages and permits arts and craft vendors and food trucks who flank the market. Non-profit organizations and musicians are allowed nearby as well, which helps to draw in even more people looking not just to buy fruits and vegetables but also to enjoy a weekend morning outside. “Having musicians, non-profit groups, etc., contributes to an atmosphere of community and encourages social interactions,” Elliott added.

The other three markets – the Wednesday Market, the Holiday Market at the Monona Terrace and the Late Winter Market – don’t see as many customers, so the market is less of a natural gathering place. Elliott said they often invite musicians and/or allied community organizations to help enhance the experience of coming to these markets as well. And it’s all about the experience.

“In general, our target audience is folks who will do their weekly shopping at the market. If you’ve ever visited our Saturday market, it can be quite a tourist attraction, with many folks just coming to view the spectacle but not actually support our members,” Elliott explained. “I often joke that we don’t want more people to come to our market – we want the people that are there to buy more!

“Some of our target audience is certainly Millennials, especially with UW Madison here. In general, I think that our Millennial shoppers are very attracted to the more picturesque (dare I say Instagram-able) items – baby succulents, fresh flowers, iconic bakery items like the Hot ‘n’ Spicy Cheese Bread and the Sco-nut, and the beautifully manicured, luscious fresh produce,” she continued. “Many of our Millennial shoppers care strongly about where their food comes from and enjoy getting to know our farmers.”

Additionally, Millennial shoppers have sparked some changes at DCFM, especially around farmers’ ability to accept credit/debit cards. “I would say that about half of our members currently accept plastic – and that is a dramatic increase from even a couple years ago,” Elliott said.

Now boarding for a varied experience

There are Millennials who describe themselves as “multi-hyphenates,” especially when it comes to what they can offer. They’re not just accountants or department managers or teachers. Thanks to the ubiquitous side hustle culture, they are accountant-Zumba instructor-Lyft driver-Etsy artisans. A business in Seattle, WA, mirrors this dedication to doing it all.

A “multi-hyphenate” business, the London Plane regularly sees its floral-based classes sell out. These women attended one of their Floral Design classes last spring.
Photo courtesy of the London Plane

Partner Yasuaki Saito describes the London Plane as “an ambitious project with lots of moving parts.”

“Our floral workshop aspires to fulfill multiple roles: An outlet for Katherine Anderson (one of our owners) and her farm, Marigold & Mint in Carnation, WA; a full service retail/online florist buying product directly from farms (i.e. Jello Mold Farm) and local growers (Seattle Wholesale Growers’ Market); a floral provider to local businesses (like Mithun Architects) for weekly deliveries to offices and restaurants; an educational outlet for our florists and other instructors (such as Hilary Horvath) providing classes to the public; [and] an event designer for everything from large galas to small weddings and everything in between,” Saito said.

But the floral workshop is only one cog in the London Plane machinery. The concept was opened in 2013 as a collaboration between Katherine and Matt Dillon (chef/owner) to combine their skills and expertise in an all-day space that allows guests a varied and dynamic experience.

“We feel that our assortment of food and beverage, retail, floral and event businesses allow for a unique interaction with our guests,” Saito said. Customers come down for a lunch of vegetable-focused dishes, grab a bottle of wine for a dinner party or cookies for an afternoon meeting and gather a bouquet of flowers on their way to visit a friend. “We want to be available to as many people as we can, from locals to visitors, from foodies to influencers, from neighborhood residents to local business people,” Saito added. “We aim to reach guests who are interested in where they spend their money and how that can support a small business economy of farmers, makers, artisans and producers.”

Part of that aim includes offering myriad floral classes. In May, two of their three “Peonies” classes – which cost $150 each – were sold out. All materials were provided, and the classes included demonstrations, individual assistance, the floral creation in its own vase, a pair of pruners, a beverage and goodies from their pastry kitchen.

Saito commented that what they have found is that everyone, Millennials to Boomers, appreciate good product served with love – and that their Millennial guests in particular appreciate their shop and neighborhood’s general aesthetics, “the visual stimulation of our interior space from floral installations to retail shelves, the interactivity of putting together their own bouquets (which is not always the case in floral shops), the connections allowed by classes, social media channels and collaborations such as our Flower Moon Dinner, and the fact that we are definitively unique.”

“How many flower shop-retail outlet-wine bar-scratch cooking restaurant-bakery-event venues are there?” he asked. “Plus, you can just stop by for flowers or order online (which many people do) without having to sit down for a meal. The choice is up to you!”

