Chasing Unicorns (AKA Millennials)

Flowers play an integral part in the process of growing up. From childbirth to the wedding (and everything in between—mitzvahs, sweet sixteen parties, proms, and graduations), floral design tends to find a way into the celebration.

Many business sectors are chasing the millennial consumer, because the youngest part of this demographic will soon be entering the workforce en masse and could make up a significant customer base. It’s also sexier to chase the youth market because fresh innovations typically emerge with young thinkers.

According to Environs Analytics research, millennials represent 30 percent of the Canadian population. Florists who do a good job servicing this market have enjoyed robust growth, as more and more teens become young adults with pay cheques.

To appeal to the millennial consumer, we need to understand how they’re defined, as well as what’s important to them in terms of the product and how it’s delivered.

Who is a Millennial?

Though specific cutoffs vary, it’s largely agreed that someone born between the mid-80s and mid- to late-90s is categorized as a millennial. If we do the math, front-end millennials are currently in their early thirties and back-end millennials are in their late teens (i.e., your prom customers).

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When best-selling author and noted TedX speaker Simon Sinek’s video sermon on the challenges of managing millennials went viral in late 2016, baby boomers responded with glee. At last, their frustrations had been given a voice! Among Sinek’s points: millennials were cut off from the world because they were too enamoured with their mobile devices and they had an over-inflated sense of their abilities because they’d received participation awards as children, presumably denying them the character-building experience of defeat. (“Kids These Days!” might have been an appropriate title for this video.) Youthful confidence, coupled with inexperience, has frustrated the tribal elders for centuries. Journalist Tom Wolfe’s 1976 New York magazine cover story titled “The Me Generation” picked on the Baby Boomers, so perhaps people who live in glass houses with three bathrooms and a double-car garage shouldn’t throw granite counter tops?

Sarah Thompson, a career coach in Toronto, specializes in the millennial demographic. “The vast majority of millennials I’ve worked with are very social and want to have personal interaction. Many of them are sick of being online,” she said, negating the stereotype of a young ‘uns hiding out behind a screen. Their social media activity isn’t as shallow or self-centered as their elders like to think; rather, they use online networks to collaborate.

Individual Expression

Retailers need to embrace the fact that this age group values social activity, as well as individuality. For baby boomers and Gen Xers, it was important to fit in by having the “hot trend” or coveted logo on their apparel. This is not so for the younger consumer who sees exclusive (though not necessarily expensive) pieces as more special. “We know that the group pictures will be posted to social media, so it’s important that each prom floral design be unique,” said Deanna Naugler-Gear of Seaside Flowers in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Male Involvement

She’s also seeing a shift in terms of gender participation in the floral decision process. “The guys are very involved in choosing the flowers and they often come in having researched the flowers, knowing the colours their date is wearing, possessing a clear sense of what they want,” she said. This trend —men taking a more active role in the decision-making process — appears in the wedding world as well.

Colour and Design Preferences

Colour stories for prom are subtle and natural. “We’re seeing a lot of creams, blushes and champagne shades,” said Jessie Cochrane, owner of Mickey’s Flowers in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. The flowers often include succulents, berries, and eucalyptus. Choker necklaces are a hot jewellery trend in fashion, so have some choker designs ready for the season.

Asymmetrical designs are popular with Seaside Flowers’s millennial customers. They also have an affinity for local botanicals, such as thistle and ‘honey bracelet’ melaleuca. “Millennials are used to shopping at farmers’ markets,” Naugler-Gear explained.

Peer Review

Millennials put at lot of stock in online product reviews, particularly those from anonymous sources with no incentive to sugarcoat the truth. By comparison, Money magazine reports that older adults rely more heavily on advice from people in their social circles. The bottom line: it’s wise to cultivate positive testimonials to post on your website and prominent review sites (Yelp, Facebook, etc.). This small and inexpensive tactic will go far in driving millennial consumers to your shop.

Millennials: Not So Different From Us

Millennials have a lot of similarities to their Baby Boomer parents. Both groups had to compete with lots of people their own age for attention in crowded classrooms and later for jobs. Facing massive competition forces people to try to stand out from the pack — action that leads outsiders to perceive millennials as self-absorbed.

“Millennials often take similar paths as their Boomer parents, but simply put their own twist on things,” Thompson said, citing, as an example, a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau performing a complicated yoga pose on a desk in the middle of a work day. “There’s another famous picture of his father, Pierre Trudeau, taken decades earlier performing the exact same yoga pose, but out in nature,” she said. “Same pose, different context.”

Millennials are trying to forge their own path, learn the ropes, and develop a sense of self. Promote your ability to listen and customize unique designs to showcase their individuality. Millennials have a strong fashion sense and aren’t afraid to spend money on pretty floral accessories.

“They know what they want and bring pictures of the dress,” said Sharon Sorochan, a designer at Mickey’s Flowers. “Technology is a big advantage because prom customers can show us exactly how the dress looks on their mobile device and we design around the garment.”

Nurture Lifelong Relationships

If you connect with them at a young age, flowers will be top of mind throughout their lives.

“Many of our prom customers walk by our store on their way home from school over the years and come in with their parents,” said Naugler-Gear. “I make a point of bringing them into the cooler at a young age and speaking to the different botanicals so they develop an appreciation as they mature.” (One young man came in recently to have an arrangement sent to his bank as a thank you.)

It has been said that it is impossible to capture a unicorn alive but folklore also says with the right enticement, the unicorn will gladly come to you.

Michelle Brisebois
Michelle Brisebois specializes in retail strategies with experience in luxury goods, restaurants, financial services, and ecommerce. She currently manages Trius Winery and Direct to Consumer for Andrew Peller Limited in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario.

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