Buying and building continue apace

Consolidation or amalgamation is the act of merging many things into one. In business, this term often refers to the acquisitions or mergers of many smaller companies into much larger ones.

In garden centres, consolidation of the market has been a threat - or an opportunity - for family businesses for many years. Wyevale was doing it in the 1980s and 1990s, and this trend has resurfaced in recent times.

Old Barn Nurseries, Peter Barratt's and Sanders have sold. This means the GCA and buying group Tillington loses members. It also means small suppliers are under threat, says GIMA director Neil Gow. Because, most in the trade agree, central buying by bigger groups will mean a tighter product range and fewer suppliers, all operating to smaller margins.

The market seems to be going into two different directions. Wyevale is buying up the best independents that will sell, while Tesco is bankrolling Dobbies' new builds.

Barratt's former owner Peter Barratt says the way the market is rapidly evolving, as his business grew there would be very little chance of selling it because there are few buyers that are big enough to afford to buy his company.

What's more, the whole face of garden retailing could change as Tesco may seek to open newly built Dobbies stores close to town centres, selling a high footfall range of products that blur the edge of traditional garden retailing.

Tesco is keeping very quiet on its land banks and its plans for where all the Dobbies outlets are going to go. But the Competition Commission's findings on the grocery trade, released in October, mentioned the land banks that the big supermarkets have bought to keep rivals from building near their own stores.

Why not fill them with hybrid garden centres? Well, a lack of return per square metre is one reason. But on a recent visit to Ireland, retailers on an HTA trip saw Scandanavian group Plantagen developing a crossover Ikea-style/garden centre concept.

Whatever happens, we'll keep reporting on the developments and how independents can keep up in this rapidly homogenising market.

- Matthew Appleby, editor, matthew.appleby@haymarket.com.


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