"Little-and-often" purchasing by planteria managers is beginning to change the way nurseries operate, HTA National Plant Show exhibitors have said.
The emerging ornamentals model is closer to the edible models where a marketing company sells grower produce to retailers. Having a one-stop shop with promotions makes buying easier for planteria managers, who do not have to sift through long availability lists from multiple growers.
Newey Group managing director Alex Newey said: "Our message to the industry is it's no good if it's going in the bin, so if that means the retailers need to be spoon-fed product to match consumer demand then we have to be prepared to be able to match that as a wholesaler.
"I'm in favour of it because I think it's the right thing to do for the product. Just fresh, just in time, is good news because the product is often better in our controlled environment than on retailers' shelves not selling. You can't fight it - it's coming and we need to be able to respond to consumer demands. We can't keep loading garden centre planterias with stock if it's not selling.
"There are different models controlling inventory of stock, with some wanting to replenish in a proper way. Some people work on firm contracts so if you're supplying big discounters that's how they work with four or five key dates when it's going in and if wastage is poor they don't order next year."
He added that wastage in 2015 has been low and business has been good across Young Plants, New Forest Plants and New Place Nurseries, with a shortage of trees, herbaceous perennial sales slightly ahead of budget and young plant sales up 20 per centre on spring 2014. Bedding sales to B&Q have been helped by managing the flow plan well to match demand as it happened. "Gardening at B&Q full stop has done well."
Garden Centre Fresh director Paul Moors said the little-and-often model is "100 per cent" what his company is doing, with the system emanating from the eurozone, where he was a clock auction buyer for many years.
"The whole industry has changed from stack it high to little and often." He said this is especially prevalent in the north of the UK, where recent poor weather and sales meant little-and-often supply cut risk.
The Plant Yard is a new trader in nursery stock set up by Matt Graham of Garden Centre Fresh and Matthew Dixon from New Forest Plants. Charles Carr from Lowaters is replacing Dixon at New Forest Plants. The Plant Yard had a presence at the National Plant Show on the Ornamental Plants stand.
Director Matt Graham said some growers are changing business models to meet the needs of modern garden retailers. "The big change is retailers wanting little and often. In recent years garden centres would take two or three trolleys of rhododendrons, but now they will have a shelf because they don't want plants sitting in their garden centre.
The Dutch model of mixed deliveries, coming little and often, differs from a typical UK model of specialist nurseries delivering weekly.
Graham will buy plants in volume from big nurseries such as Ornamental Plants and Double H, which previously did not supply independents at this level because "little and often just doesn't fit their processes".
The Plant Yard will provide 50-75 per cent UK-grown plants on mixed trolleys that will possibly include Phalaenopsis, chrysanthemums, rattan hanging baskets, pot-grown Christmas trees or bay in hessian wrap.
Graham said: "It's the model our friends over the water use and that's why some have called The Plant Yard a 'Little Holland'."
Workshop - Key message for bedding sales
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker will speak at a HTA/Ball Colegrave workshop event at Ball in Oxfordshire on 14 July.
"My message again will be treat bedding and seasonal lines like fruit and veg," he said. "You would not buy all your apples and pears for the week on Monday - you may take a gamble but you may get to Friday and decide you have enough or you might need some more.
"A lot of us work closely with bedding growers who can turn on stock in a couple of days, but how many UK nursery stock suppliers can do that?"