B&Q has a policy of own-branding as much as possible, from garden machinery to compost, while rival Homebase does the opposite and concentrates on the trust big brands give their customers.
Some retailers see own-branding as a giving them a point of difference compared with retailers that all sell similar brands, while others worry that own-brands have a reputation for being cheap. This is countered by those who say own-brands do not have a recognised, comparable price point or a brand name "levy" so are more profitable.
Compost is a popular own-brand at many garden retailers and is often sourced from the same set of suppliers as branded product. Bulbs, bird food and ferts and chems can be own-branded in a similar way.
Own-labels account for 54% of UK supermarket sales, according to research from Nielsen. The total own-label sales in the UK is nearly three times that of the global average. But garden centres are less price-sensitive than grocers, so have other reasons for own-branding.
Unique selling point
Blue Diamond, the 20-centre high-demographic garden centre group, has always advocated own-brands as a unique selling point (USP). Its Redfields centre has a prominent own-branded ceramics and plant supports section. These categories are new to own-branding. Own label bulbs, garden furniture, solar garden lighting, garden wind ornaments, candle holders and garden planters with prices up to £129 are also on offer.
Managing director Alan Roper says areas in front of tills are full of own-branded solar lights and there are many other products also own-branded in garden sundries and pots/containers. Blue Diamond also has own-branded "home" products in food and clothing.
"We have many more categories lined up for more own-branding within all our departments, but for commercial reasons I don't want to go into specifics," adds Roper. "Own-brand fits my continuing strategy of delivering a point of difference. One must not own-brand for the sake of having your name on the packaging. The product must contain an inherent USP that meets the requirements of your targeted consumers.
"Increasingly we are creating bespoke products within the own-brand range and sourcing direct from manufacturers." But he adds that supplier-branded products that dovetail well with the retailer's brand and carry a loyalty and following are "very important so a balance, as in everything, must be struck".
Aimed at an even higher demographic, Petersham Nurseries new Covent Garden branch has a delicatessen that includes its own line of jams, honey, muesli, tea & coffee.
Klondyke group head of purchasing Andy Smith says while the group has similar centre numbers to Blue Diamond it has a different outlook on own-branding. "It's something we may look at but at the moment, not, mainly because we aren't in the position to be looking at it.
"It's not our focus at the moment. The disadvantages are they don't have the advertising or marketing budgets of brands. They tend to go to lower prices but is the product as good as some major brands?"
Dobbies chief executive Nicholas Marshall runs more centres than Blue Diamond or Klondyke at 34 stores but says own-branding is generally not for him. "Tesco do own-brand champagne and I've always thought saying ‘do you want a glass of champagne, it’s comes from Tesco’ doesn't sound good."
"The reason a lot of people do own-brand is because they can sell it cheaper than a recognised brand." He gives the example of Heinz baked beans and supermarket own-brand beans, suggesting that the latter is unlikely to be as good. "It's not something we’re really keen to do, though it works for supermarkets."
Garden Centre Association chief executive Iain Wylie says with own-branding it "makes a lot of sense trying to seek a point of difference". But he adds that it will only work if it is "locatable" to where it has been bought.
Tesco and Sainsbury's can easily scale own-brand in many products but Wylie says he is not seeing many smaller independent garden centres going in that direction, simply because they cannot justify the time and money to do so. He suggests that own-brands act as a marketing tool for a retailer, and that could be their biggest value.