The event, held on 14 July at the Ball Colegrave Summer Showcase in Oxfordshire and attended by 90 growers and retailers, looked at the opportunities for selling more plants in garden centres. Plant sales in the UK are currently worth £1.5 billion and one third of these sales are made through garden centres and retail nurseries.
Understanding your customers and their needs and wants are critical and the latest findings from the HTA eye tracker research highlighted the importance of viewing the customer experience through their eyes. Boyd Douglas-Davies, whose Hillview Group is working with the HTA on the eye tracker project, commented how it is proving to be invaluable to really see how your customers view and shop the plantarea. "You may think you know your garden centre and customers but believe me you don’t", he said. Clear lines of sight, physical barriers such as hoses, eye level of displays, availability of trolleys and baskets, visible pricing and positioning of signage are just a few of the areas highlighted within the research.
Andy Bunker from Alton Garden Centre and plant buying chair for the Tillington Group, spoke about the changing nature of customers and their desire to find solutions that look good and provide colour. Within his centre he has seen a huge shift towards seasonal plants and plants that "have their moment". Lavenders and this year in particular, supersize lupins have been particularly popular with demand outstripping supply. The relationship between growers and retailers is incredibly important to the success of these sales and he encouraged growers to talk to retailers early in the planning stage to have the maximum benefit.
Kevin Waters encouraged garden retailers to re-engage with their customers and "become an authority on plants rather than just sell a commodity". He spoke about the importance of creating a brand and culture within businesses that really involves staff and then passes onto customers. Keep the messages simple and help customers shop by providing recipe cards, living labels, solutions, stories and integrating the plant offer throughout the whole store. Kevin also encouraged people to think about the need to provide different solutions for different customers e.g. an older gardener will be looking for a different grow your own solution to a young family.
Speaking about the importance of new plant introductions, Graham Spencer from Plants for Europe, encouraged people not to be frightened of trying something new. However, he stressed how it is not enough just to say that something is new – "you need to talk about the benefits, tell the story behind the plant, capitalise on media exposure and make use of the point of sale materials often provided". Alongside new plants there are also the ‘new to you’ plants which also provide huge opportunities. Customers still want pretty, colourful plants that are appropriate for their needs and wants. Closer relationships between growers and retailers are key and Graham also encouraged retailers to visit the Flower Trials in Holland and Germany so that they have a heads up on introductions that will come in a few years down the line.
"We have the best product and still get really excited about new plants and we need to pass this onto our customers," said Neil Grant from Ferndale Garden Centre. We do need to look at who are customers are and provide for their differing needs though. He spoke about the opportunities to influence those customers through the traditional media and social media, particularly during the non-gardening time in the early part of the year when people are "winter daydreaming". We need to be creative in our approach and find the stories to tell, working with growers to achieve this. He added: "It is the most exciting time ever for the industry. Customers are hungry for it and are looking for something fun, rewarding, easy and it has to look good."
Event sponsors were XL Horticulture, Floramedia, Alpha Packaging, EcoVision and HTA Utilities.
The Ball Colegrave Summer Showcase runs until Friday 31 July.