You know when you feel like asking people over after work for a barbecue – and then realize you haven't mowed the lawn?
No problem. Just start the mowing robot remotely with your smartphone, and the lawn will be trim and neat by the time you get home.
After the smart home, smart lawn and gardens are coming – and many German mid-sized companies offer innovations to make the work easier.
Instead of geraniums, city dwellers tend to plant herbs or hot peppers on their balconies.
In addition to Bosch’s remote-controlled Indego mowing robot, Stihl offers Viking iMow, which can also be operated by an app. Automatic, frost-safe watering systems, such as those by Gardena, are also trendy. Sprinkler systems can even be networked with weather services.
The new technologies are part of an “easy gardening” trend in Germany.
“Everything must be easy, from the weight to the handling,” said Heribert Benteler, managing director for distribution at Stihl, the world leader in chainsaws and hedge shears.
“The lawn and garden as an extension of the living room is continuously becoming the refuge in an insecure world,” he said.
The mid-sized business sector harvests the fruits of “easy gardening.”
Germany is the largest lawn and garden market in Europe, with 2014 sales rising 4.8 percent to €18.1 billion, or about $20.2 billion, according to the Industry Association of Gardens.
As comparison, toy sales in Germany were about €2.7 billion, and books about €3.6 billion.
In 10 years the market has grown €1 billion, but is still extremely dependent on the weather. That was the case in 2013, when spring hardly came to Germany and sales fell 5 percent.
“Pansies and primroses had to be composted in pallets,” recalled Ulrich Kollatz, a gardening expert at BBE Retail Experts.
Plants make up over half of the gardening market. But instead of geraniums, city dwellers tend to plant herbs or hot peppers on their balconies. Tomatoes, mini-apple trees and hanging strawberry baskets are also popular.
Barbecuing outdoors is a related trend. In 2014, Germany’s World Cup championship year, Germans spent nearly €1 billion on barbecues and accessories – about 50 percent more than in 2008. The barbecue has long been a prestige object, with some gas grills costing up to €1,000. Now second barbecues are also becoming commonplace.
Manufacturers like ASB Greenworld are adjusting to new nature-minded consumers. The Stuttgart-based family soil and fertilizer company is a leader in Germany, next to Compo. It has 400 employees and €50 million in annual sales, €30 million of that in Germany.
“We prefer using sustainable raw materials such as compost, barks and wood fibers, and less on peat,” said Michaela Aurenz Maldonado, a managing partner at ASB. “Our pure plant-based organic fertilizer is new. It's even suitable for vegans.”
Stihl, another family company, is deep in the home lawn and garden business, with professional chainsaws or riding lawnmowers that cost several thousand euros.
“Our gardening tools are prestige objects that awaken emotions through and through,” said Mr. Benteler, a manager at Stihl. The aging of society plays into Stihl’s hands. Customers over 50 have purchasing power and value quality.
Battery-powered equipment is especially booming. Stihl offers a battery set that can power different tools, such as mowers or hedge shears. Bosch Power Tools is also working on battery technology and other innovations. Over the last five years, the Stuttgart company has introduced more than 100 new types of garden tools on the market. Most recently, Bosch had annual sales of €253 million in the gardening sector.
Most Germans buy their lawn garden needs at home improvement stores like Obi, Bauhaus or Hornbach & Co. Next to that, nurseries and garden centers play an important role. More and more customers also spontaneously pick up petunias or garden chairs in supermarkets or discount stores.
“Garden centers can only assert themselves against price-aggressive providers with higher quality and individual advising,” said Mr. Kollatz, of BBE Retail Experts.
Germany has some 3,500 garden center businesses. The market leader is Dehner, from the town of Rain in Bavaria. Owned by the third generation of the Weber family, it is Europe’s largest garden-center chain, with more than 5,000 employees in 112 centers in Germany and Austria.
Like other companies, Dehner is keeping up with the digital times with online sales.
Overall, the Internet plays a small part in lawn and garden sales, at about 3 percent. But with gardening hardware, such as tools or furniture, the share is already up to 20 percent, according to BBE Retail Experts.
Handelsblatt's Katrin Terpitz writes about companies and markets. To contact the author: [email protected]