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Interview with Theresa Schleicher

"It’s about looking forward to the future"

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As a leading trend researcher for the future of retail, Theresa Schleicher is a sparring partner for companies and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection. At spoga+gafa 2024, she will take a look at the next generation of consumption. We talk to her about joint action in the garden industry, changing consumer habits and the influence of green retail on the garden market.

Theresa Schleicher is regarded as leading retail trend expert in Germany. © Theresa Schleicher

Theresa Schleicher (Image: Theresa Schleicher)

Responsibility in retail

Dear Theresa Schleicher, spoga+gafa 2024 is focusing on responsible action with the guiding theme of Responsible Gardens. What role do shared values play in successful trade?

Responsibility plays a very important role when it comes to implementing forward-looking ideas. At the moment, the problem is that everyone is doing their own thing, whether it's technical innovations or sustainable solutions. Each individual can achieve something, but we can only successfully rethink the economy if we look at the whole picture. It's about changing the behavior of the mainstream. This can only be achieved through joint action or at least with the same attitude.

Together for more sustainability

What approaches do you see for this in the green sector?

I believe that the green sector has always been very collaborative per se - be it in the cooperation between manufacturers and retailers or in customer support. The theme of feeling good in the countryside, creating your own oasis of retreat and being in nature is based on harmonious values and has a very positive connotation. Nevertheless, we are operating in an economic segment that is all about growth and competition. Cooperation has its limits here and there. That's fine, because competition promotes innovation and brings topics forward. However, when it comes to megatrends that affect everyone, it is easier if they are tackled together. Sustainable and regenerative product ranges bring something positive into the world, whether it's plants, garden furniture or barbecues. New services in the area of circular economy, recyclable products or concepts for borrowing products will play a much greater role in the future. The topic of waste and packaging can also drive the garden industry even more if it works hand in hand.

Together we make the garden market "greener" (Image: Judy Beth Morris, unsplash)

Together, the green sector is becoming "greener". © Judy Beth Morris at unsplash

Future study on regenerative growth

Your current future study on retail focuses on regenerative growth. How can companies operate responsibly and yet economically in the future?

The terms "regenerative" and "growth" refer to two phenomena that are at different stages of evolution in social and economic terms. Sustainability is defined by the idea that our planet's resources are finite and that we have to deal with their scarcity. This means that we have to limit ourselves and do without. The overriding premise is therefore the question: "What do I need and what do I not need?" The regenerative is the next stage of sustainability, namely rebuilding and bringing better things into the world. One example is fertilizers made from textile waste. The resource is used to bring a positive product back onto the market and create added value. This is where the term "growth" comes into play. It's about developing products that have a positive impact and mean something to people. We should therefore not be talking about a consumer slump, but about a rethink of consumption. The future for the economy is relevant solutions for customers that people want to use and buy.

Opportunities for the circular economy

What opportunities do you see for implementing a circular economy?

The cradle-to-cradle approach was formulated back in the early 1990s. It is less a question of technical and technological implementation. Rather, it is a question of how quickly we manage to change our habits. We find ourselves in a learned system with fixed production processes. Many players make selective changes within the system. However, more comprehensive measures require much greater investment. Many companies are therefore uncertain, because policies and therefore legal requirements can change again within a legislative period. In addition, developments can quickly become outdated with new research findings. Customers do not always buy the most sustainable products, even though surveys suggest otherwise. As long as retailers do not generate sufficient turnover with such products, the system will maintain itself. Change would happen more quickly if many more companies were to bring aesthetically pleasing and better products onto the market, because they conserve resources. Factors such as aesthetics, enjoyment and well-being play a role in the green sector and these must be combined with responsible production processes.

Retailers must generate enthusiasm for the right products (Image: Cathal Mac an Bheatha, unsplash)

The big task of retail is to get people excited about the right products. © Cathal Mac an Bheatha at unsplash

Changed consumer behavior

You mentioned the ambivalent behavior of consumers. What should companies consider in future in order to reach consumers?

Last year, I conducted a survey with 1,500 people in the DACH region. One result was that 73% of young people consider sustainability to be the most exciting and interesting topic for the future. Why? Because it's about the jobs of the future, which means that many new job profiles are emerging and new skills are needed. This enthusiasm for innovation meets a current market economy in which many companies are definitely thinking in this direction and offering corresponding products. However, these are still communicated very rationally and cautiously, especially in Germany. This is often due to the fear of being accused of greenwashing, as not everything is perfectly sustainable yet. In a manufacturing company, however, not everything can be perfectly sustainable either. It is part of the German mentality that we always want to do everything 100 percent right before we talk about it. This is fatal because companies from other countries are much more proactive in bringing such products onto the market.

Future tasks for the retail sector

What tasks will this entail for retailers in the future?

The big task for retailers is to get people excited about the right products. If customers are ambivalent and would like to buy sustainable goods but don't do so, the reasons need to be investigated. In most cases, it is not because of the sustainable products on offer, but because of inadequate communication. In addition, such products are often still niche products that are associated with a higher price. However, we could place many topics in the mainstream. This would make many things easier for retailers, as consumers pay more attention to price, especially in uncertain times. The less people buy in a certain area, the more difficult it will be to change the price structure. It's a long road, and each individual facet can make a big difference.

Theresa Schleicher at the press conference of spoga+gafa (Image: Koelnmesse GmbH)

Theresa Schleicher as keynote speaker at the opening press conference of spoga+gafa 2024. © Koelnmesse GmbH

Lecture at spoga+gafa

Under the headline "What remains? A look at the next generation of consumption", Theresa Schleicher will be giving a talk at spoga+gafa on June 17. The event will take place at 10:30 a.m. in the Forum Garden Café in Hall 6, Stand D18/E19.