Looking to learn while shopping

“A modern venue for simple and holistic living” is how Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop, located in Webster Groves, MO, describes itself. They believe that our homes and yards can be a lush oasis of biodiversity that nourish, inspire, heal and entertain when planted thoughtfully. And they’re happy to share the knowledge to get you there, according to their website.

Maypop was born out of a European trend of “plant shops,” small storefronts usually dense with houseplants with the added bonus of coffee or other beverages that encourage customers to sit down and hang out for a while.
Photo courtesy of Megan Reilly/Maypop

The sharing of knowledge of one of their biggest draws, as they host dozens of workshops a year – 32 through April 10, including “Wine + Design” nights, landscape designing, botanical printmaking and herbal tea blending.

“Maypop was born out of a popular European trend of ‘plant shops.’ These small storefronts are usually dense with houseplants and have the added bonus of coffee or other beverages that encourage customers to sit down and hang out for a while,” Laura Caldie, marketing and outreach director for the store, said. “We chose to merge that idea with a larger garden center model, incorporating annuals, edibles, perennials, trees and shrubs, but only select varieties that we know and love.”

Caldie noted they see a lot of different demographics at Maypop, but Millennial and Gen Z consumers are where they see the biggest opportunity for growth happening. “Young people are extremely enthusiastic about living healthy lifestyles, improving the planet and having stylish living spaces, so we actually have to do very little to bring them in the door,” she elaborated. “Almost all of our marketing efforts have been digital, with most first-time customers saying they saw us on Instagram.” The coffee element helps to diversify their audience because so many types of people find coffee extremely approachable, even if they don’t feel strongly about plants before entering their shop.

“Usually by the time they leave they see the value in cultivated green spaces of one type or another,” she said.

A Millennial herself, Caldie admitted, “Honestly, choice is overwhelming for many people in my age group. We don’t want boundless options; we want a handful of choices that are all vetted and vouched for. That’s where intentions and purpose come into play. Our brand promise is essentially that no matter what you buy here (food, drink or plant), it was grown/crafted with care and has a net positive impact on our ecosystem.” That’s why Maypop doesn’t sell invasive plants or harsh chemicals; all their veggies are non-GMO; and their coffee and tea are sustainably harvested and purchased through other local small businesses.

She added that Millennials want to show off to others that they are living well, so it pays to fill their business space with photo-worthy spots. “When these images are shared online to friends and family, it is like a personal endorsement for your business,” she noted.

Maypop is listed as one of the “most Instagrammable” shops in Missouri, so in this case, a picture can be worth potential profit.

Aiming for age-appropriate agritourism

The State of Colorado’s Department of Agriculture website offers links to assist growers with agritourism, business development tools, the Colorado Proud program which promotes products grown, raised or processed in the state, food processing information and AgInsights, a group organized to address the challenges farmers face in the state offering programs, speakers, surveys and PR campaigns.

Dawn Thilmany, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University, offered insight into niche markets through the Department of Ag’s website. Defined simply, niche markets “consist of groups of consumers (market segments) within the larger marketplace who have similar demographic, buying behavior and/or lifestyle characteristics” – such as people born between the early 1980s and early 1990s. “Understanding target consumer segments is an essential element in determining whether your operation has the right resources, interests and business elements necessary to meet the needs of likely customers.”

“I love that Millennials know how to research online and give me a pretty clear vision of what they want with their Pinterest boards or other techy means,” said floral designer Cindy Magan.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Magan

Thilmany’s information sheet suggests that once you identify like-minded consumers, you may want to name or label them, as a way to facilitate targeted marketing activities and “branding” of your offerings. “Clustering” of consumers also allows your business to plan more targeted and effective marketing activities, especially if you understand their motivations for buying products or visiting specific shopping or tourism venues. That’s the key: after identifying a niche market, you need to figure out how to grab and keep their attention.

Other important things to keep in mind, whether you’re looking at Millennials or any other age group, is that any plan directed at niche markets should include clear and consistent images and themes, align with your business structure and culture, provide a clear link between strategy and actions and focus attention and action where it’s needed.

At the upcoming American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Sacramento, CA, on June 12, Cindy Magan of Hillside Blooms Floristry is serving as lead designer. She is very familiar with her usual audience. “Since the majority of my brides are Millennials, I would say the way I cater to my clients is make the planning process as comfortable for them as possible. My clients are quite tech savvy, so if they reach to me via email and are able to send me the necessary information that way, then I’m happy to work with that and avoid an extra meetings or phone calls. I love that Millennials know how to research online and give me a pretty clear vision of what they want with their Pinterest boards or other techy means.”

And when all else fails, growers and farmers can check out what’s trending on Instagram. Millennials love Instagram.