Fighting back against unfair Christmas sales

Garden centres are sizing up the opposition on Christmas tree sales and how to react.

Christmas trees: garden centres have been facing competition from pop-up sellers setting up on garage forecourts - image: HW
Christmas trees: garden centres have been facing competition from pop-up sellers setting up on garage forecourts - image: HW

After a tough Christmas tree-selling season, garden centres are looking at where the competition lies and how to combat it. Pub chains have clarified their stance and policy on temporary retailing from their car parks, and the due diligence they have in place to check that trading complies with planning permissions and HMRC tax rules.

Punch Taverns says it is up to landlords to decide whether to rent out car parks, while Enterprise has a similar stance. Greene King says it expects the traders to have the necessary permissions to sell,

Greene King says: "We would normally decline consent for the selling of trees in our pub car parks. If there was a strong community value in permitting, we may make an individual exception, but would request traders had the necessary permissions while the pub itself would not collect any rental income."

Punch Taverns points out: "We are a leased and tenanted pub company and it is down to the publicans to do this themselves, therefore we don't have a policy."

Enterprise says: "With regards to Enterprise's leased and tenanted estate, pubs are operated by individual business owners or operators who run the pubs as their own businesses - they simply have an agreement with Enterprise regarding the lease of the property. They are responsible for the day-to-day running of their own business including ensuring that all areas of their operations are legally compliant."

Andy Newman, retail consultant at mdj2, is putting pressure on the HTA to wage war on lay-by traders. "Christmas trees being sold from pub car parks is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it does seem more prolific (at Christmas 2016)."

He was speaking out after garden centre chiefs told of unfair competition from "bit players" selling trees from garage forecourts for knock-down prices. Retailers such as Alton Garden Centre and North One Garden Centre say sales are hit by this type of competition.

Newman adds: "Any retailer should welcome competition but only if it is fair. It is time for the garden centre industry, led by the HTA, to start fighting back by launching a co-ordinated campaign to pressure local authorities and revenue and customs to enforce the law. Councils have an obligation to protect local business rate-paying garden retailers from unlicensed traders. In most cases selling from a pub car park will be against a site's planning permission.

"HMRC also has an obligation to ensure traders declare their earnings, employ people legally and pay the correct tax. Many pop-up sellers may be operating in the car parks of pubs and restaurants owned by major brewery or hospitality businesses. It is time for the garden centre industry to fight to protect their businesses."

  • Alan Roper will be speakng at this month's Garden Retail Summit 2017 - the leading independent knowledge and networking event for executives. Taking place in London on 23 February, this year's event will focus on growth, and include the opportunities and challenges of 'Brexit', learnings from the latest garden centre developments - and will be opened with a keynote address from John Cleland, CEO, Dobbies.  For more details and tickets go to: www.gardenretailawards.com/summit

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