B&Q's Tim Clapp says language the barrier to growth in garden business

Kingfisher buyer Clapp has suggested banning complex horticultural terminology.

Clapp: points out that two rules for successful garden centre are to ‘get your plants right, then get your buns right’ - image: HW
Clapp: points out that two rules for successful garden centre are to ‘get your plants right, then get your buns right’ - image: HW

Hardy, deciduous, ericaceous, shrubs, perennials, evergreen, herbaceous, annual, Award of Garden Merit and mulch are all terms that we potentially "need to ban", according to Kingfisher head of range Tim Clapp. Innovation, bombproof plants, simple solutions, plant-and-forget and no-instruction plants "for the iPad generation" are what is needed, he said.

Gardening is to newcomers as wine is to gardeners - "a language which means nothing to people", said Clapp, who is sourcing gardening for B&Q, Castorama and other Kingfisher retailers across Europe. He said one of the things that has changed over the past 12-18 months is that while there are customers B&Q sees regularly "there are customers we never see and we have no idea about what they want and how we go about engaging with them. It's about lifting the confusion for them."

Clapp said he knows the typical customer is slightly older, more often female, likes tea and cake and then looks at the plants. His two rules for a successful garden centre are to "get your plants right, then get your buns right".

Critics have suggested the approach is dumbing down gardening, but Clapp said: "I don't see people's sales going up massively. We have greater employment in the UK but declining home ownership," meaning young people buy less gardening because they "don't want to leave the plants for the landlord". He added: "The market is not growing despite the demographics."

In a speech on what the customer wants from garden retail plant sales, Clapp played a Radio 4 You & Yours broadcast in which an inexperienced gardener spoke of her confusion and lack of success gardening. He said such gardeners want their gardens to look nice, to be successful and to be easy, and they want big rewards from small effort.

Clapp said bugbears are the use of Latin, there being 65,000 plants in the RHS Plant Finder, the need for expert advice and difficult-to-understand language. This overwhelms the "iPad generation", he said. "My worry is how many of these people are out there and how many are we not engaging with. Don't worry about Mr and Mrs Smith aged 65 who come into the garden centre every week. Worry about these people who will grow your business."

Clapp added that of 20 shortlisted plants at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show's inaugural new plant of the year in 2010, a show of hands among the audience showed only five are grown much now - Buddleia Buzz, Ophiopogon 'Black Beard', Heuchera 'Sugar Plum', Geum 'Totally Tangerine' and Dibley's Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue'.

As well as too many new plants, he said there is not enough garden testing, not enough asking what is beneficial to the consumer and too much focus on novelty. He suggested that not enough are grown of popular new plants. Farplants' Nick Richards said he produces 30,000 of a new plant for the garden centre market.

Meanwhile, B&Q continues to "unify" its supply base Europe-wide as the retailer announced a quarter three like-for-like sales rise of 3.5 per cent, including an increase in seasonal sales of 5.3 per cent. B&Q is not commenting on individual supplier relationships, but a representative said: "As part of the One Kingfisher transformation plan announced in March 2015, we are creating a unified company where customer needs come first.

"We have started unifying our product offer, which will deliver significant benefits for B&Q customers, including new products, higher quality, better sustainability, lower prices and simpler ranges. We wouldn't comment on individual supplier relationships. On price, B&Q is highly competitive and this won't change - unifying our ranges will help support this price position."

Plants for Europe's Graham Spencer gave the keynote speech at the HTA/West Sussex Growers Association dinner the night before GroSouth and touched on some of Clapp's themes. "A lot of people use the garden as an extra room they want to make pretty," he said. "Tim Clapp has a valid point. I don't think he's saying we should dumb gardening down or rationalise ranges to five plants. He's saying you need to offer plants that are simple to use and reliable. But if we can create passion for plants we can set apart the specialist horticulture trade nurseries and garden centres from supermarkets, who use it as an add-on."

Comment & Opinion

Re "B&Q’s Tim Clapp highlights confusing horticultural terms as potential barriers to new gardeners" (published online on 9 November)

Whilst I agree with Tim Clapp’s sentiments on the mystique that is inhibiting new entrants into the love of gardening/horticulture, I am not so keen on abandoning technical words that surround our craft. 

Almost all specialist skills have jargon. Experience suggests that Latin can be acquired and once embraced is a wonderfully descriptive language. I would be saddened if gardening were dumbed down merely to serve those who are not inclined to be challenged by our nomenclatures. 

Malcolm Withnall, via www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk

How strange to base everything you do on the response of one potential gardener who is confused. I have just been with 24 people on a tour of Japan. Half were keen gardeners, the other half interested but not enthusiasts. Half were from North America (using common names more) and half from Europe (using scientific names). All of them were keen to learn new terms and none would have wanted a dumbing down of their interest.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin, via www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk

Surely to promote best practice in horticulture you first need to know what you are talking about. Second, if you have customers who do not know about gardening, employ staff who are knowledgeable in the field of horticulture. Third, provide courses and training for customers to understand gardening —perhaps another income stream.

Nick Hagon, via www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk

Tim is not saying students of horticultural trades or nurserymen or garden centre staff shouldn’t know technical words or plant nomenclatures or should dumb down best practice. Neither is he saying the new-to-gardening shouldn’t improve their technical or plant nomenclature knowledge of over time.

To successfully sell plants and core gardening product a retailer’s role is to generate and foster interest in gardening, demonstrate how easy gardening can and promote and educate the health and well-being benefits of gardening to get people involved who have absolutely no idea how to grow a plant.

It doesn’t matter if you are learning a new language or learning to swim, you don’t start by dropping people in at the deep end and allowing them to drown. It’s important to start with the basics, in easy steps, encouraging and fostering enjoyment and pleasure.

Joy Lamb, via www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk


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