Garden centres bounce back in May

Warmer weather saw buyers turn out after a wet April.

Rude health: garden centres have benefited from the upturn in the weather with increased in footfall for May - image: HW
Rude health: garden centres have benefited from the upturn in the weather with increased in footfall for May - image: HW

Garden centres have emerged from the wet April showers to see sales bounce back to health in the warmer glow of the last bank holiday in May. Sales across the board rose as punters "lingered longer" in plant and sales areas and dug deeper into their pockets to buy bedding plants and garden furniture, BBQs and sundries.

Garden Centre Association chief executive Iain Wylie said it was too early to give a definitive picture on the bank holiday, but "the few members I've spoke to have enjoyed bathing in the sun and the corresponding uplift in sales - they are appreciative of the good weather and buoyant sales".

Only a month ago he was blaming April downpours for hitting traditional garden centre sales, with the GCA barometer of trade results showing sales of outdoor plants down nearly 18%. Seed and bulb sales were down 9.28%, garden sundries were down 16.21% and furniture and barbecues sales were down nearly a quarter, by 23.50%. But last week he was cautiously optimistic, echoing the descriptive tone of Bents Garden & Home managing director.

"It'd been a roller-coaster season," said Matthew Bent, based in Warrington, Cheshire. "After a reasonably good start in March; April was dire. May started with fantastic sales, dipped a bit in the middle and rallied for a fantastic end. The bank holiday weekend was brilliant and we've had one of our biggest ever days."

Business was 35% up on the same bank holiday last year, with much success down to the weather and "pent-up demand" for people to get out in their gardens. With national forecasts suggesting the hottest summer for 40 years, customers were more confident and "desperate" to get outside, he said.

"This is good for sales across the board, from large items such as furniture to BBQs and plants. Our west country lupins have been walking off the shelf and colourful bedding is selling very well - anything to brighten up the garden.

"We have also done well in the food halls, so it really is an across-the-board success story on last year. June is looking pretty good and though summer could be mixed, overall I think we will have another good year."

Bent said he was looking forward to a strong summer, but the Brexit vote could cloud the horizon, pushing the pound down against the euro and the dollar, which "would not be a good situation". Regardless of the vote, any short-term suffering could equal out in the long term, he felt.

Tong Garden Centre managing director Mark Farnsworth said the region enjoyed a temperature of 15 degsC across the three days and while furniture and BBQ sales were "nothing to write home about", he was not overly concerned.

"Plant sales however have been very good: six-pack bedding has been strong the whole weekend and we have done well with osteospermum and non-stop begonia. We also did very well with alpine plants of all kinds.

"We took over last May and inherited a business low on stock, staff and customers and spent the last 12 months doing as much as we can to turn around the business. So it's hard to compare, but we are really pleased with the response to our new plant area, while the quality of stock has been amazing. "The weather hasn't hugely helped or hindered us: we had two inches of snow in the last week of April and the following week temperatures rose to 20 degsC. We are optimistic for half term - we have a children's play area - and are getting ready for Fathers' Day."

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said his 45-year-old business in Wickford, Essex had enjoyed a record month in the plant area this May thanks to strong sales of bedding, vegetables and impulse plants including seasonal lines such as lupines. The only disappointment in sales was with mowers and other garden machinery.

"Two of the three days were fine and the third - Monday - was overcast. It's good gardening weather, but if it's too hot people might drift away to the nearby beach and buy ice creams instead of plants.

"The season has been good and there's no one single factor to explain it but the late start has certainly been very good for most retailers. The weather has been OK and people seem keen to linger longer in plant areas.

"I also think uncertainty in the world following terrorist attacks such as in Tunisia is prompting more 'nesting' from people staying at home. Hopefully this will see stronger than normal sales throughout late spring and summer."

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