SHIFT: An AmericanHort Initiative


By Jennifer Noble
Knowledge & Professional Development Administrator

SHIFT Beginnings

In the fall of 2014, AmericanHort launched a research initiative known as the time as “The Future of Garden Retail.” It became immediately apparent, however, that this project went far beyond the scope of retail alone—it touched each and every part of our industry. It was also clear that the results of this research would challenge us to “Shift” our thinking, our approach to business, and our mindsets about consumers.

The purpose of this project was to look at how our industry could be better prepared for the consumers of the future. To conduct the research, AmericanHort partnered with the Columbus College of Art and Design, which is the oldest design college in the United States. With them, AmericanHort embarked on a journey of discovery and research. The student research team and their advisors—made up of faculty and business professionals—visited garden centers across the country, talked with industry leaders, and visited other non-industry retailers. During these visits they gathered 100s of GBs of video and audio interviews with owners, staff, and customers, took thousands of photos, and collected a wide variety of information on consumers, products, and behaviors. They also conducted a diary study in which they asked individuals to care for plants and document their thoughts and experiences throughout the process.


A key element in the project was the use of Design Thinking as the research approach. Design Thinking is utilized by many other industries for this type of research and is defined as solution-focused exploration. Instead of starting with the problem, it starts with the goal (for example, attracting new and dedicated consumers, re-engaging the old, and taking the shopping experience to a new level.) Design thinking is a process that focuses on what is happening, why it’s happening, and then explores simultaneous, holistic options that would achieve the described goal. The research also focused on qualitative data, which characterizes observations rather than giving them a number.


SHIFT Results

All of the data gathered through the research was distilled into what we know as “Insights and Recommendations.” Insights are broad statements that describe the area of potential while recommendations are the actionable items. (The nearly 30 insights are now available in a downloadable PDF at The SHIFT insights reach into all aspects of business, from the language you use with the consumer to how you merchandise your products, retail layout and policies, marketing, understanding consumer buying motivation, and creating a powerful customer experience. With all of this ground to cover, the question then becomes how do we put it into action?

SHIFT in Action

In addition to webinars, educational sessions, and information available on SHIFT, AmericanHort is offering a unique learning experience called “SHIFT in Action” during Cultivate’16. SHIFT in Action is an interactive and guided learning experience which takes you away from the day to day and puts you in the center of the action and the heart of the consumer. Through this experience you will spend a day at Easton Town Center (one of the leading retail outlets in the country) learning and identifying the SHIFT insights applied at various stores. With a small group of colleagues and a knowledgeable facilitator, you will dive into a robust resource guide, which places the SHIFT insights side by side with how renowned retailers are implementing them. After identifying the correlation, you will uncover how the concepts translate to your business and lay out a plan for implementing them. You will also walk away with activities and information on how to facilitate a similar discussion with your team and colleagues, so that you are all speaking the same language as you move forward.

For more information on SHIFT, the SHIFT e-book, or the SHIFT in Action experience at Cultivate’16 visit and