Focus investment on key areas, says planner

Planners have spoken about how garden centres will look in the future, suggesting that spending on the right area of development is the most important thing you can do to increase trade.

Experts advise garden centres to invest in areas which give high returns – such as restaurants
Experts advise garden centres to invest in areas which give high returns – such as restaurants

Malcolm Scott has introduced a garden centre 2020 concept. He said: "Don't over invest in the main gardening area. If you don't you can stock six types of slug pellets because you don't have to pay for expensive fittings or buildings and then you can concentrate on the new bits - the cafe and the play barn and where people buy gifts and cards. Don't bang your money across the whole place.

"A large proportion of the public are not switched on to gardening. They will come to the garden centre for the experience. So if you're going to major on gardening you can't do it with high-value premises. You need some high value and some of a lower standard. Be selective on areas which give high returns, like restaurants, or you will have to concession out the bits you don't want."

He said that big chains creating concession villages to fill space in high-spec premises that do not make the turnover to match the investment proves his point on not overspending on buildings.

Scott said the new-look garden centre for the next decade, "which will blend the best of traditional centres with a new, fun presentation, will create a destination to offer experiential products and services along with a wider specialist range for committed and seasoned gardeners".

The 2020 garden centre's three product zones aligned adjacent to experiential hubs are core gardening to the right, homeware and concessions to the left and outdoor plants occupying the central part of the store. These three zones would be built in lower-cost construction.

Scott said: "Core products may need an 'own label' value approach - as supermarkets and DIY chains do - to identify key value lines, but costs can also be driven down by utilising more basic construction and shop-fitting. The objective is to offer consumers everyday competitive prices on core gardening lines."

Speaking at the recent HTA conference, Pleydell Smithyman's Paul Pleydell said stability brought by "more legs to our table" is the way ahead for garden centres. He said experiential retailing, weatherproofing, younger audiences, following what sells most per square metre without losing core gardening, renting out space and "bravery" are the future. "A play barn full of meat" - soft play and butchery areas - are the biggest profit centres garden centres could have at present, he added.

Pleydell said to watch out for the "cool charity retail sector" and warned that online retailing could mean an end to the traditional industry sharing of information. He suggested getting away from commodity retailing and moving more into experiential retailing is the answer. On sales per square foot, he said fences might bring in £200 and sundries £1,000 but restaurant and pets might be £2,000 and food hall £3,000 while a butcher might be £5,000-£6,000.

He also floated ideas for new retail such as vinyl records or Ann Summers underwear. "A lot of people are just putting out product and hoping people will buy it. They need to be more inspirational and match product to people's lifestyle and needs."

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