HTA catering conference hears promotions can "turbo charge" quiet times at garden centres

Marketing catering is different to the rest of the garden centre, with the need to fill quiet morning and afternoon time the focus of promotions in garden retail.

Barton Grange managing director Guy Topping said a £2.99 breakfast had increased breakfast trade ten-fold from 10 to 100 and had occupied staff, who otherwise would be waiting for the lunch time rush.  He said displaying affordable gifts on the main walkway to the restaurant increased sales, rather than just featuring big ticket items like garden furniture.

Coolings chairman Paul Cooling said his Arthur's cafe turned over £1m from fewer than 100 covers, and promoting breakfast and afternoon tea was more important than lunchtime, which is usually full.

Klondyke group catering manager Keren Feeney said analysing Epos data helped ascertain what times were busiest. She said the 24 centres in the group served 75,000 buy one get one free teas in six weeks through a leaflet offer. Cooling said he gets "reasonable" offer redemption through his 33,000 paper newsletters.

Fosseway Garden Centre owner Tim Godwin said bounceback free coffee vouchers for over £40 spend was new at his centre. He said garden retailers need to set a budget when setting up offers, which "turbo charge" the centre and can fill quiet times or increase footfall. But Summerseat Garden Centre's Joe Ainscow said he had never lost on an offer because giving away coffee for instance costs little as it is almost all profit. Topping said there was no need to give away below cost because there is plenty of margin on food and "keeping your staff busy is more important". Feeney said the focus was on cash profit rather than percentage with offers.

Topping uses a voucher scheme as well as a coffee card for a free drink after 10 are bought. He said the centre hosted knit and natter or 'stitch and bitch' sessions, which Klondyke do on an ad hoc basis too. The Dutch Nursery said they did similar sessions, and that Groupon offers worked for them in bringing in new customers, but Topping said they had been less successful in Barton Grange's hotel.

The retailers generally agreed that email offers to customers did not work as well as paper offers.

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