Among the features focused on by the inspectors were colour blocking, avoiding clutter and too many signs, having trolleys available and the BBC 'Countryfile factor' delegates at the annual Garden Centre Association conference at St Andrews heard.
Inspector Ian Boardman suggested promoting Greening Grey Britain, AGM plants and well-being as a category and Ikea-style displays in the car park.
Fellow inspector Andy Campbell said simpler signs were important. He said log roll brought 80% of wood sales at many centres so needed to be promoted in bulk.
Roger Crookes admitted the inspection process could be seen as encouraging homogenisation, but said "unique tweaks" were important. The 'Countryfile' wildlife factor brought sales, he added.
Alyson Haywood also said colour blocking was a theme to be emphasised.
At Christmas, Andy Campbell said single baubles in clear displays worked well. However bulk decoration sales and Christmas village sales were reported to be decreasing with 7/10 saying village sales were down. However Campbell said Instagram selfie opportunities brought families in, and Pet Christmas, free mulled wine and Bogofs on bulk purchases were ideas that worked well.
Crookes said the Ruxley Rose planteria centres showed good colour blocking, good use of two for £10 offers and pleasant triangular displays. He said looking out of the cafe onto the plantarea encouraged sales, as did having trolleys in the plantarea. Specialist sub-category rooms in bedding plants was an area he backed, as was wildlife gardening areas. He also tipped hydrangeas to sell more. He warned that sell-off areas for plants could become "dumping grounds".
The inspectors' findings fed into the results of the annual Garden Centre Association awards for its members. This year's award winners included:
- Christmas Competition (Garden Centre category) – Castle Gardens
- Christmas Competition (Destination Garden Centre category) – Barton Grange Garden Centre
- Environment and Community Award – Garden Wise, Dumfries
- Ruxley Rose (Garden Centre category) – Cowell’s Garden Centre
- Ruxley Rose (Destination Garden Centre category) – Squires Garden Centre, Twickenham
- Barton Grange Trophy for Commercial Creativity and Innovation – Haskins Garden Centre, Southampton
- Customer Service Award – The Old Railway Line Garden Centre
- The Indoor Lifestyle Award (Garden Centre category) – Squires Garden Centre, Shepperton
- The Indoor Lifestyle Award (Destination Garden Centre category) – Barton Grange Garden Centre
- The GIMA Award for Best Garden Products Retailer (Garden Centre category) – Cowell’s Garden Centre
- The GIMA Award for Best Garden Products Retailer (Destination Garden Centre category) – Barton Grange Garden Centre
- Dick Allen Award (Most Improved Garden Centre) – Langlands Garden Centre, Loxley
- The IFSE Award for Catering Excellence (Garden Centre Category) – Squires Garden Centre, Shepperton
- The IFSE Award for Catering Excellence (Destination Garden Centre Category) – Bents Garden and Home
- Weber Outdoor Living Award (Garden Centre Category) – Fairways Garden Centre, Ashbourne
- Weber Outdoor Living Award (Destination Garden Centre Category) Bents Garden and Home.