Differentiate to get ahead

Six or seven years ago, no garden retail conference would be complete without the presentation of the latest market-share trends data with the threat to the independent garden centre sector from the sheds highlighted prominently.

In the intervening years, circumstances changed, and the threat failed to materialise. Instead, the garden centre sector (albeit not all individual garden centres) broadly held onto its share of the overall garden market.

The key was differentiation. Above all, from the garden centre side, the well rehearsed benefits that go with being specialists rather than generalists - from higher-value/quality lines to a more local and personal approach. From the sheds, the unrivalled ability to compete on price.

There was also an understanding among customers of the different purposes served by both kinds of outlets, something that was confirmed in the latest HTA-funded Shine research, which found that even younger and less knowledgeable garden buyers understood the specialist appeal of independent garden centres.

Into a new year and the market-share challenge facing independents may be coming from a different quarter, but the solution remains the same. This week, Blue Diamond managing director Alan Roper talks of the "bomb ticking for the sector" from an expansion hungry Dobbies with the buying power of Tesco.

Roper's answer is to exclusively target the ABC1 demographic - it's how Waitrose survives, he points out - while working hard to find unique product lines and new concepts to offer its customer base, the latest being a switch to tea rooms from the now ubiquitous coffee shop. In other words, differentiation.

KATE LOWE, EDITOR - kate.lowe@haymarket.com


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