Is garden centre pricing becoming more competitive?

Good sales this year appear to have masked the continuing pressure on pricing strategies this year as online offerings and exchange rates make their presence felt.

Image: HW
Image: HW

Horticulture Week's Garden Centre Prices data for the week ending 30 June, showed 3-litre lavender being sold at £10.49 at Squire’s, at £4.97 for a 2-litre product at Homebase and £3.99 for a 1-litre plant at Wyevale online.

Gardening Express has five 1 to 2 litre lavenders at £29.99 and promises to refund should customers find the same plants cheaper at Wyevale Garden Centres, Dobbies, B&Q, Crocus or Thompson & Morgan within seven days of purchase.

Those prices are pretty tough to compare but do show fluctuation between online and in-store. Scrutiny of pricing will only continue to rise, says Gardening Express owner Chris Bonnett, who says he stocks £14.99 hydrangeas while others might have them at £26 and still at £16 when reduced. This is leading to wastage at some garden centres, he claims.

To cut that wastage, big garden retailers say it is crucial for individual bricks-and-mortar garden centre outlets to be able to order their own plants because, for instance, more David Austin Roses will sell in the Home Counties than elsewhere, while less affluent areas will sell more bedding.

However, as garden centre ownership consolidates, central distribution is rising which could give more agile online sellers an advantage.

It is "par for the course" for people to compare plant prices on their iPhones on higher-value, considered purchase items such as Buxus, if not on impulse buys, says Bonnett. Changing to offering what plants and colours customers are demanding online and stocking it online and in-store with customer feedback feeding into the offer is the way forward he says.

Sales outweigh price concerns

However, Ansell Garden Centre owner Paresh Raithatha says good sales have outweighed price concerns this year. "I think there is price sensitivity but in a season where the weather has been good and people just wanted to get into the garden."

He says his west London centre "is a bit more competitively priced" and has sold through plants this year because "we’ve concentrated on the plant side" after a fire in November 2016 and "we’ve no complaints".

Some specimen stock stuck a bit early on but it has taken off in the last month. He adds: "There is a price level but on bedding we had to increase prices and we’ve had no complaints or comments, and people have been filling baskets and trolleys."

Latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures show overall shop price deflation of 0.3% in June, a slight deceleration from the 0.4% fall in May. But this is misleading, according to BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

"The fact that the headline number, -0.3%, shows that prices are still down on last year should not be misunderstood. The year-on-year numbers belie the fact that prices have been heading upwards for the last six months; it’s just that significant deflation in the second half of 2016 means there has been considerable ground to make up in the year-on-year figures."

Inflation dropped from 2.9% to 2.6% in May, according to Government figures, but is still rising higher than wages. The drop was mainly because of falls in fuel prices. Commentators suggested the fall in the pound last year had not yet fully fed through to shop prices.

Exhange rates kicking in

At the recent SOLEX garden furniture and barbecue trade show, retailers said they had noticed wholesale price rises of 5-to-15% as exchange rate changes kicked in. Wholesalers also noted transport costs rising.

As with plants sales, prolonged good weather has helped mask price rises by prompting better sales than 2016. Wholesalers are altering specification, trying to pack more stock into containers and generally saying that increases need to be shared to swallow the pain, which they add should now be ending.

Food prices are less weather-dependent and are another concern for garden centres. Bents Home & Garden managing director Matthew Bent says they are going up "massively" on both the retail and catering sides. He is trying to resist price increases but the price of imported food such as coffee is going up fast and some products are becoming unaffordable to keep on the menu.

He adds that the full extent of the weakening of sterling after the Brexit vote in June 2016 is only starting to be fully seen, as items such as garden furniture are now starting to show their true price after being forward bought in many cases last year. Bent is concerned because full price increases could kick in later in 2017 and into 2018.

Dickinson says: "Amidst economic uncertainty and mounting concern over the inflationary squeeze on household incomes, sustaining growth in shopper footfall will be challenging, more so as retailers seek to convert that into an improved performance at tills."

She notes that they are stepping up their efforts to keep prices down for customers against rising input prices and inflation.

Longacres' Mike Ainley says a lot of local competition at its three garden centres means price is a point of difference. "Customers have been price-sensitive in recent times and all the feedback we get, especially on the plant side, is about quality, price and range," he adds. "The customers do the price comparisons for us, if you like."

Dobbies chief executive Nicholas Marshall says customers notice quality and price. "People aren’t stupid," he points out. "They will vote with their feet."

KEEP TRACK OF PRICES AT HORTICULTURE WEEK'S GARDEN RETAIL DATA PAGE


